"I'm slamming n****s like Shaquille...Shit is real."
This line from "Gimme the Loot" on The Notorious B.I.G's debut, "Ready to Die" is one that lives on in Hip-Hop and basketball infamy because not only is it a classic line about a classic basketball player on a classic album --- but it was also the beginning of a fabled collaboration and friendship worth celebrating.
When "Ready to Die" dropped on Bad Boy Records in1994, both Shaquille O'Neal and Christopher Wallace were each 22 years old. Shaq was already a 2-time All-Star for the Orlando Magic and establishing himself as one of the most electric, entertaining athletes of all time with his once in a lifetime combination of size, athleticism, and infectious personality. In fact, by the time Biggie dropped, Shaq was already a platinum rapper himself with his debut album, "Shaq Diesel." O'Neal's music (and acting) career has been the butt of many jokes over the years as many people speculate that there's no way the music would stand on its own without the basketball stardom behind it. There's no denying the music industry was a different animal back then and that the novelty and curiosity around an NBA player putting out a rap album was much greater than it is today. But who do you think normalized that? Shaq was a pioneer and remains a pioneer for breaking down barriers and shattering the definitions of what an athlete is supposed to be.
The possible truth behind the idea that maybe Shaquille O'Neal would not be a famous rapper if he were not a famous basketball player isn't something that seems completely lost on Shaq. While Shaq doesn't lack confidence behind any microphone, he definitely approached his Hip-Hop career with more of a humble apprentice mentality rather than the ultimate alpha he was on the basketball court. In that spirit ,Shaq, although technically the more accomplished rapper, was immediately a fan of Biggie Smalls upon hearing "Gimme the Loot" and the rest of the album. Plus, they had another obvious thing in common,"When I seen him, I saw he was a big guy. And you know its an unwritten rule that all big guys stick together," Shaq reflects. When asked about how Big viewed O'Neal before meeting him, Sean "Puffy" Combs states, "Shaq is a beast! You know, go hard or go home. And he really embodied that. Biggie paid respect by shouting him out."
Their first encounters were these respect swaps in passing, but eventually their bond would take a more concrete turn. In 1996 with Shaq now working on his third studio album and again taking a humble approach, he reached out to Big. "My concept was alway to rap with my favorite rappers. So you know I put out a call to him and asked him if he would do a song with me." Biggie did not hesitate. ""You're talking about two soulful individuals. And also, they had a lotta swagger-- their flows and deliveries," Puffy adds."Biggie didn't really do records with anybody he didn't really respect in music. He wouldn't do something just to be nice."
Wallace's cousin and rap protege, Lil' Cease was there when the two bigger-than-life stars finally linked, "They embraced each other from the get-go. Just like that. It was like they knew each other for years. Just that chemistry of two people respecting each other's craft. The minute they got together it was magic." Shaq tells it like he was starstruck,"Basically, I was nervous. (Laughs) I was nervous. The reason I was nervous is because he was the greatest. When we went to the studio and he got done in 5 minutes it was the most incredible thing I've ever seen in my life." The song they ended up creating is the album's eponymous track, "You Can't Stop The Reign." Puff Daddy, who was ultimately responsible for Biggie's career moves and never known for pulling punches says, "When I heard the song with him and Biggie I was like, 'Wow, Shaq can rap." Shaq counters, "I'm a realist. It was a hit because he was on it."
I'm of the opinion that Shaq did his thing. But regardless, this song holds a special place for many Hip-Hop/Hoop heads as one of (if not THE) smoothest, most marquis basketball player/rapper crossovers ever. It appears Michael Jackson, who also collaborated with Shaq on MJ's 1995 "2 Bad", was a fan of "You Can't Stop The Reign" as well, as he included Biggie's verse on his 2001 song "Unbreakable," from his last studio album, "Invincible."
Not long after Big and Shaq's collab, in his first season with the Lakers, on O'Neals birthday (March 6, 1997) Shaq and Biggie linked to celebrate. Wallace naturally invited his friend to the Soul Train Awards after-party he would be throwing two nights later. Famously, Shaq fell asleep and did not attend that party. Shortly after midnight on March 9, Biggie left the party and was senselessly slain in one of Hip-Hop's worst, most traumatic events. Shaq has often wondered, "If I would have been standing by his truck would the killer still have shot? I've always asked that question." Each year his birthday reminds him of his late friend but he tries to keep the thoughts positive. "I just think I was fortunate enough to say I knew him. Fortunate enough to say he blessed me with 32 bars on my album. And I'm blessed enough to say he knew me and I knew him. So I don't really think about the bad times I just think about the good times."
Shaquille O'Neal continued to have one of the most successful, storied basketball careers of all time and continues to live one of the most diversely experienced, interesting lives of any modern entertainment star we have seen and remains ubiquitous in both sports and popular culture. Even amidst the smiles and success, Shaq has paid tribute to his late friend countless times since losing him. Most notable of these tributes was the 2006 "Can't Stop The Reign - Remix." Following his championship run with Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat, aside from Kobe, it seems B.I.G. was heavy on his mind while the champagne flowed rapping, "See Deez, from now on call me B.I.G. No disrespect to Notorious B.I.G. R.I.P, but damn, when you looking at me you be like damn, dawg Shaq does it B.I.G." Its not necessarily Kendrick-level lyricism but is it not facts?
In the "Cant Stop the Reign - Remix" Shaq also alludes to not needing to rap anymore, and true to that statement, Shaq has put the mic down for the most part in recent years. Still, you can't take the Hip-Hop out of him as he's become one of the most successful performance party DJs in the game even though its like his 52nd hustle. You can always see Shaq spitting facts and hot takes almost nightly with the NBA on TNT, but Diesel did pick up the mic again an MC in 2019 after Dame Lillard poked the bear by dismissing Shaq's rap career. Shaq dropped some respectable bars in his homemade Dame-diss freestyle on Xhibit's "Bitch Please" instrumental-- even mentioning that he's been in the studio with greats like Biggie. When Dame responded with a much more calculated studio song, Superman hopped in the studio and dropped a part 2 to his Dame-diss on what else? Biggie's "Victory" instrumental. And while most people will tell you Lillard ran away with this battle, I'm here to tell you Shaq represented big time for his own rap chops and all the old-heads. Best of all-- this "beef" ended with the two NBA legends becoming respectful peers and collaborating on a shoe together combing Shaq's timeless "Shaqnosis" Reebok model and Lillard's Adidas "Dame 7." From taking rap shots at each other to securing the bag together-- that's dope. Biggie would have been proud.
"He was the best then, and he's the best now," Shaq says about The Notorious B.I.G, but you'd have a tough time finding anyone who would disagree with that when it comes to O'Neal either. They both had it right 26 years ago when they told us "You Can't Stop The Reign."