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Best Notorious B.I.G. Songs: 20 Larger-Than-Life Hip-Hop Classics
Michael Lavine
List & Guides

Best Notorious B.I.G. Songs: 20 Larger-Than-Life Hip-Hop Classics

The best Notorious B.I.G. songs threw down the gauntlet for all rappers to follow, while ensuring Biggie’s status as Brooklyn’s finest.

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Ask anyone to name the best rapper of all time, and The Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls, aka Big Poppa) will immediately be thrown into the mix. Despite his untimely death aged just 24, the man born Christopher Wallace has influenced countless MCs, inspired numerous tributes and stands as both the face of East Coast hip-hop and one of the most influential artists of all time. In his five short years in the game, Biggie released two albums along with a whole host of collaborations, all of which are recognised as classics to this day. In honour of his legacy, we’ve ranked the 20 best Notorious B.I.G. songs – larger-than-life classics you simply need to hear.

Listen to the best of The Notorious B.I.G. here, and check out our 20 best Notorious B.I.G. songs, below.

20: Whatchu Want (The Commission, featuring The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z) (from ‘Duets: The Final Chapter’, 2005)

The highlight of Biggie’s second posthumous album, Duets: The Final Chapter, Whatchu Want serves as a final farewell to the almighty duo that was Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls. Having collaborated twice previously, the track serves as rightful acknowledgement of the pair’s shared status as kings of New York. Released posthumously, in 2005, it has a distinctly 2000s sound, offering an interesting insight into how Biggie’s style may have progressed if he’d been alive to make music in the 21st century. Whatchu Want is also significant for being the only song released by The Commission, a supergroup said to have contained Diddy, Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G., among others. Unfortunately, any plans they had fell through due to Biggie’s death, and were never fulfilled beyond this singular track.

19: One More Chance/Stay With Me (Remix) (single A-side, 1995)

One of those rare occasions where the remix outperforms the original, One More Chance/Stay With Me (Remix) found such success that it became The Notorious B.I.G.’s biggest hit during his lifetime. Released in 1995, eight months after the song appeared in its original incarnation on Biggie’s debut album, Ready To Die, the remix was an almost unrecognisable overhaul that featured altered lyrics, a new chorus and a new beat. Taking a sample from DeBarge’s Stay With Me for inspiration, One More Chance’s new chorus, sung by Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans, allowed Biggie to indulge his fondness for R&B. Rapping about his popularity with women – despite calling himself “ugly as ever” – Biggie opens the track with the iconic line “First thing first: I, Poppa, freaks all the honeys”, an introduction which has since been replicated by the likes of J Cole, Kid Cudi and Nicki Minaj, among others, cementing its status among the best Notorious B.I.G. songs.

18: Things Done Changed (from ‘Ready To Die’, 1994)

The first track from Biggie’s debut album, Ready To Die, Things Done Changed features some of his best use of samples (among them East Coast soulsters The Main Ingredient, West Coast provocateur Dr Dre and Golden Age jester Big Markie), drawing upon an exceptional range of influences to create a rich instrumental foundation, particularly during the hook. Lyrically, the track deals with how the streets have changed compared to “back in the day”, with Biggie responding candidly to the increase in violence, guns and drugs in his neighbourhood, and serving a warning of their dangers. Biggie gets into darker, more personal subject matter, too, referencing his mother’s breast cancer as a source of his stress.

17: Sky’s The Limit (featuring 112) (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

Introduced by an endearing speech from his mother, Sky’s The Limit is an autobiographical recounting of Biggie’s journey from “ashy to classy”. Appearing on his second album, the posthumous Life After Death, the track reveals how the young Christopher Wallace grew up poor and quit school to pursue a career selling drugs, but still achieved his dreams in the long run. With an honesty that immediately ensured its place among the best Notorious B.I.G. songs, this inspiring tale firmly holds on to the motto that the “sky is the limit” – a sentiment emphasised by R&B group 112 during the chorus. Towards the end of the track, Biggie gives his audience heartfelt advice with one of his most profound lyrics: “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it/And live the phrase ‘sky’s the limit’.”

16: Flava In Ya Ear Remix (Craig Mack, featuring Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Rampage) (single B-side, 1994)

Biggie steals the show on this 1994 remix of Craig Mack’s debut single, Flava In Ya Ear. Despite being joined by hip-hop legends LL Cool J, Rampage and Busta Rhymes, Big Poppa outperformed them all – and hung Mack himself out to dry, too, dissing the MC’s delivery with the lines “You’re mad ’cause my style you’re admiring/Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring”. While Biggie had other notable rivalries during his career, he swiftly emerged victorious from this one, showing how ruthless he could be, even in the early stages of his career.

15: Victory (Puff Daddy And The Family (featuring Busta Rhymes and The Notorious B.I.G.) (from ‘No Way Out’, 1997)

Recorded the day before he was shot dead on 9 March 1997, Victory is the last evidence of Biggie in the studio. The song appeared on Diddy’s album No Way Out and quickly became an important part of Biggie’s legacy. Here he popularised the use of ad-libs aimed at the sound engineer – now a common hallmark in hip-hop tracks – instructing, “You can turn the track up a little bit for me,” over the top of Diddy’s intro. Victory also birthed one of Biggie’s most famous lines, “… I perform like Mike/Anyone – Tyson, Jordan, Jackson,” which other rappers continue to pay homage to. What really makes Victory stand out among the best Notorious B.I.G. songs, however, is its heavy sampling of Bill Conti’s Going The Distance, from the Rocky soundtrack, which provides a grandly cinematic feel to a song whose dark edge is enhanced by B.I.G.’s mafioso lyrics.

14: I Got A Story To Tell (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

As the title suggests, I Got A Story to Tell shows off Biggie’s captivating yet seemingly effortless narrative abilities. The song revolves around his affair with the girlfriend of a New York Knicks player, a six feet, five inches athlete whom Biggie is said to have robbed at gunpoint when the affair was discovered. The song’s simple production, consisting of a looped Latin guitar riff and a drumbeat sampled from Al Green’s I’m Glad You’re Mine, helps keep the audience engrossed in the story, which is recounted twice within the song. Initially, it is rapped in the poetically suave style Biggie’s made his own, before being told more conversationally as a casual anecdote. Biggie’s willingness to convey specifics makes even more sense in the wake of Fat Joe and Diddy’s confirmations that the story is true. It’s also a testament to the wild lifestyle Biggie Smalls led.

13: Suicidal Thoughts (from ‘Ready To Die’, 1994)

A concept track with sinister themes, Suicidal Thoughts depicts a late-night phone call with Diddy, in which Biggie expresses a wish to end his life. It’s tough to bear witness to a man usually so full of pride calling himself “weak” and “worthless”, revealing that having a big persona doesn’t always correlate with someone’s true self-image. Biggie takes it a step further by saying “death is calling” and conjuring up graphic imagery of what that might entail, before the phone call ends with an ominous gunshot. Shattering the illusion of huge egos in hip-hop, and revealing the immense pressure Biggie felt himself to be under, it was a bold way to close his debut album. Sounding even more haunting after his death, Suicidal Thoughts remains one of the most nakedly heartfelt entries among the best Notorious B.I.G. songs.

12: I Love The Dough (featuring Jay-Z and Angela Winbush) (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

Another successful collaboration between New York’s most prominent MC duo, I Love The Dough, featuring Jay-Z, heavily samples 80s soul track I Love You More, by René And Angela, replicating the instrumental and recruiting Angela Winbush to sing an alternative version of the chorus. The resultant funky and nostalgic sound lays a strong foundation for one of Biggie’s more light-hearted verses, in which he talks about the lavish lifestyle that accompanies fame. The song also shows that his impressive flow stretched to more conventional hip-hop topics, too: “Biggie be Richie like Lionel,” he declares while pondering his luxuries: “Ridin’, decidin’ cracked crab or lobster/Who say mobsters don’t prosper?”

11: Live Freestyle (Funkmaster Flex And Big Kap, featuring DJ Mister Cree, The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur) (from ‘The Tunnel’, 1999)

Taken from a performance at Madison Square Garden in 1993, this live freestyle offers a rare glimpse of Biggie and Tupac sharing the stage. Arguably the most famous rappers in history, the pair were deep friends before initiating the biggest music feud of all time. Appearing on Funkmaster Flex’s 1999 album, The Tunnel, Live Freestyle finds them in happier times, rapping competitively but playfully, with Biggie bragging about his weapon collection and his substantial fortune. He arguably trumps Tupac’s efforts with his versatility and intelligent wordplay, but both rappers put up a strong fight to illustrate why they are still considered the best of their time.

10: Gimme The Loot (from ‘Ready To Die’, 1994)

An impressively executed self-duet, Gimme The Loot functions as a discussion between Biggie and his younger self, conspiring to commit various crimes together. Displaying some of his most brutal and violent lyrics, Biggie refers to himself as “the robbery expert” and makes his criminal instincts abundantly clear, with lyrics so extreme that some elements have to be censored. Mostly, though, the subject matter demonstrates the strength of Biggie’s flows, conveying the complexity that often fuelled the best Notorious B.I.G. songs.

9: Notorious Thugs (featuring Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

Notorious Thugs serves as a declaration of authenticity as well as a demonstration of talent from two of the most popular gangsta rap acts of the 90s. Collaborating with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Biggie adopts the group’s signature flow for his opening verse, swapping his typical style for a more fast-paced approach – something the group saw as a huge compliment. Within this verse he even refers to his “So-called beef with you-know-who”, staying classy by refusing to mention Tupac by name. After his powerful first verse, Biggie cedes the floor to Bizzy Bone, Krayzie Bone and Layzie Bone, who deliver equally strong contributions. As a result, Notorious Thugs defines 90s gangsta rap while showcasing some of the most skilful artists in the game.

8: Brooklyn’s Finest (Jay-Z, featuring The Notorious B.I.G.) (from ‘Reasonable Doubt’, 1996)

Released in 1996, Brooklyn’s Finest is the first – and best – of three collaborations Jay and Biggie recorded. According to producer Clark Kent, Biggie wanted the instrumental for himself, but ended up attending Jay-Z’s studio session, during which the pair laid down the track together. Using a funk-infused instrumental with a piano riff taken from Ohio Players’ 1973 cut Ecstasy, the pair go back and forth with rapid short verses, ad-libbing over each other’s spots in a captivating song structure. The song’s competitive dynamic is equally tantalizing, given that Jay-Z – a relative newcomer on the scene – puts up a decent fight against one of hip-hop’s top dogs.

7: Mo Money Mo Problems (featuring Mase, Puff Daddy and Kelly Price) (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

Though Biggie often bragged about his riches, this song stands out for addressing the issues that can come with affluence. A rare occasion where he ditches rhymes about violence and boasting, Mo Money Mo Problems finds him discussing the realities of always having to keep an eye out for people trying to tear him down. Using an instantly recognisable sample from Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out, Mo Money Mo Problems stands as not only one of the best Notorious B.I.G. songs, but one of the most commercially successful singles in hip-hop history, so it’s no surprise that guest artists Mase, Diddy and Kelly Price tried to claim the track for themselves. When Biggie laid down his verse, however, they collectively agreed that the song was rightfully his. It remains stand-out on his sophomore album Life After Death.

6: Who Shot Ya (single B-side, 1994)

Despite originally being recorded as an intro for Mary J Blige, Who Shot Ya’s hardcore lyrical content found its way on to the B-side for Biggie’s Big Poppa single, becoming a far more consequential release in the process. Following the comparatively tame single Juicy, it gave Biggie the chance to establish himself as a menace. More importantly, Who Shot Ya ignited the most memorable rivalry in music history. Released in December 1994, just one month after Tupac had been shot in a Manhattan recording studio, it found Biggie posing as a gunman threatening his enemies, while also appearing to mock his wounded hip-hop rival. Though executed with ambiguity, the track fuelled rumours that Biggie had been involved in Tupac’s shooting, with Tupac going public with his own suspicions on the diss track Hit ’Em Up, released the following summer.

5: Big Poppa (from ‘Ready To Die’, 1994)

Taking one of The Notorious B.I.G.’s many nicknames for inspiration, Big Poppa defines the smooth persona that made him popular with the ladies. The second single from Ready To Die, it shows that Biggie was already looking to experiment with his sound, lifting an instrumental from soul group The Isley Brothers and adding a high-pitched synth melody. The result is a more chilled, West Coast style inspired by Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, and contrasting with Biggie’s East Coast roots. Long hailed as one of the best Notorious B.I.G. songs, Big Poppa has become one of his most-sampled tracks, repeatedly remixed and covered, as well as featuring in a number of films and, more recently, being revived on TikTok.

4: Kick In The Door (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

Considered by many to be Biggie’s hardest song, Kick In The Door is a diss track jam-packed with shots at a host of rappers, including Jeru The Damaja, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. It also fuelled a battle with Nas over the title of “King Of New York”, as Biggie raps, “Ain’t no other kings in this rap thing, they siblings/Nothing but my children, one shot they disappearing,” while claiming that his rivals only found success by taking notes from Ready To Die. Promoting his own excellence as a rapper, Biggie also warns of the dangers of getting on the wrong side of him: “Kick in the door, waving the four-four/All you heard was, ‘Poppa don’t hit me no more.’” Though released posthumously, Kick In The Door makes it clear that, with more time, Biggie would have reigned over the streets after shattering his opponents the way he did here.

3: Ten Crack Commandments (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

Posing as an overlord of the drug underworld – a hustle from his younger days – The Notorious B.I.G. uses Ten Crack Commandments to lay down his rules for the game. Abandoning the structure of a conventional hip-hop track, Biggie raps his ten commandments with a brief explanation of each, omitting the chorus and 16-bar verse structure in a way that produces an enthralling track. Advising his disciples to “Never let ’em know your next move” and “Keep your family and business completely separated”, Biggie offers advice on ways to make money while avoiding either jail time or death. One of the most influential entries among the best Notorious B.I.G. songs, Ten Crack Commandments later inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Ten Duel Commandments – a pivotal track in the stage musical Hamilton.

2: Hypnotize (featuring Pam Long) (from ‘Life After Death’, 1997)

Released just weeks before his death, Hypnotize was The Notorious B.I.G.’s first No.1 hit. It’s easy to understand why: the song’s prominent jazz-funk bassline is, indeed, hypnotic, and ensures it’s still a common party tune today. Though best known for its recognisable hook (Pamela Long from girl group Total sings, “Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can’t you see?/Sometimes your words just hypnotize me,” replicating the hook from Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh’s 1985 classic La Di Da Di), Hypnotize is filled with vintage pop-culture references to Star Wars, Starsky & Hutch and King Of New York, a gangster film whose main character Biggie often likened himself to – and adopted the nickname Frank White from. Though Biggie often rapped about his success and notoriety, no other song captures this this as suavely as Hypnotize.

1: Juicy (from ‘Ready To Die’, 1994)

Topping our list of the best Notorious B.I.G. songs, Juicy, the first single from Ready To Die, established him as an icon from the get-go. Rapping about his rise to fame, Biggie dedicates the track both to those who doubted him and those still struggling to get by. He kicks it off with his most famous lyric of all time, “It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up magazine,” before looking at how his childhood aspirations had become a reality. Entwining his personal journey with the development of hip-hop, Biggie ultimately prophesies his own impact on the genre. Meanwhile, Juicy’s gentle chorus summarises its inspirational nature, with girl group Total singing, “Don’t let ’em hold you down/Reach for the stars.”

Though cut tragically short, Biggie’s career had just begun in 1994, as he surpassed stereotypes and began “living life without fear”. The embodiment of this uplifting transformation is Juicy: a positive overview of his life so far, and an indication of what may have entailed had he been given the chance to live it to the fullest.

Find out everything you need to know about ‘Ready to Die’ in 60 seconds

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