PREFACE BY ROB MARRIOTT:
The great value ego trip gave to a negro journalist like myself was always that it provided the rare space to talk shit to an informed audience without worry of some not-ready editor deforming my mastery. Nor did I have to be concerned that some bitchmade publisher might sell the integrity of the magazine because he could give a fuck about the culture or the people that feed him. That is to say the good folks here were never afraid of the nuance that could be found in the correct use of the word, nigga. Nor were they afraid to laugh at how profoundly ridiculous the subject matter was. They never underestimated ghetto-spawned genius in any of its varied forms.
Most critically, ego trip also offered a writer the luxury of not having to spend half the fuckin’ article explaining rap basics to the lowest common denominator. In the maelstrom of the nineties, ego trip allowed a nikka to intelligently go wide about the most important cultural event of the American century. What is a moon landing compared to the epic saga of Ol’ Dirty Bastard?
When I wrote this piece on Big’s passing, I was still suffering from post-Pac syndrome, having spent some six months investigating that Vegas/LA-centered clusterfuck. Mind you, this was back when hip-hop still broke its own stories. Had Big and Pac been killed today, The Source, Vibe, allhiphop.com, XXL would all be reprinting TMZ’s reporting on the matter or aggregating Twitter reaxs. By this point in the trajectory of the culture, I thought hip-hop would have its version of institutions like Vanity Fair or Sports Illustrated. Somebody fucked up. I guess Worldstar will have to do. The game, the medium, done changed. But as you can see, in the most important ways, ego trip hasn’t.
Rereading this piece after all this time made me laugh. So cocky. Perhaps this was how it was supposed to be. I love how I acted like I wasn’t about to drink from the same Cristal bottle full to the rim with Christopher Wallace’s blood as everybody else. Like I wasn’t poised to eat from Mr. Shakur’s broken body and dance on both their graves in shiny suits and double Jesus pieces. I wasn’t alone. Niggas ain’t shit. Like the titas, we eat our young.
I forgive myself for the ornery tone in this piece because I was in mourning. Trying to make sense of the senseless. I doubled down on what I believed hip-hop could and should be. I lashed out because rage seemed the only appropriate response to the reality that this beautiful culture that gave me so much and cocooned me from the worst of Babylon’s ravages, was as corrupt as the rest of the world. I mourned the loss of the man who brought so much wit and rhythm and realness and hard won insight to the game that someone finally decided it was just too much. I mourned the loss of the last vestiges of my knottyheaded generation’s innocence. Who can blame the next generation’s aversion to thuggism and violent self-destruction? Sure they are wildly pussy and got jeggings in their closets but can we really be mad?
So let us commence with the ritual: let us bow our heads pour out a lil’ Jamaican rum and whiskey and have a moment of silence for the Mo’shady, Frankie Baby, and the arrogant candor of youth.
Words: Robert Marriott | Photos by Shawn Mortensen
Originally published in ego trip #10
What’s left to be said? And who’s to say it? Niggas is straight getting shot the fuck up, like it’s a marketing strategy. (Sheee, yaw rappers better stop acting up before some of these major labels see the Biggie/Shakur numbers and get ideas.) It took a few days, but the loss of Biggie hit me hard. Let’s face it, the cat was nice. All his shit. “Warning”? “One More Chance” remix? “Me and My Bitch”? “Everyday Struggle”? “Party and Bullshit”? Even his verse on that 112 joint was hot. His style and voice were explosive, his flow and timing undeniable – transgressive, funny, yada, yada. So for me it wasn’t a question whether I would be among the three thousand or so who waited three hours on Fulton and St. James to welcome Big’s funeral procession home. As I stood on the Brooklyn corner where Christopher Wallace’s career as the Notorious B.I.G. began and ended, watching and waiting for his prone body to return, many things were revealed to me. Here’s the short list.
REVELATION ONE: Bigger “2Smalls” Shakur.
Can’t nobody at this point tell me that Tupac and Biggie wasn’t the same nigga in two separate bodies; two Gemini muhfuhkas inextricably bound by the thread of myth. I had my own theories about all this for some time: the eerie and prophetic elements of their work, the uncanny symmetry of their lives, the “twin” voices both tended to fuck with in the studio, etc., etc.
But I remember the last time I seen Big was at his listening session at Daddy’s House in Manhattan. Big was there, willied out, concealing a truckload of worries under a velveteen blanket of cool. ’Pac had given up the ghost a few months before and Big seemed optimistic about the album. But he was still cane dependent from a car accident and facing charges that might put him away for a good while. He seemed to have gotten bigger since I last seen him.
Anyhow, they were playing the Bone and Biggie cut on the album, and I was sitting almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Big watching BET on the monitor above the sound booth window. Everybody else was intently listening to the new shit. Eerily, when Big gets to the part of his rhyme when he says, “Been in this shit since ’92/ Look at the shit I been through/ So-called beef with you-know-who,” “you-know-who” flashed up on the monitor looking like he wanted to jump out the motherfucker. It was a commercial for Gridlock’d. I looked to Big to see if he noticed. Not surprisingly, he hadn’t. Or if he did, he wasn’t letting me know.
REVELATION TWO: That writer-cat Touré is mad wack.
A rap hack who’s been suspect for some time, homeboy took the opportunity of Biggie’s death to bid his disgusted adieu to hip-hop in the pages of the Village Voice. Said he trashed his Paid In Full (among other classics), burned his ghetto pass, and got rid of his hoodie. Tupac, Biggie, now Touré. Will hip-hop survive? Yo, Touré, Godspeed.
REVELATION THREE: The real criminal takeover of rap has been both good and bad for hip-hop.
It’s made the aesthetics less susceptible to corporate manipulation, but at the same time created a culture of violent confusion: the dark, ruthless underworld versus the crowded, desperate world of rhyme-sayers and music producers. I recall rappers like Spice-1 and Ol’ Dirty Bastard nonchalantly recounting their close encounters with a violent end, both of them more or less shrugging. It was just another something to rhyme about. Before the Biggie/Shakur murders, any number of lesser-known rappers signed to one of the dozens of crack-sponsored labels attempting to straddle these two volatile worlds had already become victims. It was only a matter of time before someone real popular was taken out.
REVELATION FOUR: Biggie was all that is right and not right about rap today.
His emphatic support of big willie-ism uplifted niggas and made niggas start thinking big. But all that pow-wow, shoot ’em up and glitteration ultimately serves as a spectacular distraction from the real task at hand – straight out, undiluted economic, cultural, political and spiritual liberation for all.
REVELATION FIVE: A rapper’s true role is to exist on the expressive, emphatic edge for an entire community.
And in these times, sometimes that means living close proximity to death. Like Tupac, Nas, E-40, Scarface, Lauryn, Rakim etc., Big was a popular sovereign, elected by the people to embody their aspirations, hopes and feelings on the world stage – to speak the unspoken and paint the community’s dreams and experiences in Technicolor. Biggie was the quintessential Nigga Down the Block – familiar, approachable, and acknowledged if only because he was a character. Many of those who awaited Biggie did not come because he was a pop star, but because he was a neighbor, dice partner, low-life-that-made-good, an intimate, that muhfuhka with the lazy eye that used to rhyme. If it’s true that you assess a man by who comes to his funeral, then judging by the crowd gathered that chilly spring afternoon, Biggie was a style-conscious, intelligent, candid nigga who was loud at times, confused at others, blatantly oppressed, fun-loving, volatile, and surrounded by children, criminals, and creativity in a thousand different manifestations.
REVELATION SIX: Black folk exorcise violence through aggressive self-expression.
The police were there waiting too. Rolling like a thousand deep. There were helicopters and riot gear. The tension they created was high enough to have one woman standing on a stoop making it clear to everyone in earshot her distaste for the police/reporter invasion. She spoke in the hot tones of rage, her talk peppered with vulgarity. “Fuck these white motherfuckers! Get off my block! Y’all ain’t allowed!” The way she spat her words out, you’d swear she was looking for a fight. The woman suddenly asked one of several white reporters milling about the crowd where she was from.
“I’m from London.” The reporter smiled nervously.
“London!” the woman replied. “Get the fuck outta here!” The reporter stiffened, still smiling. The woman paused. “Hey, come interview somebody who really knew Biggie.”
REVELATION SEVEN: Biggie had an enormous amount of style.
And his procession was high evidence of that. It was a dramatic spectacle of Black Love, a snapshot of the BK exegesis: braids of all kinds, fades, perms, and waves, wraps, cornrows and camouflage, gold rings and leathers, scars and babies. Raw, open-mouthed, alive and struggling, children crowded around cameras to have their say. A young girl had “BIG” scrawled across her ample cleavage. People were speaking about Biggie’s tardiness as if he owed them money.
“Nigga delinquent,” someone said.
“He better get his ass on,” another threatened, “or he ain’t gonna see Tasha today. Too cold out here, shit!”
But when the caravan of limos and jeeps turned down St. James, a spirit descended upon the crowd. As the flowered, covered hearse displaying “B-I-G” in bright red roses rolled by the crowd, a cheer and a movement rose up and took hold, following the caravan to the corner. The Junior M.A.F.I.A. hung out of their limo windows raising their hands and funeral programs, hailing their friends. Kim sat in her car, bawling uncontrollably, swinging wildly between joy and pain.
The caravan hit the corner and out of the limo-car speakers the first refrains of “Hypnotize” could be heard. The energy swelled and burst open, shooting through the hundreds of dancing, running and singing bodies. For about thirty minutes all of Bed-Stuy convulsed in Biggie’s rhythms. If that ain’t style…
REVELATION EIGHT: Hip-hop, in any of its manifestations, must always be for the people.
Bed-Stuy, Do or Die. In the crescendo of the jubilation, cars were crushed under feet. Voices commingled. Life, death and transcendence were celebrated. Biggie that day spoke with the voice of three thousand and I heard him loud and clear. Nigga was sayin’ something like: “Ain’t a damn thing changed, nigga! Bed-Stuy! It’s the B.I.G., motherfucker! This time only bigger!”