[EDITORIAL] Why The Notorious B.I.G. Is NOT The Greatest Ever

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Notorious B.I.G. Is NOT The Greatest Ever

As a child, I remember being in building 1570 East New York, Brooklyn. This was shortly after March 9th, 1997. A huge black box smothered in flowers floated Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace through his neighborhood. This was amongst tons of brown face and leather; a Kerry James Marshall to a child’s imagery, who still won’t forget it today.

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I was aware of Biggie, even though I hadn’t quite made 10 years living. “Juicy” was poppin’ already, and “Hypnotize” is an easy record to recall being “Live,” even as a youth.

I recall “Hypnotize” being played suddenly at the procession, and the crowd frenzying in the middle of one of the saddest moments in Brooklyn—akin to Rich Porter’s murder in Harlem in 1990.

I can cry about it now, & when I saw Biggie’s biopic “Notorious,” in ’09, I did.

It was at the 42nd-Street AMC Theater, in a packed crowd with SUPREME 90’s energy. Must have been what the Tunnel felt like…

Ad-libs from the audience prompted subtle, luxurious bullshit, including a screamed, impromptu “JERZ!” met by abundant Brooklynite jeers. And “Fuck you’s.”

I tried to hold it. I tried to be strong, but at the end it was too much. Between the call-and-response of the theater, and the movie’s concert feel, I absolutely re-lived his death in that chair.

“…Ha! Sicker than your average…Poppa twist cabbage off instinct… ” skipped to “Tears,” by the Force M.D.’s.

As I matured, his legacy became “the Greatest ever,” with many murals, in Hip-Hop circles critical and otherwise.

I’m not sure who started this!

…Was it Jay-Z, who was strongly considered the best Emcee after BIG’s murder? He himself also made mentions of being ‘the closest one to BIG, if he wasn’t better…’

Or did this notion develop naturally amongst critics and Hip-Hop listeners?

Without outside influence, Eminem was the first artist I attached my own ears to in listening to Hip-Hop myself. What timing.

What propaganda!

My older Brother introduced Mobb Deep’s The Infamous (1995) to me, some time around the advent of Eminem and Y2K, and that had a grand impact on my life sonically, lyrically, and empirically. I lived in the Projects, and here’s Havoc of Mobb Deep talking about never leaving, faithfully… forever! That’s crazy! But I could relate to that love for the hood.

No matter how much they wanted me to adore Eminem, in my opinion he is poetry stuck in acts of abuse, and his content lost favor with me at The Eminem Show. (2002)

There was also another majestic album that dropped in ’95, unbeknownst to me, because it was unbeknownst to my Hip-Hop teacher in my older Brother. That Majesty, is Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, by Raekwon the Chef, of the Grand Imperial Wu-Tang Clan.

Caveat: I wouldn’t hear this album until about 20 years after it’s initial release…

I immediately had to revamp the hierarchy of my Hip-Hop canon. Biggie was my Law, but being introduced to different things, specifically outside of what your teachers give you, relieves Group Think for the newest truths.

Groupthink, is a motherfucker. It can lead an individual to lose their individuality in thought, practice and behavior, and enough lore can cement a legacy, even if the humble and legendary Christopher Wallace didn’t fully believe it himself.

Mr. Wallace told Lil’ Cease that Jay-Z was better than him. Maybe it wasn’t said to Hov’s face, but to make it known at all, shows his heart. His desire was to be the best, and if not the best, then the hardest, according to DJ Clark Kent, who affirmed he was the hardest to BIG’s face.

DJ Clark felt Biggie said his rhymes better than Jay-Z, but that Jay-Z said the best rhymes.

As I matured, I dove deeper into what suited me, as the study of poetry brought the likes of Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur deeper into my focus. I eventually learned Ready to Die (1994) and Life After Death (1997) by heart; certainly two Brooklyn bibles to me.

With so many elements of writing and music in my head, I’d stick to a certain quality, in content, difficulty of lyrics, use of literary trope, fluidity and elocution when spitting, and the other formulas that contribute to being a real stand out. With that being said, I could understand why people would say BIG wins. On top of having all the aforementioned, he would say anything, in unbelievable order and context, and he was very clear.

I began to see and hear those qualities in other artists, not in mimicry, but their own versions of being rawly unorthodox, even if it didn’t sound as fluid as Biggie Smalls. Fluidity is important to me, as its representative of a certain control of voice, and how an emcee intends to say his words; some words long, some short, but all fitting into a bar, if not being cleverly wrapped ‘round the bars on a beat.

It’s an absolute fact, that many Brothers are good, but there is a real danger in the Emcee that may say what-the-fuck-ever, with cohesion.

This is Biggie.

This is Jay-Z, who mixes a great command of thought with beautiful, vast reference and analogy.

This is Lil’ Wayne, albeit a little less complex in my opinion, but will still leave you stuck on stupid.

This is Kendrick, a King of cadence.

This is J. Cole, the loudest heart of Hip-Hop.

This is Conway the Machine, the never-ending clip, smooth as a waterpark slide.

It was Raekwon, before Biggie, with unconventional and shining tales coded in slang marble—all of these men bombard you in their own ways.

Greatness happened before Biggie. Greatness happened during the time of Biggie, to the point of pressure, and we are in another great era, currently. If you listen to Biggie really hard, especially in his early work, you hear the Fu-Schnickens in him, who were also from the Borough.

Biggie isn’t the greatest to me because I believe in the pantheon of great emcees, with different attributes that add to the pot, from the time of “The Symphony” by DJ Marley Marl, to DJ Kay Slay’s “Rolling 50 Deep,” and these Gods, influence each other across time, above “life and death,” to make the pot boil.

There is no one man, or woman, then, or now.


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