When did I first fall in love with Hip Hop?
I came to love Hip Hop and R&B in the 90s. (Don't worry, I made up for lost time and went back to the classics.) Growing up in Brooklyn, you were blessed with a certain swagger, street sense, and an appreciation for the gritty, rough tales told to you over hardcore beats. I fell in love with wordplay, had a crush on fruity looped beats, and lusted after the raw rhythmic flow that bum-rushed my ear drums whenever the radio turned on. I listened to WBLS 98.7 KISS FM (back when it played Rap music) and Hot 97 was my joint too. I remember making cassette mixtapes from recording off the radio. I'd pause and play songs as I wrote down lyrics in my notebook. One moment will always stand out to me:
I was trying to learn the blazing remix to Craig Mack's "Flava in Your Ear." The Notorious BIG was up first. I usually just wrote what I heard without thinking about it, but for some reason, I really looked at his verse.
"You're mad cause my style you're admiring/ Don't be mad, UPS is hiring...Not from Houston, but I Rap-A-Lot."
I paused the tape. "Wait, Rap-A-Lot Records is in Houston, Texas...OHHHHHH!!! That was dope!!!!" That was when I learned what being a lyricist was. I will give Biggie credit for that. Prior to hearing that verse, it was all beats and repeating what sounded good. That song, that verse caused the switch in my brain to click, and I saw the art in making metaphors and similes paint pictures in minds. Biggie was known for his gift at telling stories, and maybe that's part of why it's such a big part of me as an artist. I respect his truth, his honesty, and his title as one of the greatest Hip Hop artists in history.
I cannot say that I respect his honesty without being honest myself. As the human radio, I learned everything I deemed hot growing up, including most of "Life After Death" and tracks from "Ready 2 Die." My mental library contains other songs such as "Kick in the Door" as well as songs like Lil' Kim's "Big Momma Thang," "Put It in Yo Mouth" by Akinyele. There are many other songs as a Christian and a female, I should be ashamed to say I know. But ignorance does have its place, and so does entertainment. I know how to differentiate good from entertaining. So I take this time out to be disloyal to the Brooklyn blood that runs through my veins and say that in my opinion, BIG was NOT the greatest rapper of all time.
I say this for the same reason I say that Usher is not THE greatest dancer of all time. I can differentiate between extreme talent and being the best. In dancing, Michael Jackson and James Brown left a legacy of a different type of creativity. One that made people want to get better. One that made dancers want to transcend from being chitterling circuit superstars and move people everywhere- for the right reasons. While I love "Juicy" and "Sky's the Limit," I hear tracks like "Dead Wrong," and lines other lines like "Big Poppa never softening/ take you to the church/ rob the preacher of the offering/ leave a f***er coughing up blood." I as mentioned before, "Kick in the door/ waving the 4-4./ All ya heard was 'Poppa don't hit me no more.'" I can't deny the misogyny and violence that littered so much of his music.
Yes, I believe in telling your own story. Yes, I am all for freedom of expression, but if you are ignoring the part where you grow from what you used to be, I can't give you that title. There is more to being a lyricist than just wit. There is growth. There is an awareness of the world around them that doesn't spawn more of what oppressed them in the first place. Maybe he wasn't given the chance to grow, but I cannot ignore the monotony of negativity. I mean, even Mrs. Wallace has stated that she feels bad that she can't listen to her deceased son's music.
I do give props and praise for being creative with the art of creating a song. I think of Ludacris' "Ho" and the fast-tongued "Twisted Heat" by Drag-On and Twista. A unique attack and perspective in a song can make you look past compromising lyrics. "Notorious Thugs," "10 Crack Commandments," and "Dreams" were terribly dope songs. However, the title of greatest should go to someone who I believe best represents the art of rapping, and wields the power of their words with diligence and with honor. Decades from now, when someone asks, who holds the title of the Greatest Rapper of all time, I hope to be able to point them to someone without a preface or an apology. So as we honor BIG's memory, let's remember him as someone who fell before they could become the rapper that they could have been. Do not make the deceased appear a saint. He was not one. Still, his undeniable, "Unbelievable" talent is greatly missed. I sincerely wish he could be a part of Hip Hop in 2009.
Rest in Peace
Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G.