Remember When Tupac Gave Biggie Smalls His First Rolex?


Christopher George Latore Wallace, more commonly referred to as the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or simply Biggie, is historically noted as what many consider to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. During the heat of the ’90s, Brooklyn-born Wallace revitalized the East Coast hip-hop scene at a time when the industry was dominated by West Coast rappers. The divide ultimately led to the famed costal duel between Wallace and Los Angeles-born rapper Tupac Shakur. Despite the growing hostility between the hip-hop stars, Wallace reinvigorated East Coast music with timeless hits such as “Big Poppa,” “Juicy,” and “Hypnotize.” The latter track was featured on his posthumous album Life After Death and was one of the few solo hip-hop albums to be certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America. Wallace passed away at the age of 24 on March 9, 1997 in an unsolved, drive-by-shooting that has left deep-rooted conspiracies tied to the music industry. On the eve of his death anniversary, CR remembers the oft-disputed friend-turned-foe tale of Shakur and Wallace battling for hip-hop’s throne.

Wallace grew up in a Jamaican family in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. His mother worked two jobs in order to send him to private schools, where he won multiple awards in English. He earned the nickname “Big” from other students because of his larger-than-life appearance. Yearning for a different life than what his mother planned for him, Wallace turned to dealing drugs at the age of 12 and begging his mother to attend public schools in the area like his friends.

He began rapping as a teenager, entertaining people in the streets of the neighborhood. After his release from prison in 1991 over drug-related charges, Wallace recorded his first demo, “Microphone Murderer,” which caught the attention of Sean “Puffy” Combs, who worked as an intern for Uptown Records. After leaving Uptown Records and forming his own label, Bad Boy Entertainment, Combs signed Wallace.

Wallace first met Shakur in L.A. in 1993 on the set of Poetic Justice, for which Shakur stars in. Allegedly, Shakur was repeatedly playing the then-little-known Wallace’s single, “Party & Bullsh*t,” which resulted in an introduction between the two, and later, a close bond.

Reportedly, Shakur even gifted Wallace his very first Rolex watch. Shakur loved the Swiss timepiece brand and was one of the first rappers to popularize it, notably wearing his yellow-gold President Day-Date watch until the day he died. The exchange represented camaraderie between the two.

As Shakur rapidly gained popularity within the music industry, Wallace struggled and came to him for help in managing his career. Shakur ultimately declined the offer, telling him, “Nah, stay with Puff. He will make you a star.”

But it wasn’t all roses for the duo. On November 29, 1994, Shakur was shot five times, but survived. The assailants stole around ,000 worth of jewelry from Shakur, but bizarrely left his beloved Rolex. Wallace’s single, “Who Shot Ya?,” released one month after the shooting, roused suspicion in Shakur, who interpreted it as a confession of Wallace’s involvement in the attempted murder. He called the timing of the release “tasteless.”

Days later, Shakur was sentenced to a year-and-a-half in prison over sexual assault charges. Unable to pay bail, Suge Knight, head of West Coast-based Death Row Records, stepped in to resolve his charges in an effort sign Shakur to his own label, intensifying the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry and the quarrel between Wallace and Shakur.

Shakur was fatally shot on September 7, 1996 by an anonymous assailant at a stoplight after attending a boxing match in Las Vegas, Nevada. There were—and still are—many controversies surrounding the murder, but the public seemed to turn to the famed coastal feud as the cause. Wallace’s wife, Faith Evans, later claimed he sounded distraught and afraid after the incident. Wallace later provided invoices to prove he was in New York that night, but theories and suspicions continued to fester.

Seven months later, Wallace was fatally shot in L.A. from a drive-by incident akin to Shakur’s. The close timing and eerily similar nature of both murders heightened conspiracies and provided validation for those who linked the deaths with the coastal battle, despite evidence. Nevertheless, the two deaths were considered to be the end of an era in the realms of hip-hop.

Like Shakur’s lasting imprint in music, Wallace’s legacy lives on through his bellowing baritone vocals and effortless flow. And though the two talents never lived to reconcile, their friendship—a bond sealed with a Rolex—will forever remain engrained in music history.


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