A Story to Tell: Biggie Smalls and Narrative

Abe Beame took the bread and the lamb spread. Part 1: Love No Hoe You run into immediate problems when you start analyzing Biggie Smalls. For kids steeped in his brief catalog, it’s practically...
By    July 26, 2011

Abe Beame took the bread and the lamb spread.

Part 1: Love No Hoe

You run into immediate problems when you start analyzing Biggie Smalls. For kids steeped in his brief catalog, it’s practically scripture. Most hip hop fans interested in these type of workouts can already recite the songs by heart. After all, by my count, Biggie has only 37 full length songs between the two classic albums he released by the age of his death, 24. (Not including a handful of demos, guest verses and remixes).

So why bother? What’s to gain from dealing with material so well-trodden. As someone who writes about music for pleasure, there’s nothing that gives me more joy than Big’s music. It’s a rare gift to be able to find a new angle to appreciate and analyze his work, so when the idea came to me, I had to. Because on an scholastic level, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that Biggie isn’t rap’s greatest story teller.

For one thing, Chris Wallace may be the most consistent. Of those 37 songs, a shocking percentage are stories or contain elements of story.But even if Too Short has compiled more saga or Slick Rick perfected the style, there is no one who spun them with the detail of the prodigy. Big’s greatest gift may have been the seamlessness with which he went deep into dissection, each song a surplus of raw information, conveyed through tight economy of language and staggeringly broad emotions.  When you consider that they were written in his head, memorized by a pudgy young chronic smoker lacking a High School diploma, it becomes even more incredible.

In Biggie’s work, you find traditions in story telling that go back to the form’s roots, and some innovations that are all his own. So with hand wringing, justifications and apologies out of the way, to borrow a phrase from our common vernacular: Leggo.


Delivered over a straightforward loop of “Sneakin in the Back” by Tom Scott, “Love No Hoe” is a rough mix that sounds like the product of a shoddy mic in Big Daddy Kane DJ, Hit Man 50 Grand’s basement on Lexington Avenue in Bed Stuy. “Love No Ho” isn’t included on the infamous “Unsigned Hype” Demo tape DJ Mr. Cee would eventually bring to Matty C at the Source — the one that gave Biggie his first break. Listening now, it’s not hard to understand why. Alongside the glock-hard verses of “Another Rough One”, “Biggie with the Hype Shit” and “Macs and Dons”, “Love No Hoe” stands out for its tenderness. If anything, it’s striking in the genuine concern that Biggie shows for this neighborhood romance; even as he pushes a “fuck a bitch” agenda, the heart on his sleeve is unmistakable.

Like all Biggie stories, this is told in first person. It begins with an exchange between Biggie and 50 Grand —  the subject is introduced and continues in a casual, conversational manner. The person he addresses shifts from 50 to the female in question, fairly often in the first verse. The narrative is straightforward and the details vivid. Biggie ducks conflict listening to the Force M.D.’s,  and his girl smokes cigarettes even though she doesn’t have a habit.

Ultimately, it tracks the trials and tribulations of an intense, early relationship. The issues are lack of time and attention. Biggie attempts to launch a rap career, and the screaming, crying, door slamming and apologizing accompanies it. The song has no hook, just a brief pause a little over halfway through. This gives Biggie a chance to dazzle with wordplay. See the stretch around the 2:15  mark.

“But now I’m gonna lay the cards on the line/just say that you hate me, or say that you mine/I said, when I played ball you was in the stands/when I was sick, you held my hand/it was hard to say before, but now I can/Bitch I love no ho, fuck you.”

He offers specific images and moments that meant something to him. But he still will readily play psychological warfare, with the “fuck you” rejection of stress and drama. His flow elevates the wordplay to where it feels like a series of punchlines, rather than a straightforward address. It almost tricks the listener into forgetting that a story is being told. This is one of Biggie’s greatest gifts: he never sacrifices flow for content. There isn’t an awkward or forced bar in his entire catalog. It’s as if each story came into being fully formed, and etched in stone.

A brief aside of humorous shit talk leads into the second verse — a brief conclusion. Biggie’s girl returns, recalcitrant but ready to make amends. Hilariously, Biggie is accused of kissing other girls because his lips are chapped. Implying that he and his girl have literally kissed and made up, he uses blunts as an excuse for his dryness. Wallace seems to be recreating a minute yet universal moment in a relationship. The fight has raged and now that the worst is over, his girl returns, still hurt but making it clear that he’s still hers. Only she commits what Biggie clearly feels is a cardinal sin, denying makeup sex as a form of punishment. He responds by leaving, meeting up with 50 Grand and, because it was denied at home, finding relief elsewhere.

Aside from a very funny, lived in, sometimes movingly candid account of a very recognizable type of relationship, “Love No Hoe” seems intended as a cautionary tale to young women who are quick to anger, jealousy and pettiness. In his trademark prematurely wizened manner, Biggie tells potential girls: don’t do that. Somehow it skirts true misogyny or even aggression despite the song being called “Love No Hoe”. He lays his game down quite flat, offering anecdotal evidence of soured romance. He rightfully walks away from a doomed relationship and remains likable. Not bad for his first time out.

MP3: The Notorious B.I.G.-“Love No Hoe”

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