(NEW YORK) -- Fifteen years ago Friday, on March 9, 1997, rapper Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, Biggie or Big Poppa, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. He was just 24 years old. The murder has yet to be solved, but the music of Biggie, born Christopher Wallace, continues to inspire and influence the hip hop world.
Hitting the scene at a time when West Coat rap dominated, Biggie was credited with helping to revitalize East Coast rap, with smashes like "Juicy," "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance" showing off his distinctive slow flow and baritone voice. His 1994 debut, titled Ready to Die, went four times platinum. By the end of 1995, he was the best-selling male solo artist in the U.S.
Biggie's success also contributed to the rise of Sean "Diddy" Combs' fortunes. Having signed the then-unknown rapper to Uptown Records, Combs took Biggie with him when he was fired from Uptown and started his own label, Bad Boy Records. From that grew the entire Bad Boy empire, which now includes a clothing line, a restaurant, a marketing company and vodka. Likewise, Faith Evans, who Biggie eventually married, and Lil Kim, whom he showcased in his group Junior M.A.F.I.A., owe their careers in part to their association with the late rapper.
Unfortunately, Biggie's success contributed to an East Coast/West Coast hip hop rivalry. His beef with slain rapper Tupac Shakur is sometimes cited as the reason for his death. Tupac accused Biggie and Combs of being involved in an incident in which he was robbed, shot and wounded in New York, and later taunted Biggie on the diss track "Hit 'Em Up" by claiming that he'd slept with Faith Evans.
Biggie was rumored to have been involved in Tupac's September, 1996 shooting murder, but there has never been any proof of that. A year later, as Biggie traveled to L.A. to promote his upcoming album Life After Death, he was shot in his car while traveling home from a Soul Train Awards after-party. Life After Death topped the charts, producing the #1 hits "Hypnotize" and "Mo Money Mo Problems." Later that year, Sean Combs, or Diddy as he is known now, launched his own rap career with the album No Way Out, which featured the #1 tribute to Biggie, "I'll Be Missing You."
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Biggie's family against the city of Los Angeles was dismissed without prejudice in 2010.
A Notorious B.I.G memorial event is scheduled to take place Friday night at Manhattan's Rebel NYC club beginning at 10 p.m. and will be hosted by Biggie's widow, Faith Evans, and Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s Lil Cease. Tributes and performances are expected from Beanie Siegel, Peedi Crakk, Black Rob and others.
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