Shortly after September 13, 1994, hit and the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die sunk in with hip-hop fans, it was clear the Brooklyn rap don could do no wrong.
The deep baritone in his voice, the perfect syncopation in his flow and the lyrics, God, how the lyrics resonated. But it wasn't until after Biggie died on March 9, 1997, that hip-hop widely crowned him the Greatest MC of All Time (unfortunate timing but it's rare anyone gets the flowers while they can still smell them).
Still, after Ready to Die it was clear that Big was a lyrical titan with a wit and musical might that few, if any, could match. But there were a few close calls.
Enter: "The What," Biggie's collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man. It was the sole rap feature on Big's classic and perhaps his most evenly matched duet.
Most rap fans didn't know what to expect from a Biggie Smalls album, but in 1994 Meth was a rap-savior-in-the-making, the Chosen One that many picked to take pole position in the 1990s. There was more weight placed on Meth's shoulders than Nas, Jay Z or Big. He was, after all, the breakout star in the Wu-Tang Clan, the only one in the nine-man group to earn his own solo single on their 1993 classic, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
Meth's solo debut, Tical, wouldn't come until two months later, but he set expectations even higher, going toe-to-toe with Big on "The What." Some would even argue (this writer included) that it was M-E-T-H-O-D Man who stole the show.
Big set the bar over Easy Mo Bee's smooth groove, dissing wack MCs and promoting safe sex at the same time with just his first few lines. Any MC who transitions from rhyming about using condoms to stop themselves from catching "that HIV sh--" to calling their competition "soft like a Twinkie filling" in a single breath is clearly on another rap level.
Meth's first verse was equally as good. He rode the beat like a "jet-black ninja" and somewhere down the line went from kung-fu references to Spaghetti Westerns with his "six-shooter" and "horse named Trigger."
But it was Method's second verse that began to separate him, when he bragged of masterminding robberies, spitting, "I got connections, I'll get that ass stuck like glue."
Biggie quickly volleyed back, claiming to deliver rhymes so deep that "honeys feel it deep in their placenta." I'll admit that I haven't done the research, but that had to be the first (and only time) an MC used the word "placenta" in a rhyme -- Biggie was a trendsetter like that. He also said that flows grow through him like "trees to branches" and "cliffs to avalanches" which is a pretty mind-blowing visual.
"The What" is as even a rap joust as fans will ever get, but Meth scored points in the closing seconds of the 12th round when he bragged: "I got more glocks and tecs than you/ (I make it hot) n---as won't stand next to you." In 2011, Meth told Complex.com that B.I.G. helped write that particular lyric, but fans weren't privy to that information in 1994.
Whatever the case, imagine facing a foe so threatening that your closest friends will simply abandon you. Lucky for us fans, the Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man stood together in one of rap's greatest collaborations ever.