On September 13, 1994 a classic album was born. The Notorious B.I.G., having already convinced many of Hip-Hop’s most loyal listeners that were the next lyrical kingpin, crafted a debut album that took no prisoners. Tales of petty street crime and poverty opened and closed the project, with the strategic single or two worked in for good measure (hey, the things still gotta sell, right?).
It was an interesting time to be a New York rapper. The genre was being firmly controlled by West Coast giants like Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre. The Big Apple was still respected, but the unchallenged reign it had experienced in years past seemed like a lifetime ago once California entered the room.
A beacon of hope that NYC would soon be back bubbling arrived in November 1993, as the Wu-Tang Clan‘s Enter The 36th Chambers, with its grimy sound and cast of 10 distinct bandmates, made the world pay attention.
Then 1994 hit.
First, Nas offered up his masterpiece, “Illmatic”, in early Spring. B.I.G. capped the year off with “Ready to Die” and all of a sudden: New York had its champions. While Esco’s effort was a slower burn on the commercial end, Biggie easily slid between Casanova and crook, allowing his music to exist on airwaves and pissy hallways simultaneously.
Remember that little group called the Wu-Tang Clan we spoke about earlier? Yeah, they weren’t done.
In fact, they weren’t just going to be a group. Nope, that was never the plan. These guys saw things a little differently: Why only split the pie each album out, when they could record as a unit, and in-between time, release discs as solo artists? And since we’re dreaming big, why limit ourselves to one label – when they could shop around and choose a home based on what worked best?
This is hardly an earth-shattering concept in 2021, but in the early 90s, this would have been like being the only guy on the block with a smartphone. The Wu was ahead of its time, and their shining star, Method Man, made history by becoming the first Wu-Tang member to drop an official solo disc with the release of Tical on November 15, 1994.
Method also paired up with B.I.G. for “The What,” a hard-edged lyrical rhymefest on Ready to Die, he was also notably the only rapper guest feature to appear on the album. He locked in with the television world, appearing on the hit FOX comedy, Martin.
By 1996, B.I.G., Nas, Snoop, Dre and Meth were all superstars in the game. But headlines that mentioned New York and Cali rappers in this era were often followed by a word or two on the brewing “East Coast/West Coast Beef.” Tupac Shakur, the poetic, emotional but criminally talented rapper linked to much of the melee had ties to both coasts but repped the West as he declared war against Bad Boy & Friends.
Well, except Meth. He’d managed to somehow remain in Pac’s good graces, appearing on the song “Got My Mind Made Up” from Shakur’s critically-acclaimed Death Row album All Eyez On Me.
And with those times, and because of that special moment in time where the rising stars were all connected. And because of his talent on the mic and ability to earn the respect of peers from the other side of the map, Method Man is the only rapper to appear on both a Biggie and 2Pac album while both men were still alive.