Jelani Cobb’s excellent posthumous musing on the life and death of rapper Notorious B.I.G. (“Preface to a Multidisc Suicide Note,” 3/28) certainly provides a model for lovers of hiphop to follow. One can recognize rapping skills without supporting the ignorance of the person rapping. Cobb’s piece was balanced in its criticism of Biggie Small’s celebration of violence and destruction, while correctly noting his exceptional verbal gift.
Cobb mistakenly, however, ascribed the innovation of “gangsta angst” to Biggie, who in my estimation lacked any genius for production or concept. (Remember, this is a guy who takes his rap name from a Sidney Poitier comedy Uptown Saturday Night and snatches, like, the entire Isley Brothers song for his first hit.) The Geto Boys, with the song, “My Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me” were the first rappers willing to say that the gangsta life had pitfalls that made suicide look attractive. They admitted the heretofore unmentioned downside to easy money and wanton violence, accurately detailing the psychic destruction that the gangstas are heir to. Many rappers followed suit long before Biggie’s Ready to Die album, and of course this trend starts with blues artists like Robert Johnson and Lighting Hopkins, who talked about the dangers of juke joints and the blues life.
Contrasting Cobb’s thoughtful piece were the adolescent rantings of Deborah Rouse (“One More Chance,” 3/28). I kept checking as I read to make sure I wasn’t reading Teen Beat or some other sophomoric fanzine. Rouse disses C. Delores Tucker and the teenage white boy in the record store for their lack of hiphop knowledge. Yet she reveals an ignorance of this genre that makes C. Delores look like Snoop Doggy Dogg. Any Republican who had been watching Nightline, C-Span, or reading the Wall Street Journal over the past year knew of the beef between the East and West Coasts. She might also want to check out Billboard magazine and note that gangsta rap sales are strongest in suburban communitiesthat “goofy white boy” and his friends might have more info on Biggie and Tupac than she has.
She also points out the difficulty in getting hiphop gangstas like Biggie to change. If women, who are most often seen as bitches, skeezers, and hoes by gangsta rappers, are willing to buy their albums because they have “a good beat and you can dance to it,” then why should gangstas be less “ridiculously violent” or misogynistic? For me, Biggie gets no props, because he wasn’t as big or notorious as, say, the average Watergate or Whitewater unindicted co-conspirator. With all that America has to steal, he dreamed in minutiae, like many of my former drug-selling homiez, who spend their time driving their Benzes through the housing projects. As Cobb says, Biggie’s death was not some great surprise, given that brothers get smoked for walking in the wrong neighborhood or stepping on somebody’s new Nikes. If Biggie was “keeping it real,” then he knew that notorious gangstas are supposed to go out in a hail of gunfire, unless you’re Brando in The Godfather and you dream of running the world.
Fort Totten Park
via the Internet