The verse Jay-Z dedicated to Biggie Smalls
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The verse Jay-Z dedicated to Biggie Smalls

Music mogul billionaire Jay-Z (real name Shawn Carter) has become one of the most successful hip-hop artists of all time and, since his emergence in the late 1990s, has sold millions of records. However, before his explosion into the mainstream, Biggie Smalls was the most prominent artist in New York.

Born and raised in the infamously poor Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, Carter was raised by his mother. Jay-Z grew up in the 1980s. During this period, Brooklyn was a musical hotspot.

As New York entered the 1990s, the borough became more musically active than the Bronx, to the surprise of many. As a teen, Carter attended several local schools and, along the way, was even classmates with other Brooklyn rappers such as Biggie Smalls and Busta Rhymes. 

When Biggie (real name Christopher Wallace) was releasing his first album, Ready To Diein 1994, Carter was busy setting up his record label alongside Damon Dash. The two were hustlers and had endured similar tribulations while trying to get into the music game. The pair had gone to extreme lengths to raise funds and had both seen the ugly side of Brooklyn. This alone was enough to form a bond between them.

Although Biggie was already flourishing when Roc-A-Fella was first created, he was happy to take Carter under his wing and ensure he knew all the right people in the industry. Wallace wanted to cultivate and nurture the next generation of Brooklyn talent and was happy to help.

However, the musicians’ friendship was short-lived. Following the moderate success of his debut project, Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z began recording and curating his second album, In My Lifetime Vol 1. It was during this period that (while in Los Angeles) The Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed. 

Following Wallace’s tragic murder, Jay-Z wrote a tribute song dedicated to the late rapper. Many tracks were released by New York artists during this period. One of the most well-known is ‘I’ll be Missing You’ by Diddy, featuring Faith Evans and R’n’B group 112. However, one lesser-known song made in memory of Wallace is Jay-Z’s ‘The City Is Mine.’

Appearing on Carter’s second album, the tribute was released as the project’s third single. The song features background vocals from Blackstreet and was partially produced by the New Jack City legend Teddy Riley. On the track, Jay raps, “A world with amnesia won’t forget your name,”

In an interview following the release of his 2010 album, Decoded, Carter explained the line, stating, “There was a vow in that song about BIG. It was my way of always keeping him fresh and keeping his music fresh on everyone’s mind.” You can listen to ‘The City Is Mine’ in the video below.