On the Beat

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

Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls.
Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls.

Today marks 20 years to the day since the death of Christopher Wallace, an artist known to the world as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls. Wallace had yet to turn 25 years old at the time of his death in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, but he was already one of the biggest names in hip-hop.

And here’s a little-known fact: Years before he became famous, Wallace put in some time in Raleigh in the early 1990s. The piece below ran around the time the “Notorious” biopic was released in early 2009.

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Biggie’s Raleigh connection

By David Menconi, News & Observer

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 would die 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.”

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi