Before the Notorious B.I.G., There Was Another Biggie Smalls

Who was Calvin Lockhart? It turns out, he played a character called Biggie Smalls way before the Notorious B.I.G. broke out on the scene. Read more!


Mar. 2 2021, Published 8:16 p.m. ET

Calvin Lockhart Questions Paul Stevens In 'Melinda'
Source: getty

Calvin Lockhart questions Paul Stevens In 'Melinda'

Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is a love letter to the life of legendary MC, the Notorious B.I.G. (real name: Christopher George Latore Wallace). With interviews from Biggie Smalls’ mom, Voletta, to his label boss and friend Sean “Diddy” Combs, the documentary features a ton of previously unseen footage of the late rapper and gives a much-needed insight into his early years living in Brooklyn.  

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The trailer for the documentary says that “every legend has an origin story,” and like every rap phenomenon, Biggie had a very specific story about how he was influenced to take the name Biggie Smalls, which was inspired by the actor Calvin Lockhart. But why did the rapper later change his official moniker to the Notorious B.I.G., and just who is Calvin Lockhart, the real Biggie Smalls

the real biggie smalls calvin lockhart
Source: Courtesy of Christopher Wallace Estate / Netflix
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How did the Notorious B.I.G. get his name?

Before he was the Notorious B.I.G., Christopher Wallace spent his childhood growing up between the streets of Brooklyn and his mother’s family home in Trelawny, Jamaica. So, it may come as no surprise that once the aspiring rapper needed to decide on a stage name for himself, he chose one inspired by a fellow Caribbean islander, actor Calvin Lockhart.

When Biggie started gaining recognition for his virtuoso rapping on the corners of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood he grew up in, he decided to make a demo tape showcasing his talents. He recorded his first tape under the name Biggie Smalls, inspired by the gang leader of the same name in the 1975 movie Let’s Do It Again, starring Calvin Lockhart as the gangster. 

The name was coincidentally also a nod to his childhood nickname, Big.

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But actor Calvin Lockhart wasn’t a fan of the free publicity the name was getting as the career of rapper Biggie Smalls started to blow up. Calvin Lockhart sued Christopher and forced him to change his official name to the Notorious B.I.G., which served him throughout his decade-long career, even though he was popularly referred to as Biggie and still is to this day.

the real biggie smalls calvin lockhart
Source: getty

Calvin Lockhart and Jeff Bridges In 'Halls Of Anger'

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Who was litigious actor Calvin Lockhart?

Calvin Lockhart, whose real name was Bert Cooper, was born and raised in the Bahamas before he moved to New York City to pursue a civil engineering career. However, he soon dropped out to work construction jobs and study acting. 

He was discovered by the playwright Ketti Frings who cast him in her play, after which he started to do regular theater work on Broadway. Calvin even appeared opposite Angela Lansbury in the racially themed A Taste of Honey.

Since movie roles were few and far between for Black actors at the time, Calvin moved to Europe for a few years, living in Italy, Germany, and England. When he returned to America, he started getting more roles and eventually went on to be cast by Sidney Poitier in Let’s Do It Again, in which Calvin played the gangster Biggie Smalls.

Calvin went on to have a very successful career in America and Europe, and was the first Black actor to have an artist’s residency with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. However, towards the end of the Blaxploitation era of films that he became so well known for, Calvin’s career fell into obscurity once again and he returned to the Bahamas.

After a lifetime of movies and excitement, Calvin died from stroke-related complications in a Nassau hospital at the age of 72.

Stream Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell on Netflix.

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