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“Are you sad he’s dead?” the short teenage white boy asks his friend as he whisks past me in the record store.
“I don’t give a shit,” his goofy friend half chuckles, shrugging his shoulders.
Distracted from my search for a Foxy Brown single, I turn and glare at the boy for being so callous about anyone’s death, but I’m extra pissed once I realize they are talking about Biggie Smalls. I want to say something to the goofy kid. I want to poke my finger in his face and tell him he’s a simple, pimple-faced dumbass who knows nothing about Biggie or what he means to hiphop. But that would be wrong. If that chick from No Doubt died tomorrow, I can’t say I’d be distressed. The teenager is not a fan of Notorious B.I.G., and hiphop is not his culture. And in all fairness, when Tupac was murdered, I knew a lot of hiphop junkies who didn’t care one way or the other. Most of them saw it coming.
But Biggie’s death was another matter. Young black folks were pissed. Because Biggie’s music was the absolute shit, and with his death, there would be no more of those incredible lyrics and phat-ass beats to bounce to.
When I heard the news on the radio that cold Sunday morning, I was shocked but not surprised. The whole crazy East Coast/West Coast thing had gotten way out of hand, and with the murder of Tupac, Biggie’s infamous rival, something was bound to blow up eventually. I was just sad it had to be my favorite rap artist.
I needed therapy on this one. I tracked down a girlfriend who loved Big’s music as much as I did. There were no tears shed; selfishness ruled this discussion. We were not well schooled on the whole East Coast/West Coast beef. We weren’t even connoisseurs of hiphop. We just knew we loved Biggie’s music and were genuinely troubled that we wouldn’t get to hear any more of those amazingly live tracks, like “The What” or “Unbelievable,” that had become classics from his debut Ready to Die. “Only Biggie could lay down rhymes like that,” we sighed.
Condolences and words of respect for Biggie were pouring into radio stations all week long. With Big’s murder, it was evident that shit in the rap world was getting just as out of hand as it was in the real one. Would Biggie’s death just lead to an escalation of the conflict? Lovers of hiphopfrom the die-hard scholar of the culture to the simple fans of a tight beat and a clever rhymedidn’t want to face the prospect of losing yet another great. It would be too much to take.
With the release of Big’s prophetic two-disc second album, Life After Death, it is painfully clear we have been served a last, generous helping of exceptional flows from Biggie’s plate. The boy could not be touched.
Although I have always winced at some of the lyrics Big put down, it wasn’t what he said that made me bounce but how he said it, as well as each tight beat he did it on top of. I was out of my seat or rocking in my car to every jam Biggie made. He turned Junior M.A.F.I.A. into a real group for a second, and helped blow up any track he was a part of without really trying. He admitted in a recent interview with the Source that it was money, not love of his craft, that got him going. Who knows what he could’ve done had he really put his heart into it?
“Hypnotize,” the first single from the new record, just proves that the boy was only going to rule the rap world. It’s obvious he’s just having fun with this one; the track is another players’ anthem of sorts. It was the right one to drop first; playful, with a bounce factor of nine and a half, “Hypnotize” was a mere hint of what was to come. My brother lost it when he heard some of the cuts. He was bouncing all over the driver’s seat, reveling in the delicacies only Biggie could dish out.
He did wrinkle his brow, however, and add, “He’s talking about the same shit he did on the last album.” I agreed. In “What’s Beef?,” Biggie’s imagery is ridiculously violent, alluding to the molestation and murder of a child by one of his boys. I definitely could not get down with that one. The anger in so many of his rhymes had me wondering if he did this album for the fans at all, or just to let other “motherfuckas” know they couldn’t touch him.
Big was hiphop, straight up. I get so mad when I hear someone like C. Delores Tucker calling it “gangsta rap,” or talk about how Biggie’s and Tupac’s violent albums only foretold their fate. Shut up. What the hell does she know about it? Yeah, their music is full of violence, but as the familiar sentiment goes, “It’s what they lived,” and both could only speak on what they knew. My biggest problem with Tucker is that she doesn’t know jack about rap or the hiphop culture other than what she has read or heard on an album she wants to censor. She hasn’t lived it. No one on this earth is a being of perfection; Tupac and Biggie just put their dirt out for the world to hear.
Unfortunately, however deep my love for Biggie’s music may run, listening to this album, it’s hard to believe anything other than tragedy could occur. In light of Big’s death, many of the cuts make for a bizarre irony. In particular, “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You).” Just seeing the title on the CD cover is wack. I wonder if he was simply waiting for it to happen. It’s all he seemed to rap about. I mean, if you dream about going to Jamaica everyday, eventually you’re gonna go.
It’s hard to justify my love of a music so dynamic yet at the same time so vicious. I try to appreciate the art, for that’s what it isan art form. No one’s gonna love everything anyone does. And however much I disagree with some of Biggie’s views, the boy had a unique skill no rap lover could dispute.
If this craziness within hiphop doesn’t cease, indifference will soon take the place of shock and sorrow. Much as it already has for folks like me whenever we hear of the fate of someone less famous. We mutter, “What a shame,” at the tale of another black-on-black crime on the 11 o’clock news, only to wish it would hurry past so we can find out what the weather for tomorrow will be.
But right now, with Big’s murder, I give a shit. A very big one. He was an extraordinary entertainer with a gift to pull you out of your seat and onto the dance floor, even if you couldn’t dance. In one of his last interviews, Biggie explained that he wanted people to “just straight up say, ‘Yo, he’s the best. He’s the best ever. He’s the best that ever did it.’ That’s what I’m looking for. I want my props.”
That’s all I got to give.CP