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Social Studies

Who Shot Ya?

In recent weeks, the hip-hop world has been abuzz over the possibility that one of the culture’s greatest mysteries may soon be solved. According to the ever-popular “sources,” the Los Angeles Police Department recently received some new information that could possibly lead to a break in the murder case of the Notorious B.I.G. But, in the time since the announcement in early January, and in the 10-plus years since the legendary MC’s death, not much has happened and not many folks seem to be too upset. I have to wonder, does anyone really care who killed Biggie?

I don’t say this to be glib, or to underestimate the effect of the death of Biggie and, because the two events are always connected, Tupac Shakur. Certainly, Biggie was not the first violent death in hip-hop. Trouble T-Roy and MC Trouble, just to name two, passed well before Biggie, and KRS-One has always attributed his Saul-to-Paul transformation to the murder of his partner Scott La Rock. Hell, hip-hop was also shaken by the illness and death of Eazy-E two years previously. And, honestly, for all the post-death hand-wringing over the “East/West Coast beef,” Biggie et al. wasn’t the first group of MCs to pop shit with each other. LL Cool J and Kool Moe Dee were never friends. The bridge had been over for a decade before Biggie died. As thick as it had gotten between the various factions in NWA, no one did anything but puff out their chests and talk crazy. In a culture dominated by machismo and bravado, it only makes sense that rivalries spring up now and again.

But the Notorious B.I.G.’s murder was different, because he actually died over hip-hop, in an event that has become a part of American mythology. After months of rivalry between West Coast hip-hop, mainly Death Row artists and Tupac Shakur specifically, and East Coast hip-hop, mainly Bad Boy artists and Biggie specifically, things had escalated to the point that Shakur was brutally murdered in a drive-by shooting. Though everyone associated with Bad Boy denied any involvement, “the streets,” as they say, ran with rumors that Bad Boy had something to do with the killing. So, it was no surprise that, on March 9, 1997, at 12:45 a.m., while he was leaving a party in Los Angeles, Biggie’s ride was riddled with bullets by an unknown assailant. Four bullets hit the MC in the chest, and he was pronounced dead a half an hour later. It was a killing that, again, “the streets” swore was in retaliation for Shakur’s death. Yes, there were previous conflicts in the industry, but this one, for real and for true, got people killed. Unfortunately, young black men dying over amazingly stupid fucking bullshit is nothing new, but for the first time, that bullshit was some hip-hop bullshit.

The deaths were a real shock to the culture, and for a while, cats chilled out a little bit. The rhetoric dialed back and MCs took their words a little bit more seriously. For a little while, it looked like hip-hop was growing up. Yes, it was tragic that both men died, but in some ways it seemed that Biggie and Tupac died for an art form’s sins, and in return, its practitioners changed, acknowledging that their actions could have dire repercussions. But then everything shifted.

What occurred was what I like to call the fetishization of Biggie’s death. I certainly don’t venture to know a man’s heart, and without a doubt Bad Boy’s Sean “Puffy” Combs knew Biggie better than most people, but the fact is Combs greatly profited from Biggie’s posthumous sales, and Combs’ tribute, “I’ll Be Missing You,” catapulted him into a career as a solo artist. Other affiliates such as Lil’ Kim and, famously, Jay-Z also got a boost by highlighting their connection to the slain MC. Biggie certainly wasn’t the first celebrity to be worth more dead than alive, but again, along with Tupac, he was the first hip-hop personality to achieve the morbid honor.

Unfortunately, the arguable martyrdom of the Notorious B.I.G. seems to have been for naught. If you were to believe the words of dudes like Rick Ross, you’d think that hip-hop was made up of gangsters and killers, but c’mon, these are dudes who make their money entertaining teenagers. Let’s all just take a second and acknowledge that, in the grand scheme of things, MCs have always had more in common with Sammy Davis Jr. than Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. Thankfully—thankfully—there hasn’t been a big outbreak of hip-hop violence on the level of ’96-’97, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised if there was.

And, in that time, Biggie simply remains a symbol: more of an image than a man, a sort of hip-hop Martin Luther King Jr., whose main purpose is to grace posters and T-shirts. We all talk about Biggie but, as the saying goes, “one monkey don’t stop no show,” and hip-hop remains a billion-dollar enterprise that continues to glorify the same kind of foolishness that got Christopher Wallace cut down in the prime of his life. But this was a man with young children and a family and hopefully, for their sakes, this current investigation will bear out some results. Even if nothing else changes or no one really cares.

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