Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die debuted in 1994, just as hip hop was moving to the forefront of popular culture. Buoyed by the success of Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle two years prior—and Nas' Illmatic earlier that year—there had never been a better time for Biggie to unleash his cleverly worded tales of life as a dope slinger in Bed Stuy. Radio-ready singles like "Big Poppa" perfectly counterbalanced the grit of "Warning" and "Suicidal Thoughts," and Christopher Wallace was on his way to icon status at 22.
To quote a Ready to Die track, "Things Done Changed" and the world's a very different place than it was 20 years ago—for example, you have to be a millionaire to afford Biggie's childhood home these days. Everyone still knows all the words to "Juicy," regardless of how old they were when the album came out. But do they understand all of the pop culture references they're rapping along to with their red Solo cups in the air? Let's take a closer look at some of Biggie's classic lyrics.
"And now the sh-t's getting crazier and major / Kids younger than me, they got the Sky Grand pagers"- "Things Done Changed"
Before the age of mass-market cell phones and the miracle that is iPhone read receipt, pagers were the best way to track down your busy friends (and doctors on call, and crack dealers-turned-rappers like Biggie). You'd dial that beeper number, punch in your own digits along with a fun code like "911" and then wait for god knows how long to get your call returned. Seriously, it was an unacceptable amount of wait time by 2014 standards. But in the early '90s, it was the ultimate in telecommunication.
See also: Tribe Called Quest's "Skypager"
"Quick to leave you in a coffin, for slick talkin / You better act like CeCe, and keep on walkin"- "Ready to Die"
CeCe's hit "Finally" still gets plenty of play at '90s-themed dance parties, but Biggie name checks another song from her 1992 debut album. Check out the video above, which makes us wonder: Was every early '90s house diva legally required to wear a velvet bodysuit?
"So recognize the d-ck size in these Karl Kani jeans / I wear thirteens, know what I mean?"- "One More Chance"
"Rolex watches and colorful Swatches I'm digging in pockets, motherf-ckers can't stop it"- "Gimme The Loot"
Fact: Swatches were once so cool to have, people would wear several Swatches at once! Apple Watch and Pebble are slowly making timepieces relevant again, but Swatch remains one of the least cool stores in the mall.
Oddly enough, old-school rap trio the Fat Boys were Swatch spokesmen in the '80s, giving the brand a small amount of hip hop cred.
"Biggie Smalls is the illest, your style is played out / Like Arnold and that, what you talkin' bout Willis"- "The What"
The late '70s/early '80s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes is best known for the late Gary Coleman and his signature catch phrase, "Whatchu talkin' bout Willis?" It's sad to think this may slip entirely out of memory and syndication one day, but until then let's enjoy this killer Deadmau5-meets-Diff'rent Strokes mashup.
"Hangin' pictures on my wall / Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl"- "Juicy"
This one's a regional reference: Rap Attack was a hip hop radio show on New York's WBLS-FM. Launched in 1983, it was hosted by Mr. Magic and DJ-producer Marley Marl and it was one of the few places fans could hear hip hop as it was still defining itself as a genre.
Biggie shouts out more of his DJ heroes later in the song: "Peace to Ron G, Brucie B, Kid Capri, Funkmaster Flex, Love Bug Starski." RIP to another tradition for music lovers: Taping shows off the radio.
"Remember Rappin' Duke, duh-ha, duh-ha / You never thought that hip hop would take it this far"- "Juicy"
"Rappin' Duke" was a 1983 novelty song by a man named Shawn Brown, rapping in the style of actor John Wayne. Brown parlayed the success of this (debatably) funny video into a brief career, even opening for Stevie Wonder and Bobby Brown. This also opened the door for future joke raps, from "Do The Bartman" to the "Epic Rap Battles of History" series.
"Then I got the phone call, it couldn't hit me harder / We got infiltrated, like Nino at the Carter"- "Everyday Struggle"
Nino Brown was Wesley Snipes' character in New Jack City. As head of the Cash Money Brothers gang, Brown turns an apartment complex called The Carter into a giant crack factory that's eventually infiltrated by undercover cops. We're still sad about Pookie.
If you're a hip hop fan who hasn't seen New Jack City, watch it and prepare to get your mind blown by all of the rap lyrics that suddenly make sense.
"Hate to blast you but I have to, you see I smoke a lot / Your life is played out like Kwamé and them f-ckin' polka dots"- "Unbelievable"
Kwamé was a teenaged rapper known for his fresh polka dotted fashions. He later went on to produce for LL Cool J, Christina Aguilera and Will Smith, so he probably got over the Biggie diss.
"Should I die on the train track, like Ramo in Beat Street / People at the funeral fronting like they miss me"- "Suicidal Thoughts"
RAMOOO! The graffiti artist gets electrocuted by the third rail in Beat Street, a 1984 drama centered around New York City hip hop and graffiti culture.
We also get a second New Jack City reference on "Suicidal Thoughts:" "You see it's kinda like the crack did to Pookie in New Jack / Except when I cross over, there ain't no coming back."
Keep up to date with the latest news by subscribing to our newsletter.*required