Inside The Notorious B.I.G. and Shaquille O’Neal’s Friendship

The Notorious B.I.G. and Shaquille O’Neal seem like two unlikely colleagues, but both icons have made unforgettable contributions to the world of hip-hop. The two rappers were also good friends in the 1990s.

The Notorious B.I.G. a.k.a. Biggie Smalls on the red carpet
The Notorious B.I.G. a.k.a. Biggie Smalls | Larry Busacca/WireImage

The Notorious B.I.G. and Shaquille O’Neal were both rappers

Most people know Shaquille O’Neal as a star basketball player with four championship rings to his name. But while he was rising to stardom as part of the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, O’Neal also had a thriving music career. His debut album Shaq Diesel, released in 1993, went Platinum with over 1 million copies sold.

At the same time O’Neal was becoming known as a rapper, so was The Notorious B.I.G. in New York. Biggie even shouted out his “competition” in his iconic 1994 song “Gimme the Loot.”

O’Neal reflected on his relationship with Biggie in a 2011 interview with ESPN.

“The first time I heard Biggie Smalls was he said my name in a rap,” he recalled. “[He] said, ‘I’m slamming brothers like Shaquille, s— is real.'”

“Instantly, I became a fan,” he admitted. “When I’d seen him, I saw that he was a big guy. And you know, it’s a unwritten rule that all big guys stick together.”

Shaquille O'Neal speaking into a mic
Shaquille O’Neal | Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year 2019

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In 1996, O’Neal was busy recording his third album and wanted to recruit Biggie himself to be on a track. “My concept was always to rap with my favorite rappers,” he said honestly. “I put out a call to him and asked him if he would do a song with me.”

Biggie answered him almost immediately and said he would love to do a song. The result was O’Neal’s hit single “You Can’t Stop the Reign.”

When it came time to record the song, O’Neal was intimidated to be working with someone who had already been deemed a living legend. “Basically, I was nervous,” he laughed. “The reason I was nervous was because he was the greatest.”

“We went to the studio and he got done in 5 minutes. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen in my life,” he continued.

While they both knocked it out of the park, O’Neal credits Biggie for bringing the star power to the record. “I’m a realist. It was a hit because he was on it,” he said plainly.

Shaq regretted not being with Biggie the night of his death

Less than a year after “You Can’t Stop the Reign,” O’Neal would be devastated by the sudden death of his friend. He was meant to go to the party that Biggie was at on the night of March 9, 1997, when he was gunned down in Los Angeles.

O’Neal fell asleep and never made it to the party. Instead, he was jolted out of bed by a phone call from his mother at 4 A.M. telling him the news. He regretted not going to the party, wondering that he might have been able to save his friend’s life if a tall, domineering basketball player was there to protect him.

“I just think I was fortunate enough to say that I knew him, fortunate enough to say that he blessed me with 32 bars on my album, and I’m blessed enough to say that he knew me and I knew him,” he concluded. “So I don’t really think about the bad [times]. I just think about the good times. And he is the greatest now. Even now, when I listen to his verses on different beats, it still sounds like he’s still here.”