… Big is an unlikely pleasure of mine. I don’t say a guilty pleasure because I feel no guilt over liking his music. Biggie was the last big rapper who did anything that I liked on any kind of a consistent basis, and honestly, even though I detest Puffy and all the others from his crew that rose through the ranks and became huge after his death (I’ll get to that in a minute), i.e. Jay-Z, Nas, and whoever else, I LOVE some of Biggie’s stuff.
While none of Biggie’s stuff is all that original in the music department, not a whole lot of the big name rap stuff is. My love of this form of music, circa late 80s/early 90s, was bound to self-destruct just based on the fact that I eventually sought out the stuff that was sampled to make it and once I had the source*, well, the only thing left to say about the re-packaging was “It’s good in a nostalgic kind of way.” So many prized James Brown, George Clinton and assorted others’ albums later and I’d rather just listen to that than anything else. Not helping the case is the unfortunate fact that rap is often just so fucking juvenile that it’s frankly embarrassing to listen to it, especially in the car where I have to feel like Michael Bolton from Office Space**. Even Andre 3000, at the height of his career thus far on near masterpiece “The Love Below,” has to bring it down to the lowest common denominator every once in a while by ending otherwise amazing (and by “amazing,” I am talking, music-wise at least, about a level approaching Zeppelin-level) songs with the lyrical chanting of things like variations on the word “bitch” or constant insertions of “Stank you.” But what I find so great about Biggie is he is what he is. Here’s a guy that built a cocaine empire and then basically said, “What the fuck should I do with all my money? Shit, I guess I’ll manufacture a rap career.” So Notorious may be the lowest common denominator in a lot of ways, but he is also a hell of a lot more real than a lot of his peers***. So now there’s a movie coming out about him and I’m thinking (and am completely aware that I’m very likely going to be let down here) that if there was ever going to be a modern Scarface well, a dramatization of Biggie’s story could be it.
Take his track “The Ten Crack Commandments,” for example. Biggie even says at the beginning of the track, it is “a step-by-step booklet for you to get to get your game on top” – in other words, he’s rapping about how he moved to the top of his game in the drug field and wants to share that with any up-and-comers out there, apparently as a thank you for buying his album.
How can’t you dig that?
Amazing. Yes (but not in the Zeppelin-amazing kind of way by any means).
Amusing. Yes (although some would probably wish ill of me for saying so)
Wrong? Maybe, although everything that popular music idolizes tends to be “wrong” to someone.
Terrible? Maybe. I’m not saying this is life-altering here.
But honest? Yeah, feels that way to me. At least as honest if not more so than all the other rap-hopefuls who ignite their stupid, grandiose careers by taking their cues from movie stereotypes and passing them off as viable lifestyle-success demographics.
Cypress Hill was my other big rap love, and again they seemed a little bit more real and diabolical than so many others. The Hill however eventually let me down. Biggie did not. He disappeared too soon.
So today when I saw a billboard for “Notorious” opening on 1/15/09 I was pretty fucking psyched. And don’t you worry, I’ll be here to tell you if it lived up to my superficial explanations or not.
Oh, I almost forgot the diatribe about the death of certain rappers I discuss above. Sorry, I know “they-faked-their-death” conspiracy theories abound (or at least did ten years ago when this all happened) but I don’t believe for a second that Biggie is dead. Tupac maybe, but Biggie? He planned everything else out so well, why not fake his own death, catapult his friends to stardom and retire in style?
* Ironic, then, that Source is the name of the rap equivalent of Hit Parader.
** And bass, often the major component of most rap, is even more embarrassing to be heard in public with. “Bumping” is for “Look at me; I’ve made an anti-society lifestyle choice” douchebags.
*** And for the record, I’m not talking shit about Tupac here, I’m just mostly unfamiliar with his work. I loved the Machiavelli album from shortly before his “death” but it remains something I associate strongly with a friend of mine who died and such have trouble with the idea of seeking it out and re-opening old wounds. Also I think, because Biggie’s stuff just comes off like he didn’t take his rap career all that seriously and as such it always lightens my mood, where Tupac was all about becoming a better person and as such still seems a lot heavier to me. Better and more noble, but not necessarily what I look for in rap.