On March 9, 1997, the rapper, who was born Christopher Wallace but preferred the nickname Biggie Smalls, was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles after traveling to the West Coast to shoot a music video for “Hypnotize,” the first single from his second album, Life After Death. In the wake of his death, the single ascended the Hot 100 and finally arrived at the summit on the May 3, 1997, chart. “Biggie wasn’t there with us to enjoy it,” recalls the song’s co-writer and producer, Sean “Diddy” Combs. “So it was bittersweet.”
The Brooklyn-born Biggie became the face of East Coast hip-hop after his 1994 debut album, Ready to Die, spawned three Hot 100 hits, all with dual-sided singles that kept improving his returns. “Juicy/Unbelieveable” yielded his top 40 breakthrough as it climbed to its No. 27 peak in November 1994, “Big Poppa/Warning” gave the charismatic MC his first top 10 with its No. 6 high in March 1995, and “One More Chance/Stay With Me” climbed all the way to No. 2 that July. The unrelenting success rendered rapper Biggie and producer Combs chief figures in the ’90s West Coast/East Coast hip-hop rivalry, which devolved into a dual tragedy: first with Tupac Shakur’s murder on Sept. 7, 1996, then Biggie’s slaying six months later. (Both crimes remain unsolved.)
Though he peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in his lifetime, Biggie’s death directly fueled three Hot 100 No. 1s in 1997. In addition to “Hypnotize,” “I’ll Be Missing You,” a tribute to Biggie that Combs recorded with his widow, R&B singer Faith Evans, and 112, spent 11 weeks at No. 1 before being replaced by Biggie’s own “Mo Money Mo Problems” (featuring Puff Daddy and Mase). With the latter, Biggie became the only artist to ever top the Hot 100 posthumously twice.
Biggie’s third studio album, Born Again, containing unfinished material, topped the Billboard 200 in 1999, as did his Greatest Hits release in 2007. Meanwhile, “Hypnotize” “still plays on dancefloors all over the world,” says Combs. “All you need is that beat to get the crowd going.”