“Big Poppa” is where Puffy’s genius kicks in. I don’t like the guy, think he’s slimier than every season of Double Dare put together, but the marketing vision that he had for B.I.G. is a big part of what made him (well, both of them) such a superstar. “Rhyme slower,” I can hear Puff murmuring with that annoying fucking toothpick in his mouth. “Pitch your voice lower. Be on some smooth West Coast shit.”
“Big Poppa” didn’t sound anything like the Biggie we’d heard up to that point. It was clearly not New York hardcore rap. It was definitely a play for the female audience, but not a corny one (for reference, please see essentially every hip-hop slow jam before “Big Poppa”.) Lyrically, it was sound if not amazing per Big’s usual M.O. Musically speaking, it was a bit of a left turn…for HIM anyway. Those high-end synthesizers, that deep slow flow, BIG singing on the chorus, even the slightly slowed down Isley Brothers sample–none of that would have happened had Puff (and probably Biggie) not been listening to (in addition to smoking) copious amounts of The Chronic. As much as Dre’s album can be a bit of a chore to listen to in retrospect, the fact is that no album in hip-hop history changed the game like The Chronic did.
(also worth mentioning, BIG didn’t leave his base behind when releasing “Big Poppa” as a single. It’s flip, “Who Shot Ya”, helped create what I think is the best A/B-side combo in rap music history. More in the “W”s when I get there in 2024.)
Not to say, “Big Poppa” was a straight rip, or that Puffy could’ve done this with any other rapper (he didn’t). BIG played a big part in his single’s iconography by taking Puff’s musical lead and dropping in big parts of his own wit and charisma, as well as that signature Brooklyn swagger. Interesting that Pac said that BIG swiped his “player” cadence and flow and that was one reason for the beef the two had. But listen to 2Pacalypse Now Pac and “I Get Around” Pac. My man’s rhyme style did a 180. Mr. Shakur was smoking some of that Chronic, too.
Shit, this run of songs has gone hard on the hip-hop. Not mad.