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In a fickle world it’s nice that when fans choose to continuously honor someone. Some artists transcend their beginnings and become icons. What this means is that someone like Prince or Madonna could drop a horrible album and lose absolutely no traction with their fans. Other artists leave this world too soon and become so revered in death that the qualities of the work they created while they were alive become heightened by the fact they’ll never be able to produce more material. John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin come to mind. Recently hip-hop has matured to the point where we now have those types of artists. Eminem, Jay-Z or Nas could put out horrible albums their fans would shrug and say give us more. And as far as the artist who died too soon and became an infallible saint of the genre, is there a better example of this than Notorious B.I.G.
It’s totally understandable why we love Biggie. His presence on the mic was unparalleled. The narrative of “Ready To Die” telling the story of a street thug with a callous jaded view of society was the classic tale of the American Dream turned Nightmare that we have since heard retold over and over again. And although the Kool G. Rap comparisons weren’t that obvious then, in retrospect the Juice Crew emcee had an all too similar persona to the one that Christopher Wallace would adopt in his creation of the Biggie Smalls character.
Biggie had everything you wanted from an emcee, he had Jay-Z’s mirth, Nas’s artistry and viscous attitude that was uniquely his own. He played the part of someone who would inspire fear had he choose to pursue crime the way he pursued rap. In so much as rapping is as much performance art as it is music he was a master thespian. The things implied by his lyrics were almost as unsettling as the things he spelled out explicitly. Ready To Die in retrospect is one of the darkest albums of the early 90’s and paints a bleak picture that turns Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn into the dystopian wasteland that we all feared. But the character Biggie Smalls assembles on that first album doesn’t just survive that chaos, he thrives in it. Life After Death while having some smoother moments and being more commercially palatable at times still continues the dark themes expounded upon in his first release and in some ways shows a much improved emcee still charismatic but with that sick twisted edge that could take lyrics that would sound sophomoric coming from another emcee and make them sound menacing. ( A prime example would be that line about kidnapping kids, anal raping them and then disposing of their bodies by throwing them off of bridges).
[ALSO READ: Notorious B.I.G.’s Childhood Home For Sale]
Obviously I am a Biggie fan and I will concede that all of the wonderful things said about his music are mostly true. But what I want to ask is one question. Aren’t you kind of sick about hearing about Biggie? After 16 years of Endless tribute after tribute to the notorious one are we over saturated with praises for his greatness as an emcee. This year we got tributes on the anniversary of his death and a new round of tributes on his born day. He’s been quoted, referenced and name dropped by ever rapper who’s touched a mic since 98. I can’t lie and say I’m not guilty I have a Notorious B.I.G. action figure on my desk as I type this. Again his greatness is not in question here. I’m questioning at what point do we need to stop constantly speaking about how great he was.
Trust me when I say I understand the irony of giving Biggie massive props to say we should stop giving him so many props. Imagine if we treated Biggie like we treated Bob Marley. The genre of music Bob Marley performed didn’t occupy the same place in our culture that hip-hop currently does. Hip-Hop feels the need to proclaim kings constantly and consistently. Bob Marley’s greatness cannot be challenged because there is no imaginary throne upon which he sat while living. No one would dare to question Bob Marley’s impact both to those within the sphere of his cultural influence and those adjacent to it. At this point I think it’s safe to put B.I.G. in that category. We don’t have to evangelize his greatness. The influence he left on the culture is unquestionable. The mature thing to do with B.I.G. would be to let his legacy rest with the satisfaction that he helped saved New York Rap in the 90’s. Indeed he changed hip-hop forever.
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