Shaquille O'Neal dreamed about working with the most successful rappers in the world. But after his first record, "Shaq Diesel" -- certified platinum by the RIAA -- the industry hate started to kick in. Most rappers resented O'Neal's success; Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls praised it.
Shaq's friendship with Notorious B.I.G
Shaq's following projects were much more challenging to carry out. Unlike his debut album, which was played across the entire nation, everything O'Neal did afterward required incomparably more promotional efforts to wind up on the radio. Artists also drove hard bargains, trying to exploit Shaq's NBA stardom.
"The first time around, everyone wanted to record something with me," he writes. "Now, all of a sudden they’re calling up and saying they’ll do it, but they want $200,000." But according to Shaq, Jay-Z and Biggie "couldn't have been nicer." They even agreed to work with him for free.
Biggie Smalls was the nicest dude in the world. He was an absolute master in the studio. The other guys would come to the house to record and they’d be there all night. They’d go over it and over it and chop it and change it. I always had my verse prepared ahead of time, because I didn’t want to tie them up.
Shaquille O'Neal, Shaq Uncut: My Story
"When Biggie came, I went in and took about an hour to do my verse," O'Neal continues. "He listened to it and said, 'That’s tight. That’s tight.' Then he said, 'Are you ready for me?' I handed him a pen and some paper, and he said, 'I don’t write, dawg.' He went in my studio and came out fifteen minutes later with an amazing rap."
Jay-z was the same way; a total professional. Both featured on Shaq's third album, "You Can't Stop The Reign," along with other major stars, including Mobb Deep and DJ Quik. But their collaboration ended up being much more than a music project -- especially with Biggie, with whom Shaq developed a friendship.
Could O'Neal have prevented Biggie's death?
According to Shaq, Smalls was amazed by everything O'Neal had at that point in his life. He even said to him, 'I’m going to have all of this one day. I’m going to be the best.'
Biggie was talented enough to reach that level. But as faith would have it, he never got the chance to maximize his potential. On March 9, 1997, at the age of 24, he was shot to death at a stoplight in Los Angeles, hours after bumping fists with Diesel. The rapper was presenting at the Soul Train Music Awards and then going to the after-party at the Peterson Automotive Museum. He even invited Shaq to come, and the NBA superstar intended to go.
I put on my white suit and my white hat. I was going to be a player that night. But I was damn tired, too. I sat down to watch some television and I fell asleep.
Shaquille O'Neal, Shaq Uncut: My Story
"My mom was the one who finally got hold of me," O'Neal continues. "She woke me up at 4:00 a.m. and said, 'Shaquille, did you go to the party?' I was half-asleep and I didn’t know what she was talking about, and then she said, 'Your friend’s been shot. He’s dead.'"
Shaq then proceeded to think about the what-ifs. "I spent a lot of time wondering how it would have been different if I had shown up at that party," he wrote. "If a seven-foot-one Shaquille O’Neal was standing by that car, would the guy still have pulled the trigger? Jerome (O'Neal's bodyguard) is trained to make sure he protects me and those around me. I just feel if we were there, maybe something different would have happened."
The more likely event is that the shooter would have opened fire regardless of the seven-footer being there. So instead of one, the world would've been robbed of watching two of the biggest stars in their industries perform in their prime years.
The tragic loss of one of the greatest rappers ever was hard enough; O'Neal being with him and facing the same destiny would've been even more unthinkable.