Notorious B.I.G. died in 1997, but the fascination with his murder is still strong

Notorious B.I.G., pictured at the Billboard Music Awards Dec. 6, 1995, was killed 1997. His murder remains a subject of fascination.
Notorious B.I.G., pictured at the Billboard Music Awards Dec. 6, 1995, was killed 1997. His murder remains a subject of fascination. AP File Photo

Twenty-one years after the Notorious B.I.G.’s death, the rapper's murder is still a subject of fascination and true-crime shows.

USA Network has debuted a new series called “Unsolved,” with the 10-episode first season given over to “The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.” — the still-unsolved murders of Biggie and his rival Tupac Amaru Shakur, who was fatally wounded in a shooting on the Las Vegas strip six months earlier.

The series debuted Feb. 27, just a few weeks before the March 9 anniversary of Biggie's death.

It's also time to remember Biggie's early roots. Years before he became famous, back when he was still just Christopher Wallace, he spent a few years in Raleigh in the early 1990s.

The piece below originally ran when the biopic “Notorious” was hitting movie screens in 2009. Biggie's friend, Greg Dent, remembers that time.

Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur, left, and Wavyy Jonez as Christopher "Biggie" Wallace in "Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G." Isabella Vosmikova USA Network

Notorious B.I.G.’s Raleigh days, revisited

Jan. 25, 2009

If you see “Notorious,” the biopic about the late Notorious B.I.G., keep an eye out for a brief local angle. The film shows the rapper calling his mother from behind bars in Raleigh, a bit of verisimilitude grounded in real-life events.

Back in the early 1990s, when he was still Christopher Wallace, Biggie Smalls spent some of his pre-fame time in the Triangle. And he got into trouble around here, too, although at least one of his friends from back then remembers Smalls in a more innocent light.

“He used to come hang out at the club I ran, the Zoo,” says Greg Dent (who now runs a club in Raleigh called Rockland). “He came to my birthday party and stayed for four days straight, and I had to get him a hotel room and feed his (expletive) because he was broke as a wooden nickel. But he kept rapping at my party, and I kept telling him to get off the mike.

“The funniest thing was, all Biggie wanted to do was eat,” Dent adds. “He was almost childlike. I mean, he knew all about the hard stuff, and he hustled because everybody kinda did back then. But a lot of the gangsta stuff was (Sean “Puffy” Combs’) creation — the imaging, the clothes. Behind the scenes, he was more of a silly guy. He’d have you in stitches. And he was always saying he was gonna be the biggest rapper ever.”

Dent says that he and Mr. C (Big Daddy Kane’s deejay) did what they could to keep Biggie out of trouble — “Quit hustling! You got talent, stay outta them crack houses!” — with mixed results. Smalls was arrested in Raleigh in 1991 for possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to sell, pleading guilty to the charges and receiving probation and a 10-year suspended sentence.

But the rapper was right when he predicted he’d be a star, beginning with his 1994 debut album “Ready to Die.” He died less than three years later, gunned down in 1997 shortly before the release of the ironically titled “Life After Death.”

Between those two albums, Notorious B.I.G. passed through the Triangle a few more times. He played in Chapel Hill in 1995, opening for Jodeci at the Smith Center. He also played the last-ever show at Raleigh’s Taj Mahal nightclub. After that show, he paid Dent a visit.

“He rolled in right before 2 a.m.,” Dent says. “’What’s up, Greg?’ and he had this silly grin. ‘I told you I was gonna make it. I told you!’ Still the same silly dude. We drank a six-pack of Heineken, talked about old times, and I gave him another one to go. That was the last I ever saw of him.”