Notorious Big, aka Biggie Smalls, is an undeniable icon in hip-hop history. The Brooklyn-bred rapper popularized the gangsta rap movement in New York in the 1990s, and eventually changed his rap name to The Notorious Big, but before becoming Biggie Smalls, he went by an entirely different surname.
Biggie Smalls’ first songs were under a different name
Notorious Big first appeared as a teenager in the early 1990s. He sold crack in his neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant but he had always loved music of all kinds. When neighbors set up DJ booths and speakers and suddenly a rap fight broke out, he would get on the mic and impress everyone around him.
On his original demo tape for Uptown Records, his artist was named Biggie Smalls, named after a character from the 1975 film by Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. let’s do it again. But someone else had already claimed the name: a West Coast rapper named Biggie Smalls.
When Smalls began threatening legal action against Biggie for adopting the same name—even if spelled differently—he officially changed his name to The Notorious Big, or Big for short.
Biggie’s original rap name
Of course, The Notorious Big went on to become one of the most beloved rappers of all time. But before he even recorded his first demo tape, when he was rapping for fun as a young teen, he went by an entirely different name: MC Seawest.
The name is pronounced like “Search”, but they changed the spelling to include “CW” instead – the initials for their official name, Christopher Wallace.
One of His Colleagues, 50 Grand, Considered a Name Change in a 2021 Netflix Documentary Biggie: I’ve got a story to tell. Grand and Biggie both found themselves selling crackers to make money when they were teenagers, having first met on Bedford Avenue in their neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. “His original rap name was MC Seawest,” 50 Grand recalled, “but he was Biggie when he came to Bedford.”
Mariah Carey wasn’t happy with Biggie Smalls yelling at her 1st song: ‘F- Him’
Notorious BIG informally named Biggie Smalls
Even after he officially changed his name to The Notorious Big, fans of the up-and-coming rapper continued to refer to him as Biggie Smalls. This led to confusion with West Coast’s Biggie Smalls, who interestingly shared a connection with Big’s friend-foe Tupac Shakur through a producer they both knew. After the release of BIG’s smash debut album Ready to die In 1994, Smalls saw a slight jump in sales of his own music, possibly due to confusion with the Brooklyn icon.
Today, The Notorious Big has an unofficial claim to the name Biggie Smalls, despite having retired before his debut album. The original Smalls, meanwhile, released only three songs, all of which preceded Big’s breakout: “Save Mr. Perkins,” “Crusin'” and “Nobody Rides for Free.”