Notorious BIG: Stay Low and Keep Firing

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Despite being mythologized and simplified as fat, cockeyed, dark skinned and draped in Coogi, Notorious BIG’s best-known alter ego was a play on a Christopher Walken character. Christening himself Black Frank White, Big gave a nearly oxymoronic nod to Walken’s King of New York drug lord. Later, though, he bestowed himself with perhaps a more appropriate nickname: “Rap Alfred Hitchcock.” The boast may have been a simple comment on how Big’s rotund figure projected a silhouette similar to the filmmaker, but there’s a deeper spiritual bond between the two—the detail obsession of full-blown perfectionists. And that, too, is just one version of a composite of characters that in his passing have been made use of, dumbed down and commodified. Big is much more complex and unknowable than the ubiquitous T-shirt portrait of him as a sullen king, wearing a crown.

In late interviews, before his death at age 24, Big was one of the first rappers to vocally run the “I don’t really care about rap, I’m in it for the money” line. But make no mistake, there was a meticulousness to his craft. What else could account for such precision? For Biggie, every blunt ash was immaculately documented in rhyme. Where many of even the greatest storytelling rap songs were usually driven by a single protagonist and the string of events he or she encountered, Big presented multiple scenes and intertwined characters with a journalistic eye for the specifics. On “Gimmie the Loot,” Ready To Die’s standout heist track, he runs down the five Ws in the opening bars: Who? My man Inf. What? A tec and a nine he left. Where? At my crib. Why? He had to do a bid. When? He’ll be home the end of ’93. His tales had hardwired narratives, too. This foundation building is made even more impressive when considering that for most of his career, he composed lyrics in his head with no pen or pad.

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POSTED April 20, 2011 8:40AM IN FEATURES Comments (34) TAGS: , ,

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  20. Chad says:

    Great article although I disagree with the conclusion.

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  33. Pacman Jonez says:

    Step your writing up Noz… I learned absolutely nothing new from this.. you just name dropped a bunch of songs and other people… Gotta write more for the real heads (byron crawford stylie) if you wanna keep a die hard audience… these indie rock fans you write for are FICKLE B.

  34. J says:

    Writing was pretty good. I just have a problem with the “more than just a crown t shirt” analogy. To us…and I mean “us” who actually grew up in Bed Stuy and hung out around real Junior Mafians in biggies circle, who had the latest biggie overdubs with two pieces of tissue stuck on top of the tape deck (old school way of recording..youngings wont recognize) BIGGIE WAS AND STILL IS KING.

    The video from ‘Juicy’ alone made most of us put away the razors and ski-masks and start using our creativity to build community. He influenced us to rock versace, step our taste up in woman and be real dudes that hold it down in timberland weather, or tropical weather. That is POWER.

    So while I like how you have humanized the side of Biggie, or should I say Christopher Wallace, lets not get it fucked up here Bro: Biggie is still KING and will always wear the CROWN. The t-shirt just illustrates how we actually DEPICT the man. Royal, Powerful, Aspiring and REAL.

    Good article and looking to reading more