Wallace was born at St. Mary's Hospital in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on May 21, 1972, the only child of Jamaican immigrant parents. His mother, Voletta Wallace, was a preschool teacher, while his father, Selwyn George Latore, was a welder and politician. His father left the family when Wallace was two years old, and his mother worked two jobs while raising him. Wallace grew up at 226 St. James Place in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill, near the border with Bedford-Stuyvesant. Wallace excelled at Queen of All Saints Middle School winning several awards as an English student. He was nicknamed "Big" because he was overweight by the age of 10. Wallace said he started dealing drugs when he was around the age of 12. His mother, often away at work, did not know of his drug dealing until he was an adult. He began rapping as a teenager, entertaining people on the streets, and performed with local groups the Old Gold Brothers and the Techniques. At his request, Wallace transferred from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School to George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School, where future rappers DMX, Jay-Z, and Busta Rhymes were also attending. According to his mother, Wallace was still a good student but developed a "smart-ass" attitude at the new school. At age 17, Wallace dropped out of school and became more involved in crime. In 1989, he was arrested on weapons charges in Brooklyn and sentenced to five years' probation. In 1990, he was arrested on a violation of his probation. A year later, Wallace was arrested in North Carolina for dealing crack cocaine. He spent nine months in jail before making bail.