Original version posted on March 9, 2010
Most Americans born after 1975 are familiar with The Notorious B.I.G. (aka. Christopher Wallace; aka. Biggie Smalls). One of the most enduring hip hop icon of the 1990s, he is credited with bringing the old-school gangster look to the rap scene. In day-to-day life, Biggie was an honor student turned crack-slinging ghetto outlaw—though we can assume by the hole at the tip of his belt that he was no frequent smoker. He is also venerated as a martyr in the musical canon of saints.
On March 9, 1997, Biggie pulled up to an intersection in Los Angeles, CA. The vengeful ghost of 2Pac Shakur hovered over his head as he left the Soul Train awards that night. Without warning, a “dark car” pulled up and an unidentified gunman unloaded on him. As in the case of 2Pac, Biggie’s killers still remain at large—fertile grounds for conspiracy theories and outlandish accusations. His death is the stuff of gangsta legend—a media sensation spawning numerous sample-snatching tributes by his mentor and producer, P-Diddy.
As it happens, P-Diddy will be hosting a memorial party tonight [March 9, 2010] at a club in Brooklyn, to commemorate the 13th anniversary of his protégé’s spilt blood. Diddy is even going so far as to push for the official recognition of March 9 as a hip hop holiday—fans will be entitled to take the day off and drink unaffordable beverages through the night. A Biggie-inspired dress code will be enforced at tonight’s event: wall-to-wall fur coats and fedoras, canes and limping gaits on perfectly functional legs. It’s like a hip hop Passion Play, in which the congregants resurrect their idol through imitation. Chances are, at least a few of them will re-enact Biggie’s death by shooting at each other.
The Notorious B.I.G. left an enduring legacy in his lyrics and through his seed—he is survived by at least two children. Not only was he a player, he also fucked a lot. His back-up vocalists would surely agree, singing his praises for all eternity: “Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can’t you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me…”
Words like these, from “Juicy”:
Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
When I was dead broke, man, I couldn’t picture this
50 inch screen, money green, leather sofa
Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur
Or this, from “Machine Gun Funk” (perhaps addressed to his one-time homeboy-turned-nemesis, 2Pac Shakur):
Sticks and stones break bones, but the gat’ll kill you quicker…
Indeed, a gun will always kill you quicker than either sticks or stones. Words of wisdom for any gangsta contemplating his choice of weapons.
The weirdest thing about Biggie’s death is the seemingly prophetic aura around his posthumously released album, Life After Death. With song titles like “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” “Last Day,” “Niggas Bleed,” “Going Back to Cali,” and the particularly eerie last track: “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You),” one is hardly surprised by the multitude of esoteric interpretations.
You can be the shit, flash the fattest five
Have the biggest dick, but when your shell get hit
You ain’t worth spit, just a memory
Surely he was just being modest with this lyric. Released two weeks after his death, Life After Death sold over ten million copies. P-Diddy crawled out from that blood-splattered Californian intersection like an Alien chestburster and grew into a hype-spinning monster that still stalks the earth in search of more dollars.
Biggie’s self-fulfilling death prophecies are reminiscent of 2Pac Shakur’s video for “I Ain’t Mad Atcha”. Filmed the day he was shot, the video features Pac getting blasted by a black-clad assailant before absconding to heaven, where we find him kicking it with dead homies. We find the same sort of premonitions in the deaths of other martyred musicians.
Otis Redding contemplated the shimmering waters while sitting on the dock of the bay on Dec. 6, 1967, immediately recording a melancholy tune about it—only to plummet into the icy waters of Lake Monoma days later. The only survivor described the crash victims screaming to the heavens that had just ejected them, as the cold gradually tugged their lives away. The only sign of mercy was another chart-topping posthumous release.
Janis Joplin’s last recording was an impromptu cover of “Happy Trails To You.” She popped the tape into the mailbox addressed to John Lennon, who received it a few days after her fatal heroin overdose.
Lennon would go on to do a long interview at the Geffen Records offices in Manhattan, in which he discussed the effect of an early death upon a celebrity’s legacy. He claimed that John F. Kennedy is a highly romanticized hero because no one knows how his life would have turned out if he had lived. A few hours later, Mark David Chapman put John Lennon’s theory to the test by shooting him in the head.
Kurt Cobain original title for his last album, I Hate Myself and Want to Die, seems less like a joke in retrospect. Then there are the prophetic images of Elvis Presley or Sid Vicious singing “My Way” before facing the final curtain. The list goes on and on.
Stars seem to have a knack for foreshadowing their own deaths—some even claim that orchestrating would be more accurate. Did Biggie have spiritual cognition of his impending doom? Or are he and 2Pac popping champagne bottles with Lennon, Hendrix, and a by-now incontinent Elvis in some celebrity protection hideaway?
Is it merely a matter of statistics? If hundreds of stars compose narcissistic tracks glorifying their own demise, one or two are bound to actually die. We then project prophetic messages in retrospect. That theory would take a lot of meticulous album-combing to test thoroughly, but it sounds good in writing, anyway.
Whether the myth is magic or media-spin, Biggie Smalls and company continue to provide endless tragedy fodder for the masses to mull over and Tweet about.
More New Agey, “Law of Abundance,” “your beliefs become reality” types claim that to gaze at a dead star is to become one. For my sake, I hope it’s not that fucking simple. One thing does seem obvious, though. As long as there are fools, they will imitate their heroes. And as long as their heroes portray braggadocious murderers, fools will continue to kill each other like morons with sharp sticks.
So I’m throwing on my cream suit and hat, and heading out to the club. I’ll love it when you call me Big Poppa. And if you point a gun at me, I suppose I’ll throw my hands in the air, like I’s a true player. That’s my word.
©2010 Joseph Allen