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Game Playing and Feuds That Make No Cents

So after a week of feuding including a couple of shootings, The Game and 50 Cent finally kissed and made up (and you can read all about it from Mike Eagle. Now Eagle believes that this was all a publicity stunt for the release of 50’s album. I’m not so sure. After all, a guy did get shot over this alleged stunt.

I was watching MTV and I caught a clip of the press conference where 50 and Game mended their relationship. Now to me it looked like two kids who were told to apologize for acting up in public by their mother (in this case played by Interscope the label both rappers are signed to.) Neither one looked truly remorseful and 50 emotes about as well as he reads.

I’m skeptical to call the whole thing a publicity stunt, if only because someone did get shot over the matter. Not to mention that only 50’s internal beef is squashed. He’s still got Nas and Jadakiss who are preparing volleys in his direction. So if it was a stunt, it was perhaps the most ill prepared stunt ever.

And that brings me to another point; does squashing the beef hurt their credibility? These are two guys who, together, have bullet scars in the double digits. Doesn’t on some level their ending the beef, lower their street credibility? I’m just saying.

The Al Sharpton Challenge!

Al Sharpton recently questioned an apparent double standard by the FCC (again Mike Eagle has all the details). Al raises some very valid points; hopefully this will get some attention.

I honestly wasn’t too surprised when the news came out. A couple of weeks ago I was watching The State of the Black Union on CSPAN. Al was part of the panel and voiced his opinion on how the current climate in Hip Hop was corrupting the culture. It was an impassioned argument, and it made me a believer.

Thus, I support Al’s challenge. I think it would be novel for the FCC (who seem so concerned about morals and children), to actually “put up or shut up.” Because truth be, most of the rappers on MTV & BET are performing a “minstrel show” (props to Little Brother). There’s very little difference between those rappers and Amos & Andy, except you have to respect Amos & Andy.

My Mood

Yesterday marked the 8th anniversary of the (unsolved) murder of The Notorious B.I.G. This has put me in a bit of a funk. So rather than bring everyone else down, here’s the column that I wrote last year to memorialize the anniversary. Enjoy.

Our Feature Presentation

Seven years ago Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace was killed. It was one of the darkest days in Hip Hop history. Many folks believe that Tupac was Hip Hop’s greatest MC. And judging by the Tupac Roundtable last year, many folks also discount B.I.G.’s place in the pantheon of MC’s. This is my attempt to add a balance to the debate.

It’s funny because I was talking to my friend Jason after Aaron emailed me the questions for the roundtable. One of the questions was in regard to how Hip Hop would be if Tupac were still alive. We immediately extrapolated the question to B.I.G. still being alive and went on from there.

The Setting

Now to completely understand the importance of the role of Biggie you have to understand a few things. In the early nineties the Hip Hop landscape was completely different. Hip Hop was still relatively pure. It had yet to be completely corrupted by the music industry. Sales were important, but remaining true to the art and maintaining credibility were crucial. Radio airplay and MTV rotation were rare occurrences. Mixtapes were for sharing and finding new artists, not marketing tools for breaking new artists. And back then Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, as he was known, was merely hungry rather than greedy.

In that era the West Coast ruled supreme. Fueled by the success of N.W.A. Cali was the dominant force in Hip Hop. And bolstered by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg, Death Row was the most powerful label.

The East Coast was still putting out quality music. Gangstarr, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian and Pete Rock and CL Smooth made some great records. But they didn’t have the “realness” that Death Row had. While those records may have been more “real,” listeners on the East couldn’t fully relate to the West Coast settings.

The East Coast leveled the playing field with albums by Wu-Tang Clan and Nas. The Wu was an all-star collection of MC’s who easily countered the variety of styles on Death Row, and Nas’ poetic rhymes provided an excellent counter to the super star Snoop. But one album tilted the scales in favor of the East.

Ready To Die

When “Ready to Die” was released in 1994 it was truly a watershed moment. “Ready to Die” combined the graphic slice of life rhyme style found on “gangsta” records with the vivid picturesque storytelling rhymes of the East. The beats were much like the subject matter, at times dark and menacing, other times bouncy and fun. Toss in a few singles to ensure radio play and you have the perfect album. Finally the East Coast everyman, or every Hip Hop fan, had a voice. And what was more that voice was distinct and had some sick rhymes.

The title of the album alone addressed the nihilism inherent among the Black male youth in the inner cites. The album itself was an uncompromising portrait. Biggie rhymed about the everyday stress and strife of existence in a post-crack society. He gave voice to the people who did “what they had to do” to get by. This was the urban answer to the disaffected white youth record “Nevermind.”

The buzz around B.I.G. had been huge as his appearances on various Mixtapes and radio stations had only increased his myth. So when the record finally dropped, it was an overwhelming success. Finally NYC was atop the rap game again.

The impact was immediate. He was hailed as the savior the East Coast, and bestowed with the title (and accompanying crown) of King of New York. Bad Boy vaulted to the top of the “Hot List.” And of course the formula was mimicked endlessly.

The Dark Cloud

The long-term impact was less positive. Companies saw the success that Puff had and attempted to duplicate the formula, without using the actual ingredients. While “Ready to Die” was a success, that included beats with unimaginative samples (for the singles), violent imagery, and lots of name (brand) dropping, it’s chief ingredients were frighteningly honest rhymes and an amazing flow. As a result nine years later 50 Cent hits it big with a debut featuring boring beats, name (brand) dropping and violent imagery. But B.I.G. (or Puff for that matter) isn’t blame for the industry getting the recipe wrong.

The Legacy

In the aforementioned Tupac Roundtable the assumption was that B.I.G. didn’t have much of a legacy. I beg to differ. Firstly the Bad Boy Empire is basically the “House that B.I.G. Built.” P. Diddy got his new name from B.I.G., and does anyone believe that Diddy would have stepped up to the plate, as far as an artist, if B.I.G. were still around?

Lil’ Kim, who may not be everyone’s cup to tea, is also a lasting reminder that B.I.G. existed. She is a credible solo artist. She has a career and is a celebrity. On a lesser note, Charli Baltimore is still around.

Cam’ron was discovered by B.I.G. and he’s currently very much in demand. While you wouldn’t know it to listen to him, he is capable of multiple flows and is amazingly talented.

And of course Jay-Z is perhaps the greatest legacy to B.I.G. If B.I.G. had lived maybe Jay would have surpassed him, or Jay might have remained in the large shadow he cast. That will remain unanswered. What we do know is that Jay picked up the baton and finished the race in first place. B.I.G.’s role in the shaping of Jay is evident in the fact that Jay paid homage to B.I.G. by referencing his rhymes. It was the spirit of Biggie that drove Jay to never come wack and disrespect his Brooklyn brother.

Numerous other MC also reference B.I.G. rhymes. Listen to any album by an artist from the East, there is a 90% chance you will hear a Biggie rhyme within those lines.

Perhaps I’m biased but to me that is a pretty impressive accomplishment for an MC who released one album in his lifetime.

My Confession

As hard as it maybe to believe I wasn’t always a fan of B.I.G. In college Jason and I were talking to a mutual friend about a party we were going to throw. Our friend tried to explain how hot his new idea was, so he said “Tell me about the first time you heard “Juicy?” I didn’t dig it.

At the time when “Juicy” dropped I was very much into Tribe, De La, Pete Rock and jazzier artists. I was also into Public Enemy. So the blatant attempt by “Juicy” to get played on the radio was met by my disgust.

My ear pricked up when I heard the beat for “Who Shot Ya” on a commercial. That was one of the first times that a beat would be stuck in my subconscious. Finally I was unable to resist the allure of the remix for “One More Chance” which was my anthem for that summer. That song still puts me in an amazingly good mood.

Campus Life

When I went to Morgan State University I was suddenly very East Coast. Jay Z had yet to drop so all of the debates were over who was better Biggie or Nas? I always sided with Nas, but since my nickname was Az (not the MC but the location) my opinion was generally disregarded.

My best friend my first year, Kertray Mangual, played me some of Biggie’s mixtape appearances, including the infamous “Real N!ggas Do Real Things”, where Biggie rhymes over Death Row beats. I was sold on his talent but still believed that Nas was the better MC.

When the East/West feud came to pass, folks thought that Death Row was talking mighty reckless and were surprised by Bad Boy’s lack of an “official” response. When Pac died it was sobering. Still everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

People were also waiting for B.I.G.’s album to drop. Every weekend my friends would go home to New York, and come back with the latest mixtape featuring some new Biggie material. It was frenzy like I had never seen.

3/9/97

When I woke up on March 9th 1997 it was about noon. On Sundays I always slept in. I turned on the TV, which was on Headline News for some reason. I saw that the story that I had just missed was about a “Rapper Killed.” My first thought was “ah man, I hope it’s not Nas.” I tried to call my boys but couldn’t get through. So I decided to go to their room.

Now Sundays on campus are usually quite, but that day it felt eerie. Something was definitely wrong. I got upstairs and folks were distraught. Not lighting candles, crying, mourning Kurt Cobain distraught. It was more like pissed, anger, tears in eyes, “who could rob us of a talent like this” distraught. Like how my pop was when Marvin Gaye was killed.

It was then that I noticed that Biggie was blasting from every room. It was like hearing all of Biggie’s hits, at once. It was then that I realized the importance of B.I.G. I asked my boys what happened and they filled me in. From then on there were only two cd’s that mattered; “Ready to Die” and the soon to be released “Life After Death.”

Biggie Smalls Is The Illest

B.I.G. is the greatest because his early demise didn’t allow him to falter. He’s like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jeff Buckley, and Kurt Cobain. He was funny, scary, clever but most of all honest. He will forever remain at the top of his game. And that is why he is the greatest MC.

Here’s some other stuff to read;

Biggie Smalls

Aaron gives you a week in his life, now with 100% more calamari.

Mike Eagle doesn’t hate the players, he hates The Game.

Jeff covers stolen top hats, fan mail, and soon to be divorced actresses who posed in Playboyâ„¢.

Kyle, Paul and David continues to cover Coachella.

Gloomchen may have crafted the perfect teaser. It ends with “my lesbian fantasies.”.

Tom has invented microreviews®.

Michael looks at Post-Rock.

And of course the MC Tourney.

Notorious B.I.G.

Ian has some good Weezer News.

Tayo gets props for giving props to Camp Lo and even manages to toss the curveball of Labcabincalifornia into the mix. His Essentials is essential reading.

Phil gives us reasons to hope.

Five Things I Miss Most About Biggie

1. The Remixes
2. The Freestyles
3. The Collabos
4. The Humor
5. The Flow

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