Who Is Biggy Smallz? The Rapper Behind The Notorious B.I.G.’s Name Change

The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, Biggie — whatever you call him, the Brooklyn-bred rapper behind hits such as “Big Poppa” and “Juicy” remains an icon in the world of hip-hop. But before he became a superstar, he was just Biggie Smalls — a name he shared with another rapper at the time.

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

Biggy Smallz’s real name was Tim Bigelow

In the early 1990s, a rapper by the name of Biggy Smallz rose to prominence on the West Coast at a time when hip-hop in California began to take over the country. Smallz — whose government name was Tim Bigelow — started recording music in 1991 when he was just 12 years old.

The Biggy Smallz name comes from a character in Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier’s 1975 film Let’s Do It Again. In the movie, Biggie Smalls was played by actor Calvin Lockhart.

The original rapper Biggy Smallz only ever released three songs, all of which came out before The Notorious B.I.G.’s breakout: “Save Mr. Perkins,” “Cruisin’,” and “Nobody Rides For Free.”

The Notorious B.I.G.’s name change

As the other, more well-known Biggie Smalls in New York began to rise to prominence in the early ’90s, he received a threat of legal action from Biggy Smallz. As a result, B.I.G. knew he had to change his name before he released any more music.

The 2021 Netflix documentary Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell gave a look into B.I.G.’s thought process in changing the name. When a reporter asked him what it’s like being Biggie, he corrected her and emphasized that his name was officially The Notorious B.I.G.

“I got some papers in the mail,” the rapper said frankly. “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.”

Funk Flex asked B.I.G. about his name in 1994, and he was honest about why he made the change. “On the [album] cover, it will say ‘The Notorious B.I.G.’ because some lame little 14-year-old ‘Cruisin’’ calling himself Biggy Smallz. He don’t know the true meaning, but it’s all good — we trying to make some paper.”

The Notorious B.I.G. performing in 1995
The Notorious B.I.G. | Chris Walter/WireImage

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What happened to Biggy Smallz

In 1994, The Notorious B.I.G. released his iconic debut album Ready to Die. The LP 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 put East Coast hip-hop back on the country’s radar, and the feud between East Coast and West Coast hip-hop 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 The Notorious B.I.G. being his official name and Biggie Smalls simply being a nickname that he asked people not to use, the OG Biggy Smallz 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.