Thinking B.I.G.


“Biggie got killed,” were my mother’s first words to me on the morning of March 9, 1997. Somewhere between shock and déjà vu, the moment felt surreal. 

The passing of both B.I.G. and Pac felt like the end of childhood innocence. My world was beginning to expand in sixth grade: I went to middle school on the other side of the planet—northeast Queens—and began taking the MTA on my own to basketball practices. My worldview was becoming larger than my parents’ sphere of influence. The onset of adolescence required a different soundtrack. 

Twenty years later, I am the father to a six year old girl and a father figure to my nephew who is in the fifth grade. I have become my parents because I never want to listen to the nonsense my boy is into. They’re stuck listening to as Cydney says “that old school stuff” when they’re rolling with me.

Cydney and Courtney respond differently to my music. My nephew could care less; he’ll opt to blare Drake or something from his headphones. In my head, I still feel youthful; so if I play something like “Unbelievable” and he doesn’t nod his head appropriately, I feel old. He can’t relate and that’s fine…I did the same thing in 1995.

My nephew and I have talked about the difference between our musical preferences. He feels a similar way 10 year old Chad did about Earth, Wind, and Fire. I will tell him “See, B.I.G. was the greatest of all time. The way Hot 97 plays Drake all day, every day, is how they did with B.I.G.’s records.” My nephew will never understand how essential it is to live and die by the “Machine Gun Funk.”

Cydney on the other hand is her father’s child. Whenever I wear my t-shirt with Ready to Die album cover on it, she says “That’s Biggie Smalls, right? That’s the Notorious B.I.G., right daddy?!” 

If I play [edited versions] of the Brooklyn emcee’s songs, she begins to roll her neck to the beat and jam. She loves “One More Chance” and “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” But “Hypnotize” is her favorite. 

“Daddy, can you play “Hipmitize?” You rap the boy parts and I do the girl parts.” I’ll cue it up and she mimics that hefty “Uh…Uhh!” that let us all know the King of New York was about to say some shit in ’97.
Cyd wants to be in and a part of everything I do. She at the age in which I can do no wrong in her book. If I like it, she loves it, and she wants me to notice. In spite of being over my “old school stuff,” my daughter wants to be a part of it with me. She knows that music-especially hip hop-is a very large part of who I am. It’s in my walk, talk, attitude, and how I raise her. She wants to rap to instrumentals and play rhyming games.

Biggie Smalls died at 24 years old; he was just a kid. In my thirties, I have had a very hard time taking most things people in their mid-twenties say with seriousness (not you guys, of course). The concept “applied knowledge is power” is a brand new one because life is consistently kicking your ass. 

Listen to B.I.G. or a ‘Pac interview. They sound like kids who think they know more about life than they actually do. If that was your 23 year old cousin, you would listen intently and say in the back of your mind “Shut up! You don’t know shit!” However, reckless abandonment made that time in our lives so much fun.

For some reason, our generation doesn’t see B.I.G. as a kid we would ignore. His words still sound profound because it takes us back to that time in life when we looked at him as our big brother. The generation before us think of him as one of their homies who shared a similar struggle. We all have surpassed him in age and experience; but that’s the power of music. 

While “Blunts and broads, titties in bras, menage a trois, sex in expensive cars,” still sounds like a hell of a time, I’m listening that shit in an office thinking to myself “Once I get off work, I have fifth and sixth graders to coach, my daughter wants attention, and the other day I had an awesome ass date where we did laundry.” But there’s a brief moment I picture the week when “Hypnotize” went from the new song everyone tried to memorize to learning the words in memoriam.

Twenty years from now, Cydney and Courtney will hear “Juicy” somewhere. At 26 and 30, they’ll recall being the kids in the back of the car that looked up to me.

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