Twenty-three years following Mr. Christopher Wallace's tragic passing, many of us are still reminiscent of the great era of hip hop in the '90s where he created timeless classics that are still being played throughout the world today. To remember Big Poppa, we've asked fellow OTH'er and independent MC, Narcy (@narcynarce), to write a commemorative piece about how Biggie influenced him in his childhood and his music. The idea came to us following 40s & Shorties newest collection, featuring a graphic tee and hoodie with a portrait of Brooklyn's Finest by artist Paulrus. Take a read below:
It's all about the specifics with MCs. Being one myself, I always focused on the specificity of why I gravitated towards certain rappers. Besides skill, voice and delivery, a young Christopher Wallace was the first solo artists I heard. In The mid to late 90s, my best friend Nofy would come back from Wildwood, new Jersey with Dj Enuff, Dj Clue and Hot97 cassette tapes. These tapes not only introduced me to hip-hop, they were my entry into lyricism. I remember a specific all-Biggie mixtape that I ended up borrowing being so iconic. The black and white photocopy cover, the shitty recording and the authenticity of Brooklyn bled through that tape. While Nofy and Nawar focused on the beats, I started memorizing lyrics. Biggies were some of the first ones I learned by heart.
Biggie was asthmatic. He was a Gemini. He was chubby. At 13, I was all those things too. There was something so celebratory about B.I.G too. Though I was too young to understand the underlying tone of his music - somber and depressed - he often celebrated everything from the street life to success. He painted the struggle in Coogi colors and shared his yearn for freedom and greatness. There was a unique quality to B.I.G. not many had. While he was reading Word Up Magazines, I was dipping into Electronic Monthly and The Source, learning more and more about him through dial-up internet. It was a magical time where the mystery around an artist was as powerful as the work that was reaching you. Then Juicy dropped. We sat in front of the television, with Much Music on, watching this young man live out a dream we seldom were privy to. Biggie opened my eyes to projection, dreams and aspirations of being an artist.
When Christopher was killed, I found out the next day. Living in Abu Dhabi at the time, my friend Ghazi would pick me up to car pool to school. I would sit in the trunk of the car and read the newspaper on our way to school. In there, I saw an article that said "Rapper Notorious B.I.G. shot and killed in Los Angeles". I was crushed. I remember crying in the car. After the death of Tupac, this was just too much to handle. My heroes were dying. But with Biggie's death, came a slew of MCs that would not exist without his charisma, style and grace. His untimely passing allowed him to lace more than lyrical douches in the bushes, but influence a whole generation. B.I.G. became a source code, one that many of us MCs tapped into when telling our story. If it wasn't for Notorious, there would be no Jay Z as we know him, there would be no J Coles or even, Jay Electronicas. Ask your favourite MCs who Biggie is to them, they most probably will tell you he is one of the faces on their Mount Rushmore.
If there is one thing I miss about Biggie is the space he took up, and the authenticity would you feel when you heard his voice. He represents a golden era that many of you, visiting this sight, didn't live through. The 90s were raw, there was no connectivity, no internet, no social media. Word of Mouth was our strongest tool and music travelled and lasted so long. Those days are long gone and so many new artists out are paving the way for a new, wild, free generation of creatives. It's a beautiful time. Just make sure you take the time to appreciate them while they are here, cuz you never know when you gonna go. Biggie Smalls is the illest! Rest in Peace Big Poppa.
The original art piece below by Paulrus (@paulrus_art) resides in 40s & Shorties' Adem Niazi's office and was used to create the Brooklyn's Finest capsule.