There’s no doubt that The Notorious B.I.G. was one of the most talented and skilled rappers hip hop has ever seen.
But without Puffy’s guiding hand and ear of production, Big would have stayed an underground Brooklyn MC, instead of becoming one of the best-selling rappers of all time.
Case in point: when they were working on Big’s 1994 debut album, Ready to Die, he got in an argument with Puff about the album’s lead single. For Big, a hardcore hip hop head in his heart, he wanted “Machine Gun Funk”, a Easy Mo Bee-produced banger that was hard yet smooth at the same time. In Big’s eyes, it was the perfect lead single, funky enough for radio play, but gritty enough to be played on Brooklyn corners.
But for Puff, it wasn’t radio-friendly enough. He wanted Big to rhyme over the Trackmasters-produced “Juicy” which featured a prominent sample of Mtume’s 1983 hit single, “Juicy Fruit.” Biggie hated the song, he felt like it was too soft and was afraid it would alienate his hardcore Brooklyn fanbase, but in the end he did what Puffy wanted.
“Puffy was on some, ‘Yo, let’s get rich shit,” Big said in an interview. “He said ‘If you put out “Juicy” you’ll have a gold single.’ I wasn’t even with “Juicy,” but he’s saying, ‘Let’s go get the money,’ so I’m like, fuck it.”
Released on August 9, 1994, a month before Ready to Die hit, “Juicy” was a smash, peaking at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Hot Rap Singles. Biggie had his first hit record, but even better than that, he got a little of what he wanted – “Juicy” was backed by “Unbelievable,” a Premo-produced knocker that gave hardcore hip hop fans exactly what they were looking for from the Brooklyn lyricist. This was Puffy’s genius in the works, with one single, Biggie had the radio and streets on lock.
DJ Enuff: I remember Big huffing and puffing, like, I gotta do this ’cause Puffy says so. He wasn’t really too happy about it. Even though Biggie might say, “Fuck what Puffy says,” when Puffy came around, he’d do exactly what Puffy told him to do, you know what I mean? ‘Cause he knew it was right.Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious BIG | Cheo Hodari Coker