Peering across the lineage of hip hop, it’s hard not to think of Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G., as the daddy of modern hip hop. His unique flow, unstoppable swagger and undeniable charisma made him an icon of 1990s hip hop and ever since his tragic passing, his power and status has been eulogised, and his influence felt across the land.
Biggie always managed to produce songs that felt eternally connected to his persona in a comparatively small canon of work. Not only was he living the life he wrote and recorded about, but he did it with a humanity that has rarely been felt since. Big wasn’t celebrating that he’d been a drug dealer and notorious criminal; he was merely expressing the life that he’d led. It makes some of his songs incredibly personal.
One such track is the brutal yet brilliant ‘Ten Crack Commandments’. One of the final tracks Big recorded for Life After Death; the song has gone down in history as one of his greats. Not because it made light of the epidemic of crack that had swept through America in the 1980s to such devastating results, but because it showcased the life Big had been forced to lead.
In truth, this track is an example of Biggie’s prowess at telling stories from a human perspective, even if the protagonist is questionable. New York was in the midst of a crack epidemic, and it had swirled into a new decade to grab a new generation b the scruff of the neck and to drown them in addiction. After reading a survival guide to survive as a crack dealer in The Source magazine, Smalls decided to re-interpret that article and ‘Ten Crack Commandments’ was the splendid result.
The article was published in 1994 under the title ‘On the Rocks: From 1984 to 1994, Ten Years of Crack’ and included a note which provided ‘A Crack Dealer’s Ten Crack Commandments’, delivering a see of rules for all dealers to live by. The article was enough fuel to throw on Biggie’s fire, and the rapper ran with the idea.
What’s most interesting about the track isn’t the beats or the lyrics but how far Biggie Smalls experiments with precisely what a rap song can be. There’s no chorus on the track, and neither does Biggie abide by the 16-bar verse rule. He helped hip hop break away from its formulaic recipe and bring the genre to fresh, uncharted territory.
The song will go down in history as one of the seminal tracks of the 1990s. It has seen some memorable makeovers too. Biggie’s widow Faith Evans produced her own version of the song titled ‘Ten Wife Commandments’ while Lin-Manuel Miranda also paid homage to the song in his hit Broadway show Hamilton! with his ‘Ten Duel Commandments’.
Listen below to The Notorious B.I.G. song ‘Ten Crack Commandments’.
The Ten Crack Commandments:
- Never let no one know how much dough you hold.
- Never let ’em know your next move.
- Never trust nobody.
- Never get high on your own supply.
- Never sell no crack where you rest at.
- That goddamn credit, dead it. You think a crackhead paying you back, shit forget it!
- Keep your family and business completely separated.
- Never keep no weight on you!
- If you ain’t gettin’ bagged stay the fuck from police.
- Consignment strictly for live men, not for freshmen.