I wrote this sometime in October 2008, but for whatever reason, people who I sent this to never actually published it. Some of the stuff I wrote in the original blog I’ve edited to fit my more informed views now, but the message remains the same. Please read and discuss below. Also, for more Biggie goodness today, read here for a posthumous letter from the BIG man himself, courtesy of yours truly.
12 years ago, hip-hop and the music world in general still strongly felt the eeriness that all the tough talk on record between Notorious BIG and 2Pac came to a head so quickly, resulting in as-of-yet 2 unsolved murders and, secretly, a slew of other related deaths, firings, back-room deals, and posthumous fortunes for anyone willing to emulate their styles, even if just for the sake of commemoration. Murals, movies, album after album after album, and yet, I don’t think society’s learned from the lessons left behind by our legendary wordsmiths.
Anyone who’s ever taken a brief look at contemporary Black history knows that these schisms have existed for every generation: WEB Dubois vs. Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X, and 2Pac vs. Biggie. On the surface, they all had ideological differences, and often it led to their believers getting into serious scuffles. In 2Pac and Biggie’s case, it wasn’t just about who slept with whose wife or even East vs. West Coast, but whose lyrics were more relevant. 2Pac may not have had the lyrical wizardry that Biggie did, but for what he lacked in acrobatics and maleability, he more than made up for in depth and topic coverage. Every dude out now replicates Biggie’s image: new social class but still very hood.
I guess the reason I’m writing this now is that I wish we would have seen Biggie and Pac alive now. I still get chills listening to Pac in “I Ain’t Mad At You” (that third verse was definitely about BIG). I still get irked when I see people on Twitter emulating the rappers’ images, but ignoring that the conflict preceded such an ugly period of a once joyous and uplifting form of music for people of my generation. As we mourned, hip-hop somewhat returned to its roots, celebratory and happy to a fault even.
Even with all that celebration, we forgot to reflect more profoundly on the catalysts for said celebrations. We still have a few unsolved murders (Jam Master Jay comes to mind immediately), and an accompanying No-Snitch movement, even where we keep mum about our hood heroes’ murders. We’re willing to “rep” them on record but won’t say a thing even anonymously. Conspiracy theories (and theorists, including myself) abound. 13 year olders refer to people who disapprove of their (often misguided actions) as haters. Everyone remembers riding or dying but can’t remember that the rapper who called for changes during those desperate times in the 90s. Everyone can site the greatest of a Brooklyn king’s party lyrics but only vaguely remember his suicidal tendencies and the pathos that drove him to success.
I’m not one to put words in any of these legends’ mouths (though I’m known to have the spirit move me), but would we really see them beefing still? Many indications show that they certainly had a rift in real life, but no one wanted to see anyone really die. Christopher Wallace and Tupac Amaru Shakur were young men just navigating their way through a tumultous (and often instigating) music industry with enough people in their ear telling them all sorts of nonsense about who they should go hurt to get their respects up.
And I sit here, 12 years after Biggie’s death, knowing that these two men by now may have reached their true potential, not just as rappers but as human beings. They had to have wished for better dayz …