No Matter How Much You Know About Biggie, You Will Learn Something From This Discussion (Video)
As a part of last week’s 20th anniversary coverage of The Notorious B.I.G’s Ready To Die album, NPR “Microphone Check” assembled a panel in Brooklyn. Hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) and Frannie Kelley were joined by dream hampton (author, The Source), Matty C. (The Source, A&R), Biggie Smalls’ childhood friend Hubert Sam, and B.I.G’s former music teacher, Donald Harrison, Jr. Quite fittingly, the event was held in Brooklyn, just blocks from Christopher Wallace’s childhood home.
There is a lot to love about this conversation, which clocks in at nearly two hours. The anecdotes, memories, and opinions are not rushed, and even the words are slow and poignant. Matty C., the journalist who put B.I.G in The Source‘s “Unsigned Hype” column, and later handed his demo to Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, recalls the Notorious B-boy. Matty remembers building a friendship with the Bedford Stuyvesant MC through running into him twice daily outside the Clinton-Washington A/C train stop in Brooklyn (dream hampton remembers the same). Biggie would press to hear the advance copies of albums afforded to Source staffers, in hopes of keeping his own art ahead of others’.
dream hampton, who worked extensively on Jay Z’s Decoded book, remembers meeting Biggie through her own Source ties. With a more intimate relationship than the others, the Detroit, Michigan native also recalls sneaking Chris Wallace into her early ’90s New York University film classes, with B.I.G’s interest in German cinema, in particular. She also greatly contextualizes, like Ice Cube, how Biggie Smalls made some truly ruthless Gangsta Rap, but with a sense of soul to it, unlike so many Hip-Hop artists leading into 1994. dream also paints a great image of Ms. Voletta Wallace, outside of Big’s childhood home, telling her son to “get a job” well after Ready To Die had released to strong critical and commercial acclaim.
Mr. Harrison, Big (and Hubert Sam’s) teacher, remembers helping cultivate the musical abilities inside the young MC. He tells a beautiful story of sharing with Christopher the music of Marvin Gaye, and how sounds and vocal effects could work just as well as lyrics.
Sam, a 20-year classmate of Biggie, offers some insights (along with the others), into the dichotomy of a Catholic school alum who in the early ’90s, felt “Ready To Die.” He also alludes to a competitive spirit inside Biggie that was unrivaled. While touching on the subsequent rivalry with Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, and Death Row Records, Hubert remembers—and he nearly withholds—that Biggie re-recorded his verse on “The What” after hearing Method Man’s. Heads know this is the same infraction that sparked a big part of the LL Cool J and Canibus beef. Meth and Big, friends and contemporaries, were really goin’ for top spot on the Ready To Die guest-spot.
Along the way of this two-part video series (also available in audio for mobile Heads), Frannie offers insights as a 12 year-old girl living in Oakland, California at the time Ready To Die released, and Ali offers some brutally honest perspectives about the first times he’d heard Biggie, to a later meeting at The Tunnel.
From Nas and Biggie chillin’ in Brooklyn listening to freestyle cassettes, to Biggie’s lyrics making a God-fearing Puff Daddy run out of the studio to the Reggae influence… there is just so much here that helps immortalize the man who made such a classic album: