On March 9, 1997, music mourned the passing of hip-hop icon The Notorious B.I.G. after he was fatally shot in Los Angeles. His impeccable flare and innate wordplay captivated listeners on tracks like "Juicy," "One More Chance," and "Big Poppa." Despite having his career curtailed at the age of 24, his magnum opuses, 1994's Ready to Die and 1997's double-album Life After Death, are still revered by the culture twenty years later.
In hopes of maintaining his legacy, FOX 5 news reporter and host of Hot 97's Street Soldiers, Lisa Evers, created a TV special to celebrate Biggie's illustrious career. Evers tapped two of Wallace's close friends in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s Lil Cease and Hot 97's DJ Enuff, Biggie's tour DJ, to ruminate on their days with the late rapper.
Airing last Friday (March 3), the special unearthed many gems about Christopher Wallace's life. Billboard recently spoke with Evers to discuss her latest work, her history of reporting on the late Brooklyn rapper, and if hip-hop will ever find out who killed Biggie.
What made you decide to put together this Biggie special for his 20th death anniversary?
At the time when Biggie was still alive, he was a normal figure and a usual figure around Hot 97. One of the first stories that I covered for news as a radio news reporter was his funeral. After it happened, everybody was in shock. I had the first interview ever with his mother Voletta Wallace after Biggie passed. I just became very interested in the case, as so many of our listeners did. I was a huge fan of the music and just knowing where he came from and what he achieved -- the more I found out about him, the more intriguing his whole story became. I think a lot of people feel that way.
Where you were when you first found out about his passing?
It was March 9, 1997. My late father passed away in January and his birthday is March 10. It was a Sunday morning and we were having a brunch with my aunt in Rockland County. We grew up there, because he's known her for all her life, and this was 1997, when we were on basic cellphones and communication were beepers, pagers, and phones. I called the station and they just said, "We heard Biggie died. We need you to get down here right away" because Street Soldiers has always been the only thing close to a news program that Hot 97 has ever had. I went down there and finished up quickly with my day, which was totally understood. I drove into the city and into the station, and we just went on the air immediately. We played his music and were just taking calls from listeners and trying to get an understanding of what had actually happened, and of course, confirm it.
You covered his funeral for Hot 97. What was the atmosphere and vibe of New York that day?
I think a lot of people were in shock. For the '90s babies, that era was much more violent than the era that we live in today. There was a lot more street violence. Urban life for everybody was a lot rougher, in general. He was such a huge presence. Cease brought up in the interview that we had on FOX 5 on Street Soldiers that he was 17 at the time. He said, "I want people to understand there was no social media." So, for artists and their fans, they had an extremely personal relationship because if you wanted to get hot, like even when 50 Cent was starting out, you're taking your CDs around in the trunk of somebody's car or van, and literally putting them in people's hands and trying to get them into the record shops in the boroughs. I think that's what made it even more devastating to people because so many of them in New York had seen Biggie at shows. They had seen him at meet-and-greets. That was the way artists got hot then. It wasn't like now when you better get popping on YouTube and Instagram and get your numbers up and you're good. If you had a show, you had to have lines around the block. If you did a meet-and-greet, you wanted hundreds of people there in the streets, and you wanted them to call police because it was such a huge crowd. So I think there were fewer artists than there are now. People had a much more direct relationship with the artists because there was that personal touch as they were coming up through their careers. Biggie was only in his mid-20s, so you're talking about somebody who had a very intense impact in a very short time.
What compelled you to have Lil Cease in your Biggie special instead of anyone else?
Well, I've had Cease on the show. I'm sure you know that as an interviewer, when you're talking to people that you have a relationship with, it's a much more comfortable situation, and people will talk more. I was actually delightfully surprised about how open Cease got on Street Soldiers. He called me afterwards and said, "Wow. I've never said those things in an interview like that before. I feel so good because now I feel like it's official, since it was out on FOX 5." We're part of the news operations at FOX 5 so he was really happy about that, and, of course, the Hot 97 connection. I wanted him on because he was so close to B.I.G. He was in the car [when the shooting happened]. He was 17-years-old. One of the other things that he said to us on the show that people really understood was "I didn't understand at the time, but Biggie saved my life. If I stayed out there in Brooklyn, if I had stayed there on Fulton Street, and hadn't gone on tour with him, and hadn't been in the studio with him," he's convinced that he would have gotten caught up in street life and probably gotten killed from that. I wanted Cease because he's the last person that was close to Biggie that was with him in those final moments.
Was there something that Lil Cease said that stuck out to you that you may have not known about Biggie?
There was one thing that came out that was really good. I knew from being in the hip-hop scene in the '90s with Hot 97 and Street Soldiers, and as a radio reporter for 1010 Wins, that Biggie never really wrote his lyrics down. He never did what some of these rappers do where they memorize their freestyles so it comes off smooth. I think the thing that really helped to humanize Biggie was when Cease said, "The crazy thing was that he had this tough guy persona and yet this was a guy that was always smiling and always joking around." Both Cease and Enuff said one of the things that they both regretted was that there were such few pictures of Biggie clowning around, actually laughing, and actually smiling. There was one in the "Juicy" video. We found the one clip where he's actually smiling for a brief couple of seconds so we were able to pop that up when Cease was talking about it, and people could actually see what he was talking about.
For the younger generation who may be unaware of his legacy, why do you feel Biggie has been so revered for over 20 years?
I think his lyrical skills and the slang. It's incredible to me. I'll hear new artists using slang that he used that he kind of broke 20 years ago, which is crazy. Yeah, there's been incidents like the Rich Homie Quan thing at the award show when he flubbed the Biggie lyrics during the tribute, or Lil Yachty claiming he didn't really know who he was, but when you look at artists like Kodak Black or the new generation of artists, if they're serious about being an MC or they're serious about the culture, Biggie is still one of the gold standards. He's still one of the standards they hold themselves against, like, "How good am I to him?" This guy was telling stories freestyling.
I think also his sound. In a lot of ways, the new generation has a new take but it's kind of that foundation that he laid with different beats, the beats that New York people always thought were West Coast type of beats. New York rappers up until that time and still now, were always known for the lyrical content, the spitting, how fast they can go, how sharp, and the language. With all that, artists were like, "Wait a minute. We can have this type of beat too. We can make music that makes us feel good." He kind of brought that element to it.
Do you believe that hip-hop will ever find out who killed Biggie?
I don't know if hip-hop will, but I sure hope that I will, and I hope that I'll be able to find out. You have to remember, when this happened, everyone around him was very young. It was a big shock. It wasn't like now where we know when somebody got arrested or somebody went through the system. It was a devastating shock to people. I continue to talk to people. I've talked to a lot of people about the case, and a lot of people close to him. I think what it's gonna take is as people mature and go through times and different changes through their own lives, people know something. I'm sure that there's somebody looking at their own kid going, "Hey. There's this mother Voletta Wallace and Biggie was her only son." She put everything into raising him and raising him the right way. She put him in Catholic school. That was another funny thing [I learned] from the show. He went to Catholic school. That's why he was such a good writer. I think for his children, and really for his mother -- who's facing some serious health issues right now -- to see some kind of justice would do her really good. And, of course, for his fans, the people who loved him. So, I haven't given up hope and I think we will see the day.