If Biggie Smalls' murder hasn't been described as "hip-hop's JFK moment" that may only be because the music has been spoiled for choice. But the way the untimely deaths of major figures in rap history have been reported have also perhaps meant that a globally unifying moment hasn't been possible. I read about Scott La Rock's killing weeks after the fact, in two very similar pieces that Frank Owen wrote for both NME and Melody Maker; what turned out to be 2Pac's fatal wounding had an air of "here we go again" to it - it wasn't the first time he'd been shot, and as he clung on in that hospital room most of us probably expected he'd pull through again; Jam Master Jay's murder, a little later, seemed the cruellest blow, but he hadn't truly been in the limelight for a while and the details seeped out like a rumour, a credible account taking days to emerge, the details accumulating only gradually, like a view from a hilltop that you can only piece together through gaps in thick cloud. But when Biggie was gunned down outside a car museum in Los Angeles after a star-studded post-Grammy party, there was that "I remember where I was when I heard" immediacy.
In part, this may have been down to the particular set of circumstances. In March 1997 I was working at the monthly music magazine Vox, and had managed to persuade them to let me write a four-page feature on Biggie for our edition that came out at the beginning of April. His second LP, Life After Death, was due out late in March, and he was coming to the UK to do interviews and promotion for it at the beginning of the month. The interview had been put in for the Monday morning. I was at home on the Sunday when the phone rang.