The late Notorious B.I.G. received training in diction and phrasing from a jazz saxophonist during his teenage years to develop his signature tone, according to a Brooklyn Jazz musician.
According to musician Donald Harrison, he was helping steer B.I.G. into a jazz career when the rapper was only 13.
“The first time I spoke with Chris, the Notorious B.I.G., he was on the stoop,” Harrison says. “I was passing by and he just said ‘Hello.’ We started talking and it grew into a friendship. He was a lot younger, but he wanted to learn about music. And that was magic words to my ears.” Harrison wanted to make his neighbor a jazz musician. He gave him homework, made him learn how to scat a Cannonball Adderley solo and listen to Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald. “We worked on various tonguing and speed and agility,” Harrison says. “You have to slow things down really slow and take the time to phrase each note.” (National Public Radio)
Rap veteran AZ has described the hip-hop mogul’s voice as distinct.
“I don’t care where, what part of the Earth you’re from, when you listen to it, the dialogue is slow enough for you to digest it,” he says. “When you actually tell a story and be descriptive, that takes talent.” (National Public Radio)
B.I.G.’s iconic voice sparked comparisons and accusations of intentional soundalikes in the form of West Coast rapper Guerilla Black and New York’s Shyne.
“I think it was cut down too early, people never got a chance to see what I saw,” Diddy said in fall 2009 about Shyne. “The thing that bugs me out is people forget what was going on at the time, y’all was throwing so many stones at me telling me how Shyne sounded like Biggie. All the cats up here at [New York radio station Hot 97] was throwing stones at me and I was telling them, ‘Nah, the kid got something special.’ At the end of the day, when everybody go to jail, a lot of people jump on the bandwagon and it was beyond that to me.” (Hot 97)
The late rapper has also been compared to artists like Def Jam’s Rick Ross.
“You know, we had been recording some things, but up to that point, we hadn’t released nothing,” Ross said about recording with Puff. “Me and Diddy had just been in the studio several times, trying things out and creating some stuff. When he made the comparisons of me and Biggie, I didn’t take them as me being compared to Biggie. Biggie is maybe the greatest of all-time. That wouldn’t even be a fair comparison. But I sometimes try to channel the emotions Biggie had in his music and his ability to tell stories. It touched me in a certain way.” (VIBE)
Check out Diddy speaking on B.I.G. and Rick Ross below: