Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: Notorious B.I.G., “Hypnotize”
20 years ago today, The Notorious B.I.G. was sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in his career, but it was a victory which will forever be tied to a tragedy.
Written by The Notorious B.I.G. – henceforth to be referred to as Biggie – and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Deric Angelettie, and Ron Lawrence (with additional songwriting credit given to Andy Armer and Randy Alpert for “Rise,” the beat of which is sampled on the track), “Hypnotize” was the first single from LIFE AFTER DEATH, Biggie’s second studio album. It was P. Diddy who was able to sway Randy Alpert into letting him use the “Rise” beat when other rappers – including Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and Vanilla Ice, among others – asked for permission but failed to receive it.
“I was sent a cassette from Puffy [containing a rough version of Biggie’s recording], and when I cranked it up, I not only immediately loved it, but my gut thought that this could be a number one record once again,” said Alpert, in an interview with SongFacts.com. “The original 'Rise' record climbed the chart all summer and became number one around the end of October; Biggie's version was released and charted its first week at number two and went to number one the second week."
In addition, the song also features an interpolation of Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di” within its chorus, one which is sung by Pamela Long, best known for her work as a member of Total.
There’s an action-packed video for “Hypnotize” which features Biggie and P. Diddy chilling on a yacht, getting involved in a car chase, hanging out at a pool party, and evading helicopters. The drama of the video, however, couldn’t even remotely compare to the real-life drama experienced by Biggie on March 9. Only eight days after the initial release of “Hypnotize,” Biggie left a Soul Train Music Awards after-party and, while stopped at a red light in his GMC Suburban, was shot four times in the chest. Although he was hastily transported to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by his entourage, it was too late: only a half-hour after being shot, Biggie Smalls was dead.
It should come as no surprise that “Hypnotize” rocketed to #1 in the wake of Biggie’s death, but don’t think for a moment that that’s the only reason it became a chart-topper: the song was already getting airplay even before it was officially released, so there was every reason to believe that it was destined for the top spot with or without the tragic events of March 9. That’s why, even 20 years later, it’s still so sad to look back and recall just how much Biggie missed...and to contemplate the possibilities of what he might’ve accomplished if he’d lived.