What Does The Notorious B.I.G. Stand For?

The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, is one of the most respected and beloved hip-hop icons of all time. The Brooklyn-bred rapper rose to prominence in the 1990s and had a style unlike any other artist who had come before him. But his official stage name, The Notorious B.I.G., came years after he first started rapping.

The Notorious B.I.G. performing in a leather jacket
The Notorious B.I.G. | David Corio/Redferns

The Notorious B.I.G.’s original rap name was Biggie Smalls

Before he was a rapper, The Notorious B.I.G. was just Christopher Wallace from the streets of Brooklyn. Because of his size and height, he was given the nickname “Big” when he was young.

Later, when he started rapping and recorded his first demo tape, he began to call himself Biggie Smalls. The moniker comes from a character in Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier’s 1975 film Let’s Do It Again.

But someone else had already laid claim to the name: a West Coast rapper named Biggy Smallz. As a result, for his debut album Ready to Die released in 1994, Biggie began officially performing as The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G. performing in a leather vest
The Notorious B.I.G. | Larry Busacca/Getty Images

The Notorious B.I.G.’s name has 2 meanings

The Notorious B.I.G. adopted his stage name before the release of his smash debut album, but he continued to be known to fans as Biggie Smalls for years after that — and even today.

In a 1995 interview on MTV’s The Grind, Biggie explained what exactly the B.I.G. stood for. “Big,” of course, was his childhood nickname, but the acronym B.I.G. took on a whole new meaning.

“It used to stand for ‘Business Instead of Game,'” he said honestly. “Now it stands for ‘Bullet In the Gut.'”

The “Bullet In the Gut” nickname was likely a nod to the 1994 shooting of his friend Tupac Shakur at a studio in New York City that turned their relationship sour. A documentary about the rapper titled The Notorious B.I.G.: Business Instead of Game was released in 2008.

The Notorious B.I.G. with friends in Brooklyn
The Notorious B.I.G. | Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

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Eventually, Biggie needed to dump the Biggie Smalls name entirely to avoid running into legal trouble. The 2021 Netflix documentary Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell gave a look into Big Poppa’s thought process in changing the name. In one clip from the ’90s, a reporter asked him what it’s like being Biggie, and he corrected her and emphasized that his name was officially “The Notorious B.I.G.”

“I got some papers in the mail,” the rapper admitted. “The original Biggy Smallz said he’s going to sue me for everything I got if I use his name again. So please, if you see me, my name is The Notorious B.I.G. You can call me ‘Big,’ ‘Notorious Big,’ whatever.”

“No more Biggie Smalls,” he added emphatically. “That is dead; whacked.”

What happened to Biggy Smallz

The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut LP Ready to Die contained many of the hits that Biggie is known for to this day, including “Gimme the Loot,” “Big Poppa,” “Juicy,” and “One More Chance.” He became the undisputed king of hip-hop in New York at the time, and the East Coast vs. West Coast hip-hop feud — made worse by Tupac’s shooting and belief that Biggie’s crew was involved — began to heat up.

By the time Ready to Die was released in September 1994, the original Biggy Smallz was just 16 years old. Despite Biggie’s name being The Notorious B.I.G. on the release, the OG Biggy Smallz still benefited from the confusion around his name: Ready to Die helped boost the sale of Smallz’s own records because fans thought they were buying The Notorious B.I.G.’s. 

Smallz is reported to have died in 1994 after being shot outside a liquor store, but his death remains unconfirmed by those close to him.