’90s No. 1s Revisited: “I’ll Be Missing You”
The one hundred eighth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans f/ 112. This single, a tribute to slain rapper The Notorious B.I.G., debuted at No. 1, becoming the first Hip-Hop song to do so, and was a global success, topping charts throughout Europe and Australia in addition to the U.S. It became the second of Puff Daddy’s five No. 1 hits, and the first and only chart-topper for both Faith Evans and 112.
Prior to “I’ll Be Missing You,” Evans, who was separated from but still married to The Notorious B.I.G. when he died, had sent three releases onto the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995-96, the highest-peaking of which was her second single, “Soon As I Get Home” (peak: 21). After the success of “I’ll Be Missing You,” she would continue to chart throughout the ’90s and early ’00s, most successfully in 1998-99 with “Love Like This” (peak: 7), “All Night Long” (peak: 9) and as a featured artist on Whitney Houston’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” along with Kelly Price (peak: 2). Evans has not charted since 2005 but continues to release new albums, including 2017’s The King & I, a commercially unsuccessful “collaboration” project that combined Evans’ singing with previously released performances from The Notorious B.I.G.’s recordings.
Also featured on “I’ll Be Missing You” is 112, a four-member male singing group from Atlanta whose first-ever single, 1996’s “Only You” (peak: 13), had featured The Notorious B.I.G. They would continue to find success in the years that followed “I’ll Be Missing You,” particularly as a featured act on Allure’s remake of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “All Cried Out” (peak: 4) later in 1997, and with two singles off their 2001 album, Part III: “It’s Over Now” (peak: 6) and “Peaches & Cream” (peak: 4). They, like Faith Evans, last charted in 2005. (Puff Daddy, by the way, most recently charted in 2011, as Diddy – Dirty Money, a project for which he, aka Diddy, collaborated with singers Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper, aka Dirty Money.)
“I’ll Be Missing You,” a last-minute addition to Puff Daddy’s debut album, No Way Out, addresses the difficulty of loss, and in that sense is part of a long-standing and still-relevant tradition of death-themed tracks spending long stretches at No. 1, a la “One Sweet Day,” “Candle In The Wind 1997” and “See You Again.” Musically, the song is soft for a Hip-Hop track, borrowing both its instrumental and its chorus from The Police’s 1983 smash “Every Breath You Take,” which was the No. 1 song of that year. “I’ll Be Missing You” was the No. 3 song of 1997 and won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, beating out Puff Daddy’s two other No. 1 hits from 1997, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.”
Let’s take a fresh listen to “I’ll Be Missing You”:
It’s unseemly to bash a song that we believe was borne of genuine grief and pure intentions. We believe that The Notorious B.I.G.’s death was difficult for Puff Daddy, and even for Faith Evans, despite the fact that she was already dating the man she would go on to marry before The Notorious B.I.G. passed away. In retrospect, what we like about this song is its vulnerable, sincere simplicity. All this said, we just didn’t care much for this song musically, and our opinion remains unchanged. The problem with it, perhaps, is its over-reliance on material from “Every Breath You Take.” Perhaps they should have lifted either the instrumental or the chorus rather than both, or at least more significantly altered the form of either component. Instead, the song leaves the listener hyper-aware of the original — which, by the way, is about obsession and stalking. This track was a missed opportunity to create a tribute that would stand on its own merits instead of being “that Puff Daddy remake of ‘Every Breath You Take.'”
Does it hold up? In a core sense, we’d say it doesn’t, because the track is a snapshot of the immediate emotional state of two particular people, Puff Daddy and Faith Evans, after a specific, recent loss. As time has worn on, The Notorious B.I.G.’s death, tragic though it remains, has become a historical event and unsolved mystery. But for those able to overlook the specific references to the man who inspired the track, the basic elements of the recording hold up decently well. The production is durable, and the theme is eternal. As of this writing, the lyric video for “I’ll Be Missing You” has more than 57 million views on YouTube, which indicates some sustained interest in the track.
Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks
Puff Daddy and Faith Evans f/ 112
“I’ll Be Missing You”
11 weeks at No. 1, starting June 14, 1997
Preceded by: “MMMBop,” Hanson
Followed by: “Mo Money Mo Problems,” The Notorious B.I.G. f/ Puff Daddy and Mase
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?