You have to hand it to Diddy. Before Kain, Fuzzbubble and Dy-lan, Sean Combs made the greatest decision – not only of his career but also for hip-hop itself – by benching Craig Mack for Chris Wallace. If Puff had continued to make moves with the crater-faced one-hit wonder, Bad Boy Records as a staff, record label and as a motherfuckin’ crew would be as prominent a company as, say, a Body Head Entertainment or a Damon Dash Music Group. But somewhere in between clacking two empty Coke bottles together and hearing Biggie Smalls absolutely destroy his opening verse in the remix to “Flava In Ya Ear,” Sean John had an epiphany that would forever change the soundscape of hip-hop.

Never mind that Puffy had plenty of missed opportunities to unleash this monster talent to the world, initially limiting his gold mine rapper to one-shot guest appearances with talents like Heavy D & the Boyz, Supercat and Neneh Cherry. Excuse the fact that “Party and Bullshit” was on the soundtrack to a movie starring Yo! MTV Raps hosts Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, or that his very first single, “Cruisin’,” caught about as many radio spins as a Dixie Chicks song on Hot 97. And yes, it did take catching Chris trapping all the fuck out in North Carolina for Puff to realize what he’d been sitting on.

But once “It was all a dream…” was pumped out of every Jeep, MPV and low-rider from Brooklyn to Compton, listeners all got that same warm, tingly feeling Sean did when he got Chris‘ demo from The Source. And ten years after his final recording, every snap, crackle and pop rapper, singer and rapper-turned-singer all agree on one thing:

The Notorious B.I.G. was a problem. And the greatest of all time.

In the early ’90s, Left Coast hip-hop had all blocks on smash. The laid-back, easy flows, post-George Clinton Funkadelic rhythms and the buttery smooth melodies had everyone from Long Beach Boulevard to Fulton Street in a gangsta lean. And at the forefront of all of this was the Suge Knight-commanded Death Row Records. With records like The Chronic, Doggystyle and Dogg Food (in which the video for its lead single “New York New York,” hilariously depicted label mates Snoop Dogg, Daz and Kurupt punting Manhattan’s most famous skyscrapers), not too many people were checking for the jazzy stylings of Native Tongue acts De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

That all changed, however, with the release of Ready To Die in 1994. Hardcore, humorous, story-telling, semi-autobiographical and club-ready all rolled into one, the album was Biggie Smalls at his finest, with each cut resembling more of a lesson in lyrical gymnastics than an actual song. From the grime ball tales of “Gimme The Loot” to the brutal honesty of “Everyday Struggles,” B.I.G. turned his life and inspirations into a Picasso-esque piece of audio magnificence, simultaneously becoming the benchmark for all east coast hip-hop albums to come and snatching the crown back from the west.

He also made it cool to be “Black and ugly as ever,” yet still able to mack the ladies and come across smoother than Big Daddy Kane could have ever been. With Coogi sweaters, a cane and Jesus pieces in tow and brimming with confidence, Biggie‘s unnatural charisma was an inspiration to all the less-than-perfect peoples in the world, making it possible for all the Joe Camels, gorillas with rabbit teeth and other hot ass messes to have a chance bagging the flyest model chicks.

Sadly, the notorious one was also the benchmark for one of the more destructive forces in hip-hop today: the beef. He was an unwilling participant at the forefront in the worst grudge match ever in hip-hop, with greedy publications constantly fanning the flames, and was ultimately an example of when keeping it real goes wrong, as bullets separated the lives from both him and Tupac Shakur.

In the years following his demise, Biggie has become the most blatantly copied martyr in all of rap today. Need further proof? Cop NasIt Was Written, Jay-Z‘s Reasonable Doubt or Raekwon‘s Only Built For Cuban Linx…. Arguably classics in their own right, the three albums glaringly showcased the same Mafioso identities, drug deals from here to Panama and near-effortless wordplay that made B.I.G. the black Frank White (something he would perfect in his sophomore release, Life After Death). Pages upon pages of his rhymes have been reused countless times from Rick Ross to Beanie Sigel to Pusha T. Many argue that Lil’ Kim wouldn’t be as prevalent as she is today had it not been for Biggie‘s guidance and influence. The idea of a non-Midwestern rapper spitting in a double-time flow at the time was unfathomable, yet B.I.G. “out-boned” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in “Notorious Thugs.” Witness the other late great heavyweight, Big Pun, who took the ideals of a plus-size rapper “crushing” the ladies with the greatest of ease to another level. Lil Wayne who – while known for borrowing from Jigga (who is also very well-known for “borrowing” from B.I.G.) – has stated that he no longer puts his rhymes down on paper, a talent Biggie infamously trademarked. Even his voice (and, freakishly, in some cases appearance) has been mimicked, from Shyne to Guerilla Black.

Truly the Zen master of wordplay, the Notorious B.I.G., in his five way-too-short years in the game, remains to this day the most inspirational, influential and swagger-jacked artist the hip-hop world has ever witnessed. His beats, rhymes and life have now become the guidelines for the perfect MC, and it gave Sean John a constant ghetto pass (hence why we still love him and all his “preserve my sexy” glory). Besides, would people really be clamoring for a Dream Duets: The Final Chapter or a Ma$e: Born Again album?

A second opinion by J-23

Like the man himself once said, “there’s rules to this shit,” but I’m just following the manual, not writing it. Biggie isn’t the greatest emcee of all-time, plain and simple. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t unbelievable, and it doesn’t mean he isn’t high on the list. But longevity is weighted fairly heavily on this debate and Biggie, unfortunately, had none of that. For all we know, Biggie could have fallen off mightily after Life After Death, its happened to other emcees of his caliber (just listen to say, A Taste of Chocolate by Big Daddy Kane). Some people lose their fire after too much success (see: Snoop), or switch up their style something terrible after a handful of albums (see: LL Cool J). Do I honestly think Big would have fallen off? I certainly wouldn’t bet on it, but that doesn’t mean he gets credit for it. We just don’t know what would have become of him, and two albums just weren’t enough to give him this grand distinction. wants to know… What do you think???