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  • Notorious B.I.G. honored at VH-1 (nydailynews)

    Nearly a decade has passed since the March 1997 murder of rapper Biggie Smalls. And in that time, just one poorly received album of pieced-together, previously unreleased material has surfaced, 1999's "Born Again."So why does the Notorious One seem to inspire more reverent mentions and public salutes than ever?

    This summer, Smalls graced the cover of Vibe magazine, enjoyed a prolonged (if bombastic) tribute from his producer/friend Puff Daddy on the MTV Video *Music Awards and was quoted, or invoked, by rappers from the great (Jay-Z) to the not-so great (Cassidy).

    Tonight, Biggie receives yet another hosanna. He's one of six pioneering rappers to be celebrated at VH1's second annual "Hip Hop Honors." The show, which was taped Thursday at Hammerstein Ballroom, airs at 9 p.m. on the music network. (Also feted will be LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Grandmaster Flash, Ice-T, Salt-n-Pepa and the movie "Boyz N the Hood").

    According to Russell Simmons, who hosts tonight's event, "the way Biggie delivered his poetry, the amount of wit and creativity in it, inspired so many rappers. He inspired me, too." But it's not all about his art. Morbidity has something to do with it, as well. "We're fascinated with death," says Elliott Wilson, editor of the hip-hop magazine XXL. "Look at the way we are with Elvis." Unlike the rock 'n' roll King, however, Biggie died "at the height of his fame," notes Erik Parker, music editor of Vibe. "We want to continue to bask in what he could have been."

    In fact, Smalls saw only one album released in his short 24 years of life, his 1994 debut "Ready to Die." The rapper's sophomore work, the double set "Life After Death," appeared in March 1997, soon after his still-unsolved murder. That means Biggie didn't have time to make the usual career mis-steps.
    Wilson considers Smalls' second album "a benchmark" that "set the template" for the way many hip-hop artists came to balance commercial tracks with edgier ones.

    Another factor in the escalating respect for Biggie concerns changes within hip hop itself. "Biggie was part of a dying breed of real lyricists,"
    Wilson explains. "He continued the East Coast tradition of Big Daddy Kane or LL — of being heavy on lyrics with metaphors and similes. He was a great storyteller."

    That's a sobering contrast to rap in the age of crunk, the "Dirty South" style in which the beat and hooks often over*shadow the words.
    Fans will soon be able to savor more of Biggie's words. To advance the 10th anniversary of his passing, a long-planned tribute album to the rapper (which includes unreleased rhymes) will arrive by year's end. And, next month, Biggie's mom, Voletta Wallace, will publish a book about her son.

    "I don't see the tributes stopping," Parker says. "It's like with Marvin Gaye. People keep bringing him back, to keep him alive."

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