More on the Wu-Tang and their hand in ruining rap later, but for now, let's talk Nas and Biggie. For all intents and purposes, they were opposite-sized versions of the same person right before their debut albums came out. Both had made their names by delivering jaw-dropping guest appearances on other people's records (as if there's another place to make a guest appearance), and both were the next likely torchbearers for what's affectionately referred to as "real" rap. The hype around each man's debut album was off the charts, and each man lived up to it nicely.
In every way imaginable, though, the Notorious B.I.G. delivered in a much larger way. While Ready to Die went quadruple platinum and became the album of 1994, Illmatic struggled to sell 500,000 copies (it eventually went platinum, but not until 2001). If you're looking for a reason why that happened, I have a picture of it for you right here:
Meet the man who ruins everything.
Nas and B.I.G. both had street cred for days, but only one of them had Puff Daddy, the most flamboyant record executive in rap music history, on their side. Puff (the name I choose to call him because it's the only one that's a real word) practically forced his 350-pound retirement plan to take on a more suave, player-type persona to go along with his tales of selling drugs and shooting home invaders. And man did that shit work. The album itself, much like those by Nas and Wu-Tang, was light on radio-friendly songs. But the handful it did have were promoted as singles, and the more "street-friendly" stuff was left for people who actually bought the album. While Nas and Wu-Tang stomped around housing projects wearing Timberlands in cold weather and gathering around burning trash cans like a bunch of super talented hobos in their videos ...
Because nothing is more real than homelessness.
... Biggie Smalls and his dance-happy best friend were in hot tubs with chicks and drinking champagne with R&B singers.