The death of Biggie Smalls sent shockwaves through the music industry. The death of Christopher Wallace would highlight the carelessness of death within hip hop culture and push to end the coastal feud that had raged throughout the 1990s, with Smalls and his counterpart Tupac Shakur killed by the issues caused. For Jay-Z, a Brooklynite rapper, the loss of Smalls hit particularly hard.
Born and raised in the drug-infested The Marcy Projects, a public housing scheme located in Bedford-Stuyvesant of Brooklyn, Carter was raised by his mother. Brooklyn was a musical hotspot during the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially for hip hop. As an adolescent, Carter attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School along with rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes. It created a firm connection.
Having built a small buzz as Big Daddy Kane’s hype-man and frequent collaborator, Jay-Z remained relatively anonymous until he founded Roc-A-Fella Records alongside Dame Dash. Through his local Brooklyn school connections, Jay-Z landed a 1996 collaboration with The Notorious B.I.G. for his debut album Reasonable Doubt, which he released through his label.
Biggie Smalls was killed on March 9th, 1997, in a drive-by shooting and leaving a whole generation of rappers without their de facto leader. While many would mourn the artist’s passing, Jay-Z would enshrine the performer in a few songs. Some of those songs were directed as a tribute, but one song from Hova would be a pointed attack.
The 2003 song ‘Lucifer’ would see Jay not only lament the loss of Biggie Smalls but also wish a swift and violent revenge on his killers. “I wanted people to have the proper context of rap, the generation, what we went through, these emotions behind these songs,” he explained to MTV News when reflecting on the originations of certain songs and why they deserve a keener explanation.
“A song like ‘Lucifer,'” continued Hova, “it’s really about the struggle and really about dealing with death and having that feeling. The evil is inside of you, not this mythical character with pitchforks and things like that. Dealing with a feeling of wanting revenge.”
With vicious lyrics and one of Kanye West’s better beats, the song was a particular highlight of The Black Album, no matter how sad the song’s origination was.