If Ya Don’t Know, Now Ya Know… an Elegy for B.I.G.

An Elegy For B.I.G.

Christopher Wallace was so Brooklyn. When he was with us, his artistry for putting words together had the unmatched ability to show the world our modus operandi. If one wanted to do an anthropological study on young black men growing up in Brooklyn circa 1994, Biggie’s debut album Ready to Die makes their research so much easier for them.  Here’s an elegy for B.I.G

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Coming of age in Brooklyn, some of us had both parents around, some of us didn’t, but the vast majority of us grew up teetering over the poverty line, or if we were lucky, lower middle class enough to be able to afford cable and catholic school. That is part of the reason we loved watching the Cosby show so much, it was all a dream, their decent economical means and family values seamed ostentatious to us. It’s kind of funny to think about it, but the Huckstable residence and Biggie’s crack filled cap peeling Bed-Stuy backdrop were world’s apart in lifestyle, but only minutes apart in distance.

Unfortunately, Christopher Wallace’s Notorious B.I.G. character was something that was more relatable to us than Bill Cosby’s Dr Heathcliff Huckstable. We didn’t see too many doctors and lawyers, but the black Acuras, the white with gold trim Lexuses, and the shiny baby blue Beamers that we saw everyday when we walked outside, were vivid proof to us that the drug dealers had unlocked the ‘key’ to economic and social mobility. We were all memorized by the stunningly beautiful Phylicia Rashad and her elegant, eloquent performance as Clair Huckstable, and were green with envy at ugly old Dr. Huxtable in his ugly old sweaters waking up to that every morning. When we turned off the TV and looked out the window at all the fly bombshell women in the neighborhood, the ones that made Phylicia Rashad look like dog meat, they were all flocking the hustlers who ironically were wearing the same old Dr. Huckstable Coogi sweaters to accompany their baggy jeans, timbs and gold chains. Biggie Smalls, got that dichotomy. He understood the frustration of the young black men of Brooklyn who wanted to live the Huckstable lifestyle, but saw hustling as the only tangible way to obtain it:

If I wasn’t in the rap game
I’d probably have a key, knee deep in the crack game
Because the streets is a short stop
Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot
Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums
eatin five cent gums not knowin where your meals comin from
And now the shit’s gettin crazier and major
Kids younger than me, they got the Sky grand Pagers

-The Notorious B.I.G. “Things Done Changed”

The formula and technical rhyme style BIG used to spit the young black man’s frustration was also, so Brooklyn. Brooklyn in 1994 was a bouillabaisse of South Carolina hospitality, Caribbean exoticism, Manhattan eccentrics, and old school Mafioso gangster ethics. You can hear this distinct combination in all of BIG’s music, from the Supercat dancehall inspired hooks, to the way he could flaunt what he had without coming across as a Harlem braggart, to the way his fat ugly ass unabashedly macked the ladies with “lyrical douches” for their “bushes” but still made it sound charming. Much like Spike Lee’s early movies, BIG was great at letting his art exemplify the diversity of borough in which they both originate from.

Christopher Wallace is also one of the greatest story tellers of our generation, and he did it in a unique way. Whereas some of his peers such as Nas are masters at painting vivid ghetto scenes for the listener, BIG was the master of putting the listener inside the character of Biggie Smalls letting you feel every emotion, every tension, every victory, every defeat. When he spits “Who the fuck is this, paging me at 5:46 in the morning, crack of dawn and now I’m yawning” this listener feels what is like to be this larger than life character, Notorious BIG, being annoyed by an early call from Pops from the barbershop, As the song progresses, the emotions graduate from enervation , to confusion (“slow down love, please chill drop the caper”), to denial, when he mistakenly thinks Pops is implicating his good friend Fame (MOP’s Lil’ Fame). Pops continues to detail how closely the would be stick up kids have been clocking BIG and covet his success and the things he hustle so hard for, and the listener can feel the tension building until the anger overloads and erupts like a volcano with:

There’s gonna be a lot of slow singing and flower bringing if my burglar alarm starts ringing!
What you think all the guns is for?!
All purpose war keep the Rottweilers by the door!
And I feed them gunpowder so they can devour, the criminals out to get my decimals…”

-The Notorious B.I.G. “Warning”

And even through the outburst in anger and defiance Wallace still has the talent to make the listener feel the sadness and feelings of betrayal, “It’s the ones that smoke blunts witcha, see your picture now they want to grab their guns and come and get ya”. This is an absolutely astonishing display of talent; there are movies and video games with million dollar budgets and 3D visuals that can’t put you into the perspective of a character the way Christopher Wallace put you inside the mind and soul of Notorious B.I.G. with just a pen and a pad and a dope beat. Rap music or not, this is story-telling that needs to be shared and celebrated for generations.

Today, March 9th on the anniversary of his death, the slang B.I.G. used is beginning to show signs of age, it’s not steelo anymore it’s swag, and we no longer “floss’, or get “jig” we ball and make it rain. As far as BIG went with his success in hip hop, it was only a fraction of his potential and how far he could have taken it. Just looking at his de facto successor Jay-Z proves it. The things BIG were so joyous to acquire, as he put in his “Juicy” must seem like child’s play to the children growing up hearing Jigga Man tell them “We Off that” and to move “On to the Next One”.

Brooklyn has changed, crime is down and luxury condominiums are popping up everywhere. There are a lot more Huckstables for the kids to look up to than hustlers. Nonetheless when you play a Biggie Smalls album you can see that our passions, hopes, dreams, fantasies and tastes have evolved and gotten more sophisticated, but they haven’t changed. We are still going though the “Everyday Struggle”, we still “Party & Bullshit” to cope with it. Even though life kicks us in the ass sometimes and we have “Suicidal Thoughts” we still dream BIG, knowing that “Sky’s the Limit”. Take this as a “Warning” to anybody that has a problem with ghetto people progressing into better lives and are trying to hold us back. Whether it’s through the corporate arena, politics, academia, entertainment, sports or on the block, we will not hesitate to “Kick In the Door” and tell you “Gimme The Loot”. We have a resiliency that you just can’t fathom so you can just call it “The What”. Just when it seems like we are about to give up our hopes and dreams, we give it “One More Chance”. It isn’t “Unbelievable” at all that we are still “Hypnotized” by the Notorious B.I.G.’s music and his story 13 years after his death. If you made the mistake of believing that his legacy is “Ready To Die” you are “Dead Wrong”. Don’t you know that there is “Life After Death”? Peace.

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