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Notorious & The Authenticity Myth

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Over a beat that turned the glossy synth-funk of Mtume into something glossier and funkier as only Puffy and pals could do, Biggie dedicates “Juicy” to “all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothing…to all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustling from that called the police on me when I was just trying to make some money to feed my daughter, and all the niggas in the struggle” and then, raps a bittersweet song of big-time success, minor victories, and hazy hip-hop memories. The joy, the pain, and all that stuff’s palpable and it’s still pop enough for the radio!

Cynics and even-handed fact-checkers have long pointed out that Biggie’s upbringing wasn’t as bad as his songs made it out to be. That he followed a long line of self-mythologizing, kinda fake-ass rappers was as much an obnoxious cliche as the corrective to the fake-assery: When he’s rapping it, you totally believe it, and that’s what matters. What struck me though, hearing this song Saturday on a college hip-hop station (sandwiched between “It’s Supposed to Bubble” and some T-Pain “banger”) was how even that introductory dedication, which sounds totally sincere and isn’t hip-hip “cool” like crack sales or poverty, ain’t true either.

Biggie’s daughter T’yanna Wallace was born on August 13, 1993, after Big had a record deal. The year before, he’d popped up in The Source’s “unsigned hype” and on Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” remix. The movie Who’s the Man came out in April of 1993; the soundtrack of course, featured “Party & Bullshit”. Not that a rapper with that minor level of fame couldn’t–or wasn’t–still hustling, but that the truth behind Biggie’s affecting dedication’s a little more complicated.

Unbelievable, Cheo Hodari Coker’s excellent book–and the basis for the new movie Notorious–confirms Biggie’s return to dealing upon news of ex-girlfriend Jan’s pregnancy. But the story Coker presents has a similar feeling of “print the legend” or at least, smooshes some stuff together for the unfortunate pragmatism of a readable biography. Biggie went to the relatively less competitive crack game of North Carolina–he’d done time there for dealing earlier–and apparently, got an angry call from Puffy urging him to come back, forget about dealing and work on his music. And Biggie did it.

He later got news that the very place he was staying in Raleigh got busted by the cops. Big took it as a sign and got real serious about rapping. Perhaps that’s just a story that really happened as is and just sounds like a movie. And maybe it’s Biggie turning his real-life anecdotes into legend just as he did with his raps and maybe it’s Puffy and friends making real-life, scary events capital-R romantic…something you can’t blame anybody for doing when the real life’s that of their murdered friend/husband/father/lover.

The point is, the real-life event was weirder, less and more dramatic, and less and more complicated than pages 77-79 of Unbelievable or the people involved make it and now, you’ve got this movie Notorious, based on the “real-life” events of a now-dead dude hyper-aware of his importance and legend, supported, exploited, and everything else by people that too understood the significance of a good story, whose memories are additionally clouded by years and idealization of a dead friend, claiming to have worked closely with these very unreliable sources to tell the guy’s “true” story which is marketed as big, exciting Hollywood bio-pic in the vein of Walk the Line or Ray.

This is simply what happens to all of our “old” favorite pop-culture, but the whole thing’s particularly silly and–outside of money–a fruitless endeavor, even more so because Big was a guy who balanced the whole selling the dream and breaking it apart thing pretty well. Biggie’s discography’s his biopic. And while Ready to Die and Life After Death don’t contain songs where say, a disheveled Faith Evans opens the door to see Biggie with a groupie, anybody with ears and a brain gets a more affecting and uglier, more-real version of a scene like that on say, “One More Chance” or that blowjob skit at the end of “Respect”, complete with all-too-real blowjob noises and a moment of touching reality where Big and the girl share a mid-sex laugh.

A scene where Biggie and Faith are shown deeply in love will use the same all-too-obvious romance signifiers as Academy Award-grabbers like Benjamin Button or Revolutionary Road (subpoint: An essay just like this one could be written about the disconnect between Yates’ novel and the Mendes film), but you’ll get a more touching and affecting version of fucked-up but all the more stronger for it romance on “Me and My Bitch”, a song where Biggie’s totally adopting the voice of a drug-dealing don married to the kind of girl Tony Montana thought he had without idealizing her at all (his deconstruction of the word “bitch”, the mini-story about using his toothbrush to wash the toilet).

The bottom-line focus of even art-oriented Hollywood pictures mixed with the idiotically obsessive attention to structure that’s infected even “good” screenwriters wouldn’t allow for a makes-the-song details like the point where Biggie (or his character in the song), despite being sure something truly fucked up’s happened to the girl he adores, still “make[s] the U-turn [to] make sure [his] shit was clean”. To be real (and real pretentious) that’s some like Auerbach’s Mimesis-level of storytelling complexity type shit.

And if it isn’t reality or representations of reality that you’re into and you want to see iconic Biggie, well, you can see the actual videos and performances…why you’d want to see actor-ly approximations of stuff that happened ago a decade on television re-performed by melty-looking versions of the real icons, I don’t know.

If you care about hip-hop for the right reasons, because it’s affecting and full of ugly-true, smart, touching, just over all affecting details that bypass bullshit terms like “real or authentic” and concern themselves with the real bottom-line (emotions) all the while, being fun and catchy enough that corporate interests that ran/run television and radio couldn’t deny, skip out on Notorious. We don’t need a semi-mainstream but still “authentic” version of Notorious B.I.G because that was the very line he balanced and tested for all of his short but brilliant career.

Written by Brandon

January 6th, 2009 at 6:56 am

Posted in Notorious BIG, movies

So, that ‘Tha Carter III’ Cover

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Most rappers, especially nowadays, create a totally impenetrable persona—as opposed to a moderately impenetrable persona—but Wayne doesn’t do that. He yelps and screams and laughs and jokes and cries; it’s all out-there for better and worse. On this delightfully weird cover, first you just see this cute kid in like, church clothes, then, you see the tattoos and you’re freaked out, and then, you’re confused (Is the pinky ring real or photoshopped?) and then you either shit all over it or it hits you: “holy shit this is brilliant!”. Yeah, that’s Wayne and that’s this cover too.

I really hope this ends up being the real cover for ‘Tha Carter III’ because despite what everybody says, it’s really great. Like classic, iconic. And not trying-to-be iconic because it’s batshit crazy at the same time. The baby picture cover clearly invokes the 90s classics ‘Illmatic’ and ‘Ready to Die’ and it’s a kind of mix of homage to past classics and maybe a subtly aggressive assertion of the “classic” status Wayne’s engaged in when hyping ‘Tha Carter III’.

Ghost and Raekwon half-correctly took-on Biggie for swiping their slang and Nas’s album cover, but ‘Ready To Die’s cover has always seemed like an homage or corrective to the ‘Illmatic’ cover; only a partial-bite. ‘Ready to Die’s baby recalled ‘Illmatic’, but the object in a white void, with a simple font above, always made me think of Too $hort’s ‘Born to Mack’ too. In a sense, that’s what ‘Ready to Die’ was: ‘Illmatic’ meets Too $hort. One could even throw-in Common’s ‘One Day It’ll All Make Sense’ cover, featuring Common with his mother: A wholesome, sweeter version of ‘Illmatic’.

The added Wayne tattoos to the baby picture are Wayne’s update on the ‘Illmatic’ cover and perfectly fit his style; a weird mix of being really weird and interesting and totally retarded and questionable. It just makes sense. Lyrically, one of Wayne’s more interesting and affecting tricks is his—and I kinda mean this—near-Proustian ability to recall minor details of his childhood, be it pop-culture (“murder she wrote like Angela Lansbury”) or more specific details about growing up in New Orleans or remembering his mother or riding his bike or whatever. He merges this with his adult side; dips into thug talk and shit-talking and plenty of similes for getting head, and also, some complex adult/relationship rap. Just as in his raps, the cover to ‘Tha Carter III’ takes the two seemingly opposing “sides” and merges them and the merger is appropriately awkward.

Written by Brandon

April 10th, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Hollywood Unreality Gets Around to Reality Rap…

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For the same reasons I avoided ‘Control’, I’ll probably avoid ‘Notorious’, unless I hear really great– or really terrible– things about it. Nevertheless, stills like the one above seem really depressing. I know, I know, it’s a big dumb Hollywood biopic but those stills, with essential unknowns as Biggie and Faith Evans make it feel more like, some terrible cash-in made-for-TV bio that would’ve premiered within six months of Biggie’s death and somehow incorporated “gangsta rap” into the title. The plan was to find unknowns as to not overshadow the real Christopher Wallace and company, but if it’s going to be a big, dumb Hollywood biopic, at least fill it with big, dumb Hollywood actors, not arguably less attractive, melty-looking versions!

Like many recent biopics, ‘Notorious’ is riding on its approval from friends and family to convince possibly cynical fans that this movie’s worth their time and will be “true-to-life”. The worst people to look to for an interesting or objective view of Biggie would be those closest to him! It’s funny that the cast is not star-packed except for Angela Bassett, who plays Biggie’s mom. With people like Puff Daddy still in power and you know, producing the movie, don’t expect any hard-hitting revelations about Puffy’s relationship with Biggie or the entire Biggie/Tupac-East Coast/West Coast feud, because all the people involved– and partially responsible for the deaths of two rap legends– are still alive, making money and proudly “squashing” those old beefs that killed their friends and business partners. I’m again reminded of a quotation from film scholar Ray Carney who had this to say about the concept that a movie is good, real, or accurate if those actually involved in the real-life version approve: “Spielberg bragged that Holocaust survivors were proud of Schindler’s List, and World War II veterans loved Saving Private Ryan. That’s not a virtue but a vice. All it means is that he let them wallow in their own clichéd views of themselves.” And wallowing in cliches is exactly what the biopic genre does.

The trend to grab on to the lives of very popular and very troubled artists and turn their life into a simpleminded, linear, idealized–or unidealized idealized– two hours isn’t anything new, but the subgenre’s recent popularity is why we’re now getting a Biggie biopic and why we’re getting a cast of look-alikes: these movies are not interested in working-out the life of the musician at their center, but continuing to bask and in part, cash-in on the image of that musician. We’ll get a narrative that bounces from iconic Biggie scene to iconic Biggie scene with pitch-perfect recreations of the ‘Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems Video’ or maybe, Biggie near a bodega in Bed-Stuy, freestyling to a surprised crowd, but it just won’t mean much of anything. I harp on this cast-someone-who-kinda-looks-like-the-guy logic because it shows just how silly and image-oriented these biopics are. Isn’t it a bit silly to watch ‘Walk the Line’ and see an actor with dyed hair doing a Johnny Cash impression? Was that movie really well-reviewed and respected when it literally has a scene where June Carter literally says to Johnny: “You can’t walk no line!” Can we expect a scene where a groupie whines “Oh, Biggie give me one more chance”?

At the same time, I’m not on some ‘I’m Not There’-type abstract bullshit either because that’s silly for its over-wrought metaphorical casting, just as Hollywood versions are silly when they find a fat dude who can sorta rap to play Biggie, or feel the compulsive need to slap a witchnose on Nicole Kidman for her to play Virginia Woolf. I guess I’m saying some Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon thing, where it’s close enough to not be absurd or too artsy-fartsy, but it’s more finding the actor or person that can embody and interpret that real-life version and not just do a pretty-good impression. I don’t think it would work for how literal-minded ‘Notorious’ probably will end up being, but I still think the best and most interesting choice would’ve been Beanie Sigel.

The casting of Sigel as Biggie would add a realistic edge that is less about looking realistically like Biggie and more like grabbing some of Biggie’s emotional character. Beanie’s neither a heir to the Biggie throne, or too highly indebted to the rapper, but he does have some of that same mix of vulnerability and anger and for you literal-minded dopes, he’s fat enough. Beans is also a pretty impressive actor himself. While he’s yet to be cast in anything that Dame Dash hasn’t been producing, his performances in the ‘State Property’ movies are convincing and real when they really don’t need to be. My fanboy dreams have long planned a kinda brilliant acting career for Beans, especially when Dash Films made its few moves out of the straight-to-video rap movie armpit and aided in the production of the nothing-great but pretty good ‘The Woodsman’ and the bonafide new-generation hip-hop classic ‘Paid In Full’, (which features a genuinely amazing performance by Cam’ron, mind you). Imagine a Biggie bio made by people who really, really care about the guy, who get ‘Ready to Die’.

Get rid of that Hollywood shine and idealization we all know it’ll have and replace it with the still-attractive but way more realistic lensing of someone like Rik Cordero and maybe narrow the plot down to a very small part of Biggie’s life, or even focus exclusively on his early career leading up to ‘Ready to Die’ and flash-forward to those fateful final months- like, start the final part with Biggie’s car-crash…I don’t know, just anything but another bio-pic which will race through his early life, define his career by re-creations of stuff we already know is career-defining, and end it “tragically”…

Some Other Half-Baked Movie Ideas for Beanie Sigel:
-‘Bird Lives!’ – A Charlie Parker Biopic: As a kind of rebuke to the awful, awful, awful, ‘Bird’ by Clint Eastwood– perhaps, the quintessential biopic– I began fucking around with some ideas about a more thoughtful and realistic movie about Charlie Parker. With Beanie as Parker, and the movie focusing on the last few weeks of Parker’s life, not to dwell in his junkie-hero persona, but to ground the movie in Bird’s self-destructiveness and then even at his worst, show him as human and humane, I think a more realistic image of him could be attained. By skipping out on his career and life, played-out scenes like his first big gig or him practicing non-stop or even his first shot of heroin, would be avoided. As so many YouTube videos of a probably-on-purple Beanie would show, he could do fucked-up junkie well, but I can also imagine him doing the humorous side of Parker that biographies have acknowledged with equal honesty. My favorite Parker story is recounted in many places but maybe most famously in the Ken Burns ‘Jazz’ series and it’s Parker, playing Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ to a group of hipster-red out, Bird-worshipping ‘bop heads who all dismiss it as “redneck music” and can’t understand why Parker insists on playing it over and over. “Listen to the stories” he tells his worshippers; I think Beanie Sigel could sell a line like that pretty well.

-‘Untitled Homeless Movie’: One rainy afternoon, like four years ago, I was watching ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and there was this amazing story about a white tennis instructor in Boca Raton who’d befriended a black homeless guy who to the instructor’s rather uptight family, was not only disturbing but maybe even something of a confidence man. The tennis instructor and the homeless guy became good friends, with the instructor eventually allowing the homeless guy to move-in to his rather nice apartment and bringing the still-stinks-like-he’s-homeless homeless guy to the home of his parents for dinner. The instructor began spending lots of his own money to help the local homeless and pretty much became a part of the homeless culture. Eventually, the instructor went missing, his car found parked in a nice neighborhood, his wallet, ID, and keys, on the driver’s seat. The homeless guy– now living full-time in the instructor’ apartment– had not seen the instructor in weeks. This presumably true story seems to be, a pretty entertaining way to address the white liberal’s relationship with a downtrodden culture and with Beanie Sigel as the mysterious homeless guy– mysterious because he’s crazy, not some Bagger Vance crap– could add some interesting ways to address white interest in “blackness” and hip-hop culture. It could easily be a satire, but I’d like to see it a little more straight, with the white guy being genuinely intrigued and affected by it all– enough that he’d get rid of his former life– but still coming off a little absurd. I had this idea in like 2004, when Roc-A-Fella was still a thing and so, I imagined a weird, hip-hop instrumental score by Kanye West or even just a bunch of Kanye instrumentals as the score.

-‘Song Cry’: Once again, an idea I had back when The Roc was real but were still making garbage like ‘Paper Soldiers’ like they weren’t real. Imagine a movie version of ‘Song Cry’, but starring Beanie because it would keep it in the Roc family and Beanie’s just more real in personality and look than any actor who would try to look hard or of “the life”. For some reason, I always imagined ‘Song Cry’ as being about a relationship but Jay’s contrast of his rise to success with the distance in his relationship related to the ‘Scarface’-like success of a drug dealer. Think ‘Godfather II’ or plenty of other gangster movies where the couple pulls apart as more and more money comes in. On ‘Song Cry’, Jay makes this reality a little more tragic and it totally works and is very cinematic: “We used to use umbrellas to face the bad weather/So, now we travel first class to change the forecast”. An early romantic scene of the two in the rain, is contrasted with a later scene of the two, now on a plane, flying somewhere exotic but hardly giving a shit. The movie that would come out of ‘Song Cry’ could be full of these like cinematic doubling of scenes; a kind of epic-ish drug-dealer out-of-love story, but starring a kinda grimy Beans instead of like, Denzel Washington done-up to look kinda grimy.

Written by Brandon

April 2nd, 2008 at 8:14 am

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More About Amy Winehouse…

I seriously had no idea people cared so much about Amy Winehouse. Go here and for some reason, here for some sort of interesting ongoing discussion. I felt the need to address her again…

The support of Amy Winehouse, when it isn’t by negrophobes, the musically retarded, or feminists, is by people who romanticize suffering and still believe in concepts like “confessional” art. In an interview in this month’s NYLON magazine, Winehouse says “I say things in songs that I wouldn’t even admit to myself looking in the mirror” (116). What? It is literally impossible to admit something in a song that one has not admitted in the mirror. I assume by “in the mirror” she means to herself, alone, which, unless she just gets on the mic and just wails, she’s writing her songs down. All of her insecurities and neuroses don’t just pour out of her.

She is held up as authentic and therefore a “true” soul musician because many buy into stuff she says or they want to believe in such purity. Her supposed honesty and the praise it receives goes back to racist notions of black musicians (or athletes, even mixed-race presidential candidates) as having a natural or untapped something which makes them great. Winehouse’s troubled persona and “honesty” make her music seem immediate, even primitive. Her producers, black rap producer with credit, Salaam Remi and white, rich boy fuckface Mark Ronson, are presented as something like her handlers, maintaining her pure artistic soul. Of course, this purity does not really exist and never has and even if it had, how is saying everything and anything in a song worthy of praise? Due to the internet in particular, there has been something of a shift in the culture: MySpace, Youtube, this fucking blog, everything is about expression! If everything is about expression (which is fine) then simple expression can no longer be used as an end-run around artistic quality or insight.

The indie rock world, when it isn’t being ironic, is a perfect example of honesty and sincerity being broken-down into a series of easy-to-do gestures through clothing, that whiny “bad” singing, making a Wes Anderson-lite videos, etc. etc.…all of this boundless sincerity is a misguided affront to irony, no different than irony because another series of signs and signifiers are now the norm. Because people are so used to irony and manufactured, distant, emotionless product, stuff like Winehouse which on some level, does attempt to connect to an audience with real feelings, becomes overrated and overvalued. To do what Winehouse and others do but to do it with insight is much harder to do and more poignant. Clement Greenberg, American art critic, has an essay in which he discusses issues of honesty and talent in art. “Honesty” Greenberg says, although “essential”, “does not guarantee anything” and “can never be separated from the procedures of talent” (146). Now, we’ve already agreed that Winehouse is talented in the sense that she has a good voice; it is the issues of honesty or actual honesty that need to be addressed. Greenberg adds that “complete honesty has nothing to do with “purity” or naivety [because] the full truth is unattainable to naivety, and the completely honest artist is not pure in heart.” (146). Words that Winehouse or Bright Eyes, even the Game or Brother Ali would be advised to take.

Good art, real art, stuff that matters, is a hard, messy navigation through emotions of all types; it’s complicated. If all you have is emotional honesty, you’re no better than the artist couched in irony and abstract lyrics. The concept of the difficult artist being abstract and the primitive artist being honest are outdated and as I said before, kinda racist, but when it comes to music, pop music, music manufactured, bought, and sold, the concept that the art you sell is about baring one’s soul is absurd. The best musicians, but especially rappers, have found some kind of interesting balance between giving people what they want and maintaining integrity (Prodigy!) but the concept that on some level, someone who sells a CD only wants to express themselves has always been total bullshit. If it’s only about expression, go back in your room and sing in front of your mirror, don’t bother me with it.

There is a way to address one’s life, exposing very-real truths about one’s self without devolving into self-pity and self-aggrandizing through self-pity. You can talk about your problems and not make yourself a spectacle. This comes from maintaining the emotional integrity of the situaiton without making it quite so apparent or simplistic. When Biggie drops “My mother’s got cancer in her breast/Don’t ask me why I’m motherfuckin’ stressed” it comes in the middle of a song that laments Biggie’s world, without becoming all “woe is me” about it. When he finally goes from the general (how his neighborhood changed) to the specific (exactly what troubles him) the effect is stronger because the entire song is not a song about why his mother has breast cancer. Kanye West, one of rap’s biggest self-mythologizers, can often lose his way but his autobiographical songs are almost always injected with humor, autobiography, and insight. It is this mix of emotions which not only makes for a rewarding experience but is closer to real-life, for even in the worst of situations, some warmth or humor pops through and indeed, something is learned. The supposed immediacy of songs like ‘Rehab’ is nothing but laziness. Lazy with insight and disrespectful to an audience who find this music sincere or believe it to be soul-baring. ‘You Know I’m No Good’ is the song-equivalent of the dude in Burger King who mops the floor, telling you about how messed-up his life is, not so much because he wants emotional connection but because the pathetic tendency to victimize one’s self instead of expressing real, actual feelings is so pervasive and even encouraged. Like Burger King Guy, Winehouse is trying to express herself and indeed, if this is her way of doing it, perhaps she has some problems, but I don’t see why that is given magazine covers and record sales; the same would never be done for scary Burger King Guy.

-Greenberg, Clement. ‘Art and Culture: Critical Essays.’ Beacon Press: Boston, 1961.
-Valdesolo, Fiorella. ‘The Devil In Miss Winehouse.’ NYLON Magazine. April 2007. (114-117).

Written by Brandon

April 8th, 2007 at 7:23 pm

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Notorious B.I.G Death Day
On this Biggie death day, many other places can give you better and more fitting retrospectives, BET is running an evening of programming and this month’s ‘XXL’ and ‘The Source’ have commemorative articles, but if you’ve already digested his music, I think the best place to go is Cheo Hodari Coker’s ‘Unbelievable; The Life, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G’. This book does not seem to get enough credit for being a legitimately excellent and intelligent biography. As far as I know, it’s the only Biggie bio so maybe there’s nothing to compare it to or maybe it’s because it’s published by ‘Vibe’ and is big and glossy and therefore taken less seriously. Either way, this is all unfortunate because Coker’s biography provides not only a factual account of Christopher Wallace’s life but makes his death nearly palpable.

I recall sitting in a grocery store parking lot, in the rain, in Dover, DE, waiting for my girlfriend to get off of work, finishing the book and just feeling kind of empty. I had never thought too much about Biggie’s death because I was only 11 when it happened and all I knew of Biggie were his cool videos and my 20 year-old uncle listening to a ‘Hypnotize’ cassette single every time I drove around with him. It was only years after his death that I began to appreciate the music, so Biggie’s death was “a given”. It didn’t feel that different from getting into music from the 60s or 70s where you know there’s only a limited discography to delve into. Paradoxically, it was Biggie’s acknowledgment of death and self-destruction that affected me but somehow, the full emotions of the events didn’t connect to the actual death of the creator of those words until reading ‘Unbelievable’. I knew the “East Coast/West Coast feud” was retarded but Coker’s book really portrays how moronic and disturbing it was. The persistence in which Biggie seemed to dismiss the feud but was still caught up in it are, and I use this word advisedly, tragic.

Coker has apparently written a screenplay about Biggie’s life and he’s certainly the best one to do it; ‘Unbelievable’ is wonderful at dramatizing real events and turning them into “scenes” without sacrificing the real-life feeling of those events. That is to say, one gets the feeling of truth throughout the book but the hand of an author organizing a man’s life into a readable text is invisible. There’s a particularly affecting scene, wonderfully presented by Coker, where Biggie feels the repercussions for insulting (of all people) E-40. Apparently, Biggie, for an interview, “was asked to rate different rappers on a scale of one to ten” and “when asked about the Sacramento rap mogul”, Biggie (probably joking) gave him a big, fat zero (160). Months later, Biggie performed a show in Sacramento and after the show, was confronted with “twenty or thirty riders” on behalf of E-40 (160). Coker describes the scene primarily through quotations from DJ Enuff, but cuts-in with two significant lines of dialogue that highlight Biggie’s subtle form of bravado, the very thing that differentiated him from other rappers:
“My people is here,” E-40 told him.
“Yeah, I see them,” said Big. (161)
Coker’s book is full of well-wrought scenes like this one. Scenes that are based in real events but are elevated to an emotional level through Coker’s organization of quotations, facts, and tight but effective prose. Coker also has a firm grasp on his rap history and maintains an even-handed approach to Biggie’s life, presenting his inconstancies and negative aspects without “exposing” him, while taking a tough, but even-handed approach on the still-loaded East/West beef. I can’t really explain how rewarding this book is and I would encourage anyone that has not read it, to do so, particularly over the weekend that commemorates the man’s death. It would be a more fitting tribute than the questionable ‘Greatest Hits’ just released by Bad Boy.

“Questionable” however, seems to be the norm on anything related to Biggie. There are way too many “incompletes” in the rapper’s life, extending beyond the fact that his life was left incomplete when he was murdered at 24 (24! Think about that!). Obviously, there has been no conclusions related to his murder and whether one is interested in “justice” or not, the inconclusive aspects of the crime are pretty fucked-up. There’s also the legal weirdness with ‘Ready to Die’ which keeps Biggie’s best album and indeed, one of the best albums of all time, out of the hands of interested listeners. Recently, a rather idiotic list called ’The Definitive 200’ was published with the #59 spot belonging to ‘Life After Death’. I won’t complain about these kinds of lists nor will I suggest it as any kind of validation for rap that Biggie made the list, but I must say it is odd to choose ‘Life After Death’ over ‘Ready to Die’. Perhaps it has something to do with the legal limbo or whatever you want to call it, of ‘Ready to Die’ (the list is put out by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers), but it may also have to do with the tendency of music-types to prefer slightly inconsistent albums by artists rather than their truly, consistently great albums (‘Thriller’ over ‘Off the Wall’, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ over ‘Innervisions’, ‘Exile on Main Street’ and ‘Let it Bleed’ as the highest-ranked Stones albums…). This kind of music-critic misinterpretation of an artists’ work is nothing new and it is even less surprising in relation to the rap world but the consistency in which aspects of Biggie’s musical career seems to get the shaft is particularly depressing. Think of that iTunes commercial where all of the musicians cram into a phone booth (Iggy Pop, Snoop, Bootsy Collins, Little Richard etc.) and then just as their all crammed in, we see the back of some guy dressed as Biggie and Madonna in her weird, Britishigan accent cries out “Biggie!” and its very funny because Biggie is fat. Of course, he’s also dead so it’s sort of weird and borderline offensive and would never happen with a dead rock music legend. Not that any of this matters too much, it just sort of stings, you know?

-Coker, Cheo Hodari. ‘Unbelievable.’ Three Rivers Press: New York, 2003.

Written by Brandon

March 9th, 2007 at 7:39 am