Rap Rebirth Blog Hip-hop ghostwriting and lyricism


The Genius of Notorious BIG

"Excuse me, flows just go through me / Like trees to branches / Cliffs to avalanches / It's the praying mantis"

"The What" by Notorious BIG

There was something special about Biggie. Twelve years after his last recorded content, his songs still sound fresh and up to date. He had a quality that's hard to pin down and tangibly define.

He was lyrical. He traded rhymes with the best and often put them to shame. He rapped circles around Method Man in his prime ("The What") - out shone Jay-Z on three separate occasions ("I Love the Dough", "Brooklyn's Finest", "Young G'z") - ghost wrote pages of brilliance for Puff Daddy, Lil Kim, and Lil Cease - even took Bone Thugs own sing song style and did it better they could ("Notorious Thugs").

He had swagger. There was a charisma and confidence that oozed from every song and video. It was a mix of sly self deprecating humor and bravado. He had the audacity to diss lyrical heavy weights Nas, Jeru the Damaja (on "Kick in the Door") and The Roots ("Flava in Ya Ear Remix"). But you couldn't help but like a guy who said, "Heart throb never / Black and ugly as ever - however / I stay Gucci down to the socks / Rings and watch filled with rocks."

He had heart. Underneath the tough persona was someone with real emotion and character. You could hear it on tracks like "Sky's the Limit", "Juicy", and "Miss U".

And he had an incredible flow. The way his lyrics came, one after the other, with effortless precision and grace made rapping seem like the easiest thing in the world. Case in point... "This goes out to crews who choose to use disrespectful views on the King of NY" (from "Kick in the Door"). The internal rhyme scheme on the line is amazing. His delivery of that line is great. The way it fits DJ Premier's classic beat is awe inspiring.

Maybe that special quality was his versatility. He could do any type of song and make it real. Nothing sounded forced or phony. On his second album "Life After Death" the battle anthem "Kick in the Door" somehow flows seamlessly into the swanky players cut "Tonight". His street songs are great ("What's Beef", "Warning", "My Downfall"). His commercial crossovers are timeless masterpieces ("Big Poppa", "Hypnotize", "Mo Money Mo Problems", "Going Back to Cali"). He could do storytelling ("I Got a Story to Tell..."), love songs ("Me & My Bitch"), and social commentary ("Things Done Changed").

If Nas has the most pure talent, and Jay-Z is the wittiest, and Tupac the most passion, and Rakim is the most lyrical, then Biggie was the most well rounded. He was an MC's MC. Someone who could get play on MTV, pop radio, and in the grimiest blocks of Brooklyn. He was a great entertainer, a powerful influencer, and a reflective poet. And because of that unique combination, he just might be the greatest MC of all time.