Art is Eternal: The Meaning of “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” by the Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G. put the G in game while wearing the Gucci frame.

In the last song of the Notorious B.I.G.’s final album, Life After Death, the rapper describes why a life of crime will make you a nobody but the pursuit of art can make you eternal.

“You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You) – By the Notorious B.I.G

What he raps:
Niggas in my faction don’t like asking questions
Strictly gun testing, coke measuring
Giving pleasure in the Benz-ito
Hitting fanny, spending chips at Manny’s
Hope you creeps got receipts, my peeps get dirty like cleats
Run up in your crib, wrap you up in your Polo sheets
Six up in your wig piece, nigga decease
Mwah, may you rest in peace

What he means: The Notorious B.I.G. is a drug-dealing kingpin who runs a violent crew that lives a luxurious lifestyle: gambling at casinos; having sex with women in high-priced cars and walking around like they own the place.  B.I.G. is the the CEO. He addresses members anyway he likes – he refers to them as “creeps” – and collects employee receipts like a company tracking expense reports. His power is more than just money. He can kill any enemy while they sleep at home. He’s that powerful.

What he raps:
With my Sycamore style, more sicker than yours
Four-four, and fifty-four draw
There’s my pilot, steers my Lear, yes my dear
Shit’s official, only, the Feds I fear
Here’s a tissue, stop your blood clot crying
The kids the dog, everybody dying — no lying
So don’t you get suspicious
I’m Big Dangerous you’re just a Lil Vicious

What he means: B.I.G.’s has grown his criminal organization like a sycamore tree with many different branches that all serve his authority. He murders the competing crime bosses –  the only remaining obstacle is the DEA. He doesn’t fear death because, in the crime world, everybody eventually dies. Nobody in this game should be surprised when the “Big Dangerous” (death) arrives.

What he raps:
As I leave my competition, respirator style
Climb the ladder to success escalator style
Hold y’all breath, I told y’all — death
controls y’all, Big don’t fold y’all, uhh
I spit phrases that’ll thrill you
You’re nobody ’til somebody kills you

What he means: The Notorious B.I.G. competes by killing – he ascends to the top by removing those ahead of him. When a drug dealer dies all his accumulated wealth and power no longer belongs to him – death take everything from him. But Biggie, the rapper, doesn’t fear death because his art transcends it. Biggie’s lyrics and songs will thrill and inspire people after he dies. You can’t murder a song.

What he raps:
Uhh, uhh
Watch Casino, I’m the hip-hop version of Nicky Tarantino
Ask Nino, he know
Green with envy, the green tempts me
to make the richest enemy, and take their cheese
Take their spots, take their keys, make my faculty
live happily, ever after in laughter
Hah, never seen Cristal pour faster
And to those bastards, knuckleheads squeeze lead
Three of mine dead, nothing left to do
but tear they ass to shreds, leave em in bloodshed

What he means: Like Nicky Santoro (played by Joe Pesci) in Martin Scorsese’s Casino, the Notorious B.I.G. is always searching for ways to make money using intimidation and violence. Neither character can resist a lucrative opportunity.  By killing the other crime bosses, B.I.G. accumulates wealth and power by taking their territory, wealth and army. But taking down another drug dealer isn’t simple business – B.I.G.’s own men are killed during the process.

What he raps:
Incidents like this I take trips
Lay up in Miami with Tamika and Tammy (huh)
Some Creole C-O bitches I met on tour
Push a peach Legend Coupe, gold teeth galore
Told me meet em in the future later, they’ll take me shopping
buy me lavender and fuschia Gators
Introduce me to player haters and heavy weighters
Rich bitch shit, drinking Cristal
til they piss the shit, uhh
Thorough bitches, adapt to any borough bitches
Be in spots where they were no bitches, you feel me
Reminisce on dead friends too
You’re nobody ’til somebody kills you

What he means: Even gangsters need vacations, especially after engaging in war that leaves some of his men (friends) dead. To relax, B.I.G. vacations in South Beach with some fine ladies. Tamika and Tammy want to impress B.I.G. by buying him expensive gifts and promising more in the future. But these women are trying to steal his money. They want to gain B.I.G.’s trust, wait until he’s vulnerable, and then introduce him to some men with guns (player haters and heavy weighters) who will rob and/or kill him. The women are criminals like him but they use sex and deception as their weapon. B.I.G. certainly won’t fall for the scam – he’s too smart. He also doesn’t begrudge the women for their actions – it’s just business. He sympathizes with them. Like him, these women are involved in a violent business and have suffered the loss of dead friends.

What he raps:
You can be the shit, flash the fattest five
Have the biggest dick, but when your shell get hit
You ain’t worth spit, just a memory
Remember he, used to push the champagne Range (I remember that)
Silly cat, wore suede in the rain
Swear he put the G in game, had the Gucci frame
before Dana Dane, thought he ran with Kane
I can’t recall his name, wasn’t he that kid
that nearly lost half his brain over two grams of cocaine?
Getting his dick sucked by crack head Lorraine
A fucking shame, dude’s the lame, what’s his name?
Darkskin Jermaine, see what I mean?

What he means: In the last verse of the last song on his last recorded album, Biggie describes his alternate life had he continued dealing drugs rather than pursuing a rap career. The “Silly cat” is Biggie himself: a kid with style who wanted to be a rapper like Dana Dane and Big Daddy Kane. But in this alternate reality, Biggie stayed in the crack game and was eventually murdered. (Crack head Lorraine probably set him up but we’ll never know for sure.) That version of Biggie left no legacy to remember – people forgot his name. He would only be remembered as another young black male (“Darkskin Jermaine”) murdered on the street.

In the chorus, Biggie sings “You’re nobody, ’til somebody, kills you” which would make one think he meant you become “somebody” after if you are killed. But dying during the pursuit of money won’t make you somebody – it will make you dead.  Once you are dead, there is nothing to show for your life other than money and vague memories of the stuff you owned. Christopher Wallace created the Notorious B.I.G. character but he never became that person. He rejected the criminal life, pursued art, and became somebody worth remembering.



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