Things were good. I was attending Morgan State University and my man Kertray Mangual and I were cruising the city. He had just got a car and we were exploring the town.
As we drove around we noted how shabby some of the neighborhoods looked. We joked that after we graduated, settled down and had some kids, we going to fly our children to Baltimore, point out those neighborhoods and say “do you want to end up living like this? Ok, then, that’s why you go to college.” It was a funny moment (you had to be there.)
Then, over the radio came news that Tupac had died.
We were both in shock. Tupac had been shot before and managed to survive to talk trash another day. So when he had been shot the most recent time, we weren’t really worried for his well being, it was just going to result in him having a few more bullet scars on his body.
So the news of his death was kind of unbelievable. Despite the fact that Tray was from the Bronx and my taste in Hip Hop runs pretty much East Coast we bumped Hit ‘Em Up (which was probably the most brutal diss record at the time) for like half an hour straight as we cruised the streets of Baltimore. And any car that was bumping music was bumping Pac too.
It was a Sunday, which meant I was sleeping in. Sundays meant that lunch wasn’t being served at the Refect (Morgan’s dining hall). But brunch ended at 2pm so if you wanted to eat before dinner you had to get up a reasonable hour.
I rolled out of bed and turned on the television. For some reason the TV was on CNN. And the headline, that I had just missed, was “Rapper Killed.” I was shook.
There was still crazy East Coast/West Coast beef going on and I wracked my brain trying to figure out who had been killed. In the back of my mind I was hoping that it wasn’t Nas who was my favorite MC at the time (this was before I Am and Nastradamus so it was excusable).
When I finally found out that Biggie Smalls had been killed it was a blower. I couldn’t get through to my boys on campus, because they were all on the phones to their people up top (New York).
When I got to the dorms Biggie was bumping from all of the windows. The faces that I encountered ran the gamut you’d expect them to after a tragedy; sorrow to anger, disbelief to astonishment.
It was a somber day on campus and the week that followed was equally somber. Everyone was repping East Coast and Bad Boy. And everyone had The Best of Biggie, the bootleg of Life After Death and copped Life After Death when it dropped.
This time the news was broadcast, it spread as a rumor. Going to a Black school, where NYC is thoroughly represented means that you find things out relatively quickly. And while female dorms are characterized as gossipy, when it came to news of an MC’s death male dorms gave stiff competition.
Big L had been the subject of rumors before. The most recent rumor was that he was going to be signed to Roc-A-Fella. Everyone was salivating at the thought of Big L getting a major label push and teaming up with Jay-Z.
Sadly the rumor of his death proved to be true. L wasn’t a start like Pac and Big, so the sense of loss wasn’t as widespread. But you knew those who knew his work. They were the ones who were bumping his songs in their rooms, and the ones who had a hint of loss in their eye.
I was one of those.
His death was tragic because it wasn’t larger than life. Pac and Big might have died because of some stupidity, but at least you could point at a reason. There was a sense of cause and effect. One could speculate that if (fill in the blank) hadn’t happened then they would still be with us. But with L, you didn’t have that, you only had the death.
This day came as a surprise, although maybe it shouldn’t have.
Big Pun talent who didn’t get the attention he deserved. His biggest song was Still Not a Player. It was a dope song that would drive the ladies wild at parties and cause the dance floor to swell, but he had better songs. And if you look at who his peers were (Cam’Ron, Jadakiss, Styles) you can get a glimpse at where Pun would be today.
Fortunately Pun died of natural causes, but it was still tragic (more so because it could have been avoided.) The loss of a talented MC, who was a role model and never got to reach his potential was beginning to be a familiar theme.
And the gravity of his loss was reemphasized months later when his sophomore album dropped. It was a great album, which made me miss him more.
I was at a party thrown by a co-worker (Heather). I was actually there with Dee and another co-worker. It was a cool get together, but the music was a bit too eclectic (read: white) for our Saturday night tastes.
When we finally made our exit, we got in Dee’s car and turned on the radio. We were happy to hear Aaliyah’s We Need a Resolution. We immediately started vibing to the song, aside from the fact that was cleansing our musical palette it was a cool song.
We really started getting going when they played Are You That Somebody. It was the perfect way to drive home after the party we’d been enduring. And then the DJ came on and announced that Aaliyah’s plane had crashed.
It was a sobering moment. There was a silence among us, three wisecracking coworkers who always had something to say. We were hanging on his every word. We were dumbfounded and in dire need of more information.
And just like that, our mood had changed from celebratory to somber. The rest of the ride home was a quiet affair. When I got home I flipped on the television to see what else I could find out.
I was up late writing something (probably a column). It was habit that I’d put on an oldies station and listen to the radio as I typed. I could tell it was time to stop typing when the morning show came one.
For some reason this day I decided to keep typing for a spell. Pretty soon after the morning show had started they announced that Johnny Cash had died. My heart sank.
Earlier in the week I had written a tirade about how MTV had robbed Johnny at the VMA’s. I followed that up a rundown of some of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. It was my way of paying tribute to a guy that I felt MTV had robbed.
And here a few days later Johnny Cash was dead.
I had only recently gotten into Johnny, but I felt that I’d really connected with him or vice versa. Even I was surprised that a guy who’d previous only mourned Hip Hop artists, was so shook up over the death of a “country artist.” But I truly was. I had a hard time falling asleep that day.
I got home from work and plopped on the couch. My roommate asked if I had heard what happened, and quickly answered her own question with “nah, you weren’t on the net.”
My mind was traveling a mile a minute, but I finally settled on the idea that she was referring to someone’s death. I cautiously inquired what she was talking about and she replied that Ol’ Dirty Bastard was dead.
I thought about how excited I was when he joined up with The Roc. I thought about how much I was looking forward to his next album. I thought about all of the lyrical gems that everyone was going to miss that could only come from ODB’s unique perspective.
I quietly got up from the couch, went into my room, put on Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version got on the net and found out what happened.
I listened to ODB for the next week straight.
Shawn covers gratuity etiquette.
Jeff has news on Lil’ Cease, Em’s retirement, and bar code hijinks.
KDP shares my love for mixtapes and my reluctance to adopt the name “mixcds.”
Gloomchen riffs on payola.
Tom has more news on Jada Pinkett Smith’s rock turn and surprises with his approval of the Devil’s Rejects soundtrack.
Michael echos what I’ve been saying for years; The Bends is superior to OK Computer.
Ian tries to milk the Shortlist, shares, not only my love for Pet Sounds but also his thoughts on this year’s VMA’s.
Five Albums That’ve Been On Heavy Rotation This Past Week
1. Main Source – Breaking Atoms
2. Akinyele – Vagina Diner
3. Large Professor – The LP
4. Large Professor – 1st Class
5. Pete Rock – Petestrumentals