Notorious B.I.G. (or Christopher Wallace as his Mum calls him) is, or at least should be, the first rapper that comes to mind when you think of when of emcees who are no longer with us, and for good reason, too. He’s arguably the most iconic rapper of all-time and, unlike Tupac, he actually had the genuine talent to back up his legendary status. The East Coast–West Coast rivalry reared its ugly head in the nineties and dominated the rap game, and eventually claimed the lives of both of each sides biggest star, but that Biggie is held in such high regard amongst his peers (‘Pac is, too, but he is, for my buck, the most overrated rapper of all-time, closely followed by Eminem) despite only releasing two solo albums tells you all you need to know about his talent. Big Poppa’s flow was unmatched, his self-depreciative humour and whit were rare for a bad boy (sorry), and what he could have achieved had he not been shot in a LA drive by is scary; to borrow a phrase from the big man himself, the sky was the limit. Plus, personal wealth or not, he managed to somehow convince Faith Evans to marry him, and lord knows she was a fine piece of tail in the nineties. Gangster rap may now be as dead as the great man himself, but there’s no doubting that he was a true Hip-Hop pioneer.
One half of Gangstarr, arguably the most prolific and talented Hip-Hop duo ever, Guru was one of the most underrated emcees to ever grace the mic. His unmatchable flow and laid back style worked perfectly with DJ Premier’s beats to form the greatest musical marriage you could ever hope for. Guru’s anti-ostentatious social commentary played a prominent role in Gangstarr’s music and the group were successful for more than a decade before they split. The circumstances surrounding his death were certainly mysterious: after battling with cancer, Guru suffered a heart attack, went into a coma, and died on April 19, 2010. The alleged collusion was further compounded when it was claimed that Guru had briefly awakened from his coma to pen a bizarre public open letter, which was released by Solar, a long-time collaborator of the artist, although DJ Premier and members of the emcee's family stated that he never regained consciousness. Solar had denied friends and family from seeing Guru close to his this death, and the validity of the letter has been heavily questioned by the rapper's family and many of his contemporaries within Hip-Hop. According to a statement released by Guru’s PR company upon his death, he appeared to have fallen out with DJ Premier seven years prior to his death, but Primo had never held any contempt towards Guru. The confusion and mystery regarding his death and this letter unfortunately take the focus away from what a talented artist Guru was.
Also, because I'm feeling extra generous, here's Biggie and Guru featuring on the same track:
Ol’ Dirty Bastard
One of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan, arguably the most influential Hip-Hop groups of all-time, the supreme talent of Ol’ Dirty Bastard (the most famous of his many monikers which included Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt, Dirt Dog, and Joe Bananas)was overshadowed by his chaotic personal life. Many musicians have struggled with drug use but his mental instability and frequent arrests labelled him as a maverick, even by Hip-Hop standards. Never out of the limelight, some of his finer moments have include going to pick up his welfare check when in a limousine with his kids whilst being filmed by MTV, and famously gate crashing the Grammy’s to moan about losing the award for best Hip-Hop album to Puff Daddy, where his infamous quote "when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children; we teach the children" comes from. His instantly recognisable flow made him a true genius; his free-associative, scatological lyrics were delivered in a truly idiosyncratic fashion, somewhere between rapping and tuneless singing. His personal troubles were well documented and after a whole host of crimes – including turning up to an album release part with the rest of the Wu-Tang more than a month after being on the run from the police for skipping a flight to rehab - he was sentenced to two to four years in jail. He was unable to shake his drug addiction, and died of a drug overdose two days before his 36th birthday. Had he managed to stay clean, he could have accomplished far more than he did, and maybe we’d have been treated to another Wu-Tang record.
After featuring in various Hip-Hop crews, including Children Of The Corn and Diggin' in the Crates Crew, throughout his early career, Big L first appeared on television on Yo! MTV Raps with Lord Finesse, before rising to prominence and gaining national acclaim with his debut record ‘Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous’. An auspicious storyteller, whose metaphors and similes are amongst some of the finest the genre has ever seen, Big L started over as a freestyler, which is apparent in all of his work as his flow is flawless. He was also credited with creating the horrocore genre of Hip-Hop due to the success of his first track 'Devil's Son', a song he made not only because he was a huge fan of horror flicks, but as a recollection of some of the things he saw growing up in Harlem. As with too many artists in rap, his extra-curricular activities and questionable lifestyle ultimately lead to his untimely death; he was shot nine times by Gerard Woodley, one of his childhood friends, aged just 24. There are several theories surrounding his death, with suggestions that this was payback for something his two brothers who were both serving time in prison did, something that was later confirmed by his brother, Donald Phinazee, in 2010. A true tragedy, as he'd have no doubt gone down as one of the all-time greats had he lived long enough to bring out more material.