Words by Daniel Isenberg
The Notorious B.I.G. is often remembered for his short but potent discography. Both Ready To Die and Life After Death are certified classics, as is pretty much every verse he ever laid to wax. But let’s be clear—Biggie was an incredible live performer, too. For an MC of his size and stature, he had top-notch breath control and an unparalleled stage presence. And whether he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a Coogi sweater, a butter soft leather or a tuxedo, his style was always on point.
Rather than wait until the anniversary of Biggie’s death on March 9th, we thought we’d set the month off by celebrating his life and music right now with our latest Video Vault featuring 15 Classic Biggie Smalls Live Performances. From the streets of Brooklyn to the stages of London, and with appearances by everyone (Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, Method Man, Nas, Jay Z, Puff, Lil’ Kim, etc), this is a collection of live B.I.G. clips that we all should cherish every day of the year.
1. “Freestyle” (Live in Brooklyn)
If you watch the full footage from this classic clip of a teenage Christopher Wallace rapping outside a Bed-Stuy bodega, you’ll see that the little dude in the white shirt was talking mad shit about how no one could see him (“I’ma take y’all both at the same time”). Well, Biggie might have been dancing and joking around at first, but it looks like he took it to heart once he finally got the mic, ripping duke to shreds as his neighbors cheer him on, all in awe of the skill and wordplay. It’s safe to say that on this day in history, a rap star was born in Brooklyn.
2. “Freestyle” ft. Snoop Dogg, Daz, Warren G, and 2Pac
The sound quality isn’t that great here, but nevertheless this is super-historic. Before Biggie blew up like you thought he would, he found himself on a crowded stage with Snoop Dogg, Daz, Warren G, and his buddy 2Pac. As you’ll see about four minutes in after Snoop and the rest of the Death Row crew take turns spitting, Pac goes over and lobbies for Warren G to pass B.I.G. the mic. And Biggie proceeds to rip the fuck out of his verse, which is the same one he kicks during this acapella freestyle session with 2Pac. It’s crazy to see Pac go so hard for Biggie—but that’s how their relationship was in the beginning.
Also, this footage of Pac and Biggie on stage doing “Party & Bullshit” is pretty low quality, but also rare so peep if you’re interested.
3. “Juicy” (Live on MTV’s The Grind)
Ahh, the good old days when MTV played music videos all day and took trips to Spring Break. I can clearly remember watching B.I.G. perform his breakout hit “Juicy” on The Grind with Eric Nies, freshly dipped in a Coogi while Puff and Lil Cease held down his adlibs. When he was dead broke, I bet he couldn’t picture this. Check out his performance of “Big Poppa” here, too.
4. “Unbelievable” b/w “Take It Easy” (Live in Atlanta)
I have this hand-held clip on the bonus DVD of the Ready To Die reissue. Live in Atlanta, Biggie does what he did during this memorable Hot 97 appearance with Funkmaster Flex, and flips “Unbelievable” over Mad Lion’s “Take It Easy” instrumental. The outdoor crowd is with him all the way, too. Nice off-key singing by the way, Puff.
You can also watch him perform this same version of “Unbelievable” live at Jack the Rapper HERE.
5. “Big Poppa” (The Show)
Biggie was one of the handful of artists featured in the awesome 1995 rap documentary The Show, and the footage from his segments included live performances as well as an exclusive interview with him and his mom. Watch a jiggy Biggie perform his Ready To Die single “Big Poppa” above.
*Bonus* “Big Poppa” & “Unbelievable” (Live on The Apollo Comedy Hour)
Let’s take it Uptown for a second to The Apollo Comedy Hour, where a leathered-down B.I.G. came through to represent with a medley performance of “Big Poppa” and the DJ Premier-produced album version of “Unbelievable.” It’s hot how he switches it up at the end of the first “Big Poppa” chorus and drops right into the second verse of “Unbelievable” like, “B-I-G, G-I-E, aka, B-I-G, get it…” The crowd was pleasantly surprised for sure, and responds as such by finishing the bar for him, yelling out “Biggie!” right on cue. Shouts to UpNorthTrips with the rip.
6. “Big Poppa (Remix)” (Live on The Jon Stewart Show)
Before his sixteen year stint on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart got his feet wet with his own talk show on MTV. And Biggie came through suited up with the white scarf and all to rip the stage, and elected to rock the “Big Poppa (Remix)” complete with new lyrics. Peace to Minnie Driver.
7. “Gimme The Loot” (Live in Boston)
Anyone ever seen the B.I.G. DVD Rap Phenomenon? There are some rare clips in it, this being one of them. It’s not the strongest camera work I’ve ever seen, but you’ll get the point. He’s a bad, bad man—motherfuckin’ right.
Also, watch B.I.G. and Cease perform “Gimme The Loot” on The Show HERE.
8. “Machine Gun Funk” (Live in Los Angeles)
“So you wanna be hardcore…” The audio on this clip kinda sucks shit, but I gotta include it because the visuals are just so raw. And it’s not so easy to find footage of B.I.G. performing “Machine Gun Funk” either, so consider this a gem.
9. “Warning” (Live in San Francisco at KMEL Summer Jam)
RIP Big Kap, who holds down the wheels of steel during this Bay Area performance of “Warning” at KMEL Summer Jam in San Francisco. Gonna dedicate this one to you Kap, even though this set wasn’t your finest hip-hop moment. As someone who grew up hearing your voice everywhere, you are most certainly missed. I hope you and B.I.G. are somewhere rolling dice and joking about the time he threw a water bottle at you on stage when the instrumental kept fucking up. I can hear the laughs now.
10. “The What” ft. Method Man (Live in New York)
This is crazy. Biggie and Meth performing “The What” together at Roseland?! FTW! People really don’t talk about this collaboration enough. Watch the vid and read Method Man’s story behind the song on Complex.
*Bonus* “Freestyle” ft. Nas (Live in New York)
Method Man pops up in this clip from Miss Jones’ birthday party, too, which originally aired on Video Music Box. The only problem with it is that the audio and the video aren’t exactly synced up, but other than that, it’s Biggie and Nas rapping back-to-back on stage together, wow! Nas kicks some bars from the It Was Written deep cut “Suspect,” while B.I.G. follows with a verse from his Junior M.A.F.I.A. collabo “Oh My Lord.” Check it out.
11. “Who Shot Ya” (Live in Chicago)
Some more shaky footage, but we gotta embrace it, right? This one’s of Biggie live in Chicago performing “Who Shot Ya,” which is definitely one of my Top 3 B.I.G. songs ever. Just imagine hearing his thunderous voice come in over this beat live in a club, or arena, or wherever. So vicious. Check the view from the back of the stage as he goes in.
12. “Can’t You See” ft. Total (Live on BET)
“Gimme all the chickenheads from Pasadena to Medina…” Oh man, I’m sorry no shots but they don’t make R&B remixes like this anymore. Biggie was so ill because he could spit that hard shit but also lace R&B tracks smoother than anyone else, too. Check the in-studio BET footage above with Bad Boy trio Total, and as a bonus peep him do “Big Poppa” during the same appearance HERE.
13. “Player’s Anthem/One More Chance (Remix)” ft. Lil’ Kim (Live at the 1995 Source Awards)
I hate this performance because I can’t stand when people rap over their own lyrics. Nevertheless, it was a memorable moment in hip-hop history, as Biggie, Lil’ Kim and Puff took the stage at the Source Awards in 1995 to perform “Player’s Anthem” amidst all the East Coast/West Coast nonsense. Unfortunately, the night was littered with more bullshit than party.
14. “Get Money” ft. Jay Z (Live in NYC)
Jay Z doing live “Get Money” ad-libs for Biggie? Yes, this really happened. Every time I watch this clip, I wish I was in the crowd. Look how happy B.I.G. looks, holding a drink and celebrating success the right way with his Marcy homie. Still wish we got the chance to see these two tour together, but I’ll settle for this any day.
15. “One More Chance (Remix)” ft. Faith Evans (Live on the Soul Train Awards)
This was B.I.G.’s last live performance ever, literally just one night before he was murdered in Los Angeles. And look at him! He was fresh as fuck in a black tux, rocking the Soul Train Award show stage with his wife Faith helping out on the hook and Puff by his side with the hype. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t make it to see the sun rise on Sunday. Shit is so sad, damn. RIP.
Want more? Check out Biggie’s Showtime at the Apollo performance of the “One More Chance (Remix)” HERE.
*UK Bonus* The Notorious B.I.G. (Live in London)
Some extended video courtesy of Tim Westwood that’s worth revisiting if you missed it when it was first released a few years back. He runs through a bunch of classics overseas…
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