Mixtape Memories: 10 Classic Biggie Smalls Mixtape Cuts
Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
Today marks the 19th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls’ debut album Ready to Die, which hit stores on September 13th, 1994 during the prime of NYC’s mixtape era. In the time leading up to the LP’s release, and the two and a half years that followed before he was tragically murdered in March of 1997, Biggie Smalls reigned supreme in rap. During that period, the buzz and excitement surrounding any new song of his that debuted on a DJ mixtape was unmatched. Many of Ready to Die’s classic tracks, like “The What” with Method Man, “Unbelievable,” and “Respect,” were all available on mixtapes before their official release, and sometimes almost a year in advance due to high demand. And tracks like “Dreams” and “Who Shot Ya?”—which also were first heard on mixtapes—became fan favorites that still get radio spins today, thanks to popular New York City DJs like S&S, Clue, Craig G, and more first breaking them on their tapes. B.I.G. was the King of New York, and he earned his crown by not only putting out a platinum album, but also by having the mixtape game in a constant chokehold.
For this special edition of Mixtape Memories, we return to the years before and after Ready to Die’s release, and highlight 10 Classic Biggie Smalls Mixtape Cuts. This short list is made up of exclusive freestyles, early versions of beloved songs, and live performances, all featuring the actual audio from the DJ mixtapes they were originally featured on in ’94, ’95, and ’96. With Ready to Die in stores, and these joints all over the streets, B.I.G. could not be fucked with. Let’s get it on.
1. “Freestyle Live at Mister Cee’s Crib” (off Mister Cee’s The Best of Notorious B.I.G.)
It’s crazy to think that there was a Best of Biggie mixtape so soon into his rap career, but shit, Biggie had jams, early. And to start the ’95-released tape off with an exclusive, Mister Cee, the man responsible for Biggie’s first demos, got B.I.G. to rhyme over Casual’s “I Didn’t Mean To” instrumental, and used it for the intro. It’s a hard verse, where the self-proclaimed “Black Rhinoceros of Rap” effortlessly spits, “Biggie Smalls is the wickedest/Niggas say I’m pussy, I dare ya to stick ya dick in this/If I was pussy I’d be filled with syphilis/herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, gettin’ rid of ya.” Nasty. The chilled-out intro music was sick, too, and gave Biggie a chance to address the streets at the start of his trendsetting “Best of” mixtape. Great sequencing, Mister Cee!
2. “Intro” ft. Raekwon, Killa Sin, KRS-One, and O.C. (off Ron G’s It’s On Pt. 2)
The Mix King Ron G put together a potent posse cut featuring Biggie, Raekwon, KRS-One, O.C., and Killa Sin for the intro to his 1994 mixtape It’s On Pt. 2, which is now commonly referred to as “Stop the Breaks.” Raekwon set it off, flexing his Wu-Tang swordsmanship, KRS spit godly of course, and O.C. and Killa Sin both played their parts, but Biggie stole the show, rapping, “I’m hard, Jehovah said I’m barred from the pearly gates/Fuck ‘em, I didn’t want to go to heaven anyway.” He also let it be known, “I got 9s in the back room, glocks in the kitchen/A shotty by the shower if you wanna shoot me while I’m shittin’.” Damn.
3. “Young G’s” (off Puff Daddy and DJ Clue’s Bad Boy Mixtape Vol. 1)
The thing that’s important to understand about the mid-’90s mixtape era that Biggie dominated is that any time there was a new B.I.G. song listed on a tape’s cover, it was a must-buy. “What, a new Biggie?” Copped on sight. And Puff knew that, which is why he created the Bad Boy mixtape series in 1995 following the release of Ready to Die, and made sure that it always had an exclusive Biggie on it. On the first volume, which was hosted by the exclusive king of the moment DJ Clue, an incredible Biggie rhyme from out of nowhere appeared, presented over a laidback, blunted beat, perfect for him to spit his smooth, Brooklyn gangster shit on. “Damn it feel good to see people up on it/Flipped two kis in two weeks and didn’t flaunt it.” Yo, this shit was so ill, and no one had any idea where it came from or what it was going to be on. Unfortunately, Biggie wouldn’t live to see the day where Jay Z and Diddy would eventually lend verses to the track for Puff’s No Way Out LP.
4. “Freestyle” ft. Craig Mack (off Puff Daddy and DJ Doo Wop’s Bad Boy Mixtape Vol. 2)
DJ Doo Wop hosted Volume 2 of the Bad Boy mixtape series in ’95, and to set off the B-Side, he dropped a never-before-heard on air freestyle session from Tim Westwood’s UK radio show, which featured Biggie and fellow Bad Boy rap artist Craig Mack exchanging bars over Redman’s “Rockafella (Remix)” instrumental. Biggie kicked his verse from the posse cut “The Points,” rapping, “I went from construction Timbs to Acs with rims/Flipping mixtapes, to bitches feeding me grapes.” He also spit verses from his Junior M.A.F.I.A. duet with Klepto “Oh My Lord.” Sick.
5. “You’ll See” ft. The LOX (off Puff Daddy and Stretch Armstrong’s Bad Boy Mixtape Vol. 3)
The first time the mixtape world was properly introduced to The LOX was in 1996 on the lead song from Volume 3 of the Bad Boy mixtape series, hosted by underground radio DJ Stretch Armstrong. Styles P, Jadakiss, and Sheek Louch all got busy over a slight flip of EPMD’s “You’re a Customer,” and then B.I.G. killed it in the cleanup spot, solidifying himself as the OG on the label. Kiss the ring, this a Frank White thing.
6. “Freestyle” (off Puff Daddy and DJ S&S’s Bad Boy Mixtape Vol. 4)
Uptown’s own DJ S&S held down the final volume of the Bad Boy mixtape series in 1996, and his edition contained an exclusive Biggie freestyle over Lil’ Kim’s “No Time” instrumental (the verse would later appear on Biggie’s duet with Shaq “You Can’t Stop the Reign”). This verse must’ve been a favorite of his boy Jigga’s, because Hov borrowed two different lines from it on songs years later. Hov flipped B.I.G.’s opener, “A lime to a lemon, my D.C. women” on his Blueprint 2 track “Fuck All Night” (replacing D.C. with VA). And the line, “Push wigs back, push 6 coupes that’s yellow” on mixtape favorite “Don’t You Know” (he replaced 6 coupes with Bentley drops). We’re not mad at him, though Cam’ron seemed to be disappointed. It’s an extremely dope verse.
7. “Dead Wrong” (off DJ Craig G’s Sneakin’ Up On That Ass II)
For casual rap fans, their first introduction to Biggie’s song “Dead Wrong” was on his posthumous album Born Again, with an unforgettable guest appearance by up-and-coming superstar Eminem. But years before, DJ Craig G blessed the New York underground mixtape world with the original, never-before-heard version of the song on Side B of his 1995 summer smash tape Sneakin’ Up On That Ass II. The verses are the same, but the beat is less polished and grittier, with an insanely ill bass line. Needless to say, this was a crazy mixtape exclusive, and it showcased Biggie’s grimy ways with lines like, “Jabbed her then I asked her who’s the man? She said, ‘B-I-G,’ then I bust in here E-Y-E.’ If you don’t fuck with this version, you’re dead wrong.
8. “Live Freestyle” ft. 2Pac and Shyheim (off DJ Craig G’s Sneakin’ Up On That Ass II)
At the end of that same Craig G tape was the now famous recording of Biggie rapping on stage at Madison Square Garden (though it’s listed as “Live from L.G. Projects”) during Big Daddy Kane’s set in 1993, with 2Pac and Shyheim also joining in. It should be noted that Kane’s verse and also Big Skoob’s verse are cut from this mix, but they were heard on other tapes that were released during the same time period. Craig G had this on vinyl, and proved it by scratching up the live recording while talking a little shit, saying, “I got it on wax,” which is the reason why his audio is a favorite here at NahRight. 2Pac did his thing, but you gotta give it to B.I.G. He tore this shit to shreds, and it remains one of his most quotable verses of all time.
9. “Real Niggaz Pt. 1 & 2” (off DJ Clue’s Spring 1995 Pt. 1)
In the early stages of the East Coast/West Coast beef, after the release of “Who Shot Ya?” on the “Big Poppa” B-Side, and before The Source Awards where Suge Knight called out Puff Daddy in August, 1995, Biggie paid homage to the West Coast, rhyming over a two-part medley of Snoop Dogg beats (and also Above the Law’s “Black Superman” instrumental). And he killed it, telling a dramatic tale involving a robbery, a shootout, recovering from bullet wounds in the hospital, and more. It’s a damn shame that things escalated the way they did, because Biggie sure sounded ill over Death Row production.
10. “Freestyle” ft. The LOX (off Funkmaster Flex’s The Mix Tape Volume II: 60 Minutes of Funk)
When Funkmaster Flex released the second volume of his 60 Minutes of Funk retail-ready mixtape, he declared, “You know I had to get Bad Boy up on this piece,” before dropping a freestyle session featuring The Lox and Big Poppa rapping over Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” instrumental. Great beat selection, and B.I.G. went in, with lines like, “Got stripes in New York like Yankee uniforms.” It was a brief feature, but since his mixtape freestyles in 1996 were few and far between, and his highly-anticipated sophomore album Life After Death had yet to drop, it was fully appreciated.
RIP B.I.G. And RIP 2Pac, who coincidentally passed away on September 13th, 1996.
Previously: Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 1) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 2) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 1) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 2) | Mixtape Memories with Tony Touch | Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic Kanye West Freestyles | Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic Redman Freestyles