A Biggie fan is petitioning to have the intersection near the rapper’s childhood home renamed in his honor, DNAinfo reports—the corner of Fulton Street and St. James Place, where there’s still the Met Food supermarket where the Notorious BIG once bagged groceries. So far the fan has support: from local businesses like the Met and Habana Outpost, not to mention the 562 people who’d signed his petition when the article went live; he hopes to get that number up to 10,000. But judging from some comments, he might face some blowback.
“The corner where he dealt drugs and poisoned his own community would be the best place for a street name,” one commenter wrote from their Facebook account, garnering eight likes. “Yeah what the ghetto communities need to to hoist yet another violent, criminal thug rapper on a pedestal so that another generation of their kids grow up with the wrong role models,” wrote another, garnering six. It gets worse: “I named the corner of my septic tank after him.” “I thought this was the ‘Onion’ when I saw the headline… more libtard ‘jewyork’ propaganda trying to put savages in suits and elevate criminal behavior to ‘culture’.” “that chimp most certainly deserves a tree in the jungle named after him- and that name would be: ,,oho oho, uhu uhu, blim blam, blang chimpout.” (That last one is from Biruta Magone, whom I name for the sake of naming racists.)
I’m sure at least most of these people don’t live in Brooklyn, where we have a painted mural of Comandante Biggie watching over Fulton Street, about half-a-mile west in Fort Greene from the rapper’s old block, and where everyone in the bar hollers “spread love it’s the Brooklyn way!” every time “Juicy” comes on the jukebox; if spreading love is the Brooklyn way, most of these people are clearly not of Brooklyn.
But buried deep in there somewhere is perhaps a glimmer of a point worth addressing: by naming a street corner after a former drug dealer, do we run the risk of idealizing a life of crime? “Do ppl listen to his lyrics?” one DNAinfo commenter wonders. “Child rape, murder, drugs, etc… Disgusting.” You might argue a song like “Gimme the Loot” romanticizes the minutiae of robbery, though it might also be a means of vicariously experiencing violence, no more worrisome than your average CBS procedural.
If we want to play close attention to the lyrics, why not do so especially to the socially conscious songs like “Things Done Changed,” in which he raps, “Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot. Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums.” To call Biggie a “drug dealer” is unhelpfully reductive, like calling Malcolm X a racist. He was an artist who found a creative alternative to being a “common thief.” As he says at the end of “Juicy,” “Damn right I like the life I live, ’cause I went from negative to positive.” Why wouldn’t we as a community want to spread a message like that?
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter at @henrycstewart