If I wasn’t in the rap game
I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game
Because the streets is a short stop
Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot
The Notorious B.I.G. died 14 years ago in a haze of bullets in downtown Los Angeles at the height of the media created East/ West coast hip-hop beef between himself and Tupac Shakur.
Before his death Biggie Smalls (one alias of his) left a legacy that still looms large in two fields of entertainment today, music and sports.
There’s long been the assertion that most rappers want to be athletes and vice versa. The link between rap and sports is connected by the fact that both genres share similarities in the fact that A, most of the well-known and popular rappers and athletes are African-American and B, that they shared similar upbringings before hitting the big time.
Allen Iverson, Michael Vick, Young Jeezy, Method Man, Baron Davis, Game, Nelly, Larry Hughes… the list goes on and on. Before all of these men started gaining million dollar income from albums and the field of play their families struggled in low income housing areas that were more havens for heathens the pop culture figures.
They all dreamed about getting out and making it big, you know “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this 50 inch screen, money green leather sofa Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur.” Along the way to those successes they suffered the same type of ills and problems, lack of family structure (no father), living in the slums, feeling like they would never get out, then when they finally did no one understood them and always categorized them.
In a sense rappers and athletes are like kindred spirits. They’re the only ones that truly get each other. Its become a rarity these to not see a rapper shout out an athlete in song or the two aligning themselves to form some sort of bond whether its strictly business or an actual alliance amongst friends.
Think back to video footage of Edgerrin James and Trick Daddy hanging together in Miami on MTV, or the Jay-Z and LeBron James friendship or even Biggie himself with Shaquille O’Neal. The two genres of individuals have a level of comfort in one another that media, business moguls or other outsiders will never have.
Biggie more than any rapper brought this relationship to life. His lyrics personified each level of life that young black men from the ghetto were living in whether poor or when they got rich.
The lyric from the beginning of the article is from the first song off of his classic debut album Ready To Die and the song is titled “Things Done Changed.” It is a two bar description of what has become the do or die options of young black men from the ghettos of America in the last three decades, either ball on the court or stand on the block.
Ask Santonio Holmes who admitted to doing just that before he starred as a receiver at Ohio State University. Ask rapper Game born Jayceon Taylor) who said his life became consumed by drug dealing after a basketball scholarship to Washington State fell through (though Wazzu denies that claim.). For most people staring out of there project windows this was how we saw life fame on TV or in the crack game.
He also expressed the aggravation that we have felt as kids left without fathers (“Pop Duke left Mom Duke, The f***** took the back way.”). Athletes from James, Shaq, Prince Fielder and others didn’t have their biological father in their lives growing up to watch them become the athletes they are.
And of course “Mo Money, Mo Problems” has been the anthem for the last generation of young black men who discover success after a lifetime of hardship. Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Marshall and others have had run-ins with the law and have been under constant scrutiny due to their status of being young, rich black men in a professional market.
Biggie, as well as most rappers, resonates with athletes because he went through the same troubles as they have both in the slums and on top. He knew about life in the projects then going to the penthouse and all of the consequences that came with each move he made.
One of Biggie’s good friends was Shaquille O’Neal who grew up without his biological father in Newark, New Jersey and who was able to escape his environment to a better life of riches and fame in the NBA. Their bond came about thanks to a line on “Machine Gun Funk” off of Ready to Die. “I’m slammin’ niggas like Shaquille, s*** is real,” we’re Biggie’s words as he played himself and a criminal associate planning a caper.
That line started a relationship with Shaq that including a collaboration on Shaq’s third rap album Can’t Stop The Reign.
Shaq was like many athletes in the 90’s who tried to expand their name from the field to the microphone and be like their lyrical heroes and weave similar tales of their lifestyles. Cedric Ceballos, Deion Sanders, Chris Webber, Kobe Bryant and Iverson have all blessed the microphone in an effort to obtain a platinum plaque while emulating their favorite MC’s. While the results were mixed (mostly bad. That goes for you Roy Jones Jr. and Ron Artest.) the point was that due to their similar backgrounds athletes felt the need to pick up a microphone and show their skills, or lack of.
The same can be said for rappers trying to go pro. Master P gave it a go with tryout for the Raptors and Hornets and his son tried to ball on USC’s basketball team a few years ago.
But more than anything the best way for both sides to come together is through the mutual respect of rappers shouting out their favorite ballers on record or the building of a relationship out of the studio and off of the field.
It’s always cool seeing Young Jeezy bring out LeBron at a concert or seeing David Ortiz snapping a flick with Dr. Dre because it’s out of respect for one another’s craft. Much like Biggie and Shaq, these friendship show the union of black men in similar scenarios coming together to show love and respect for one another. It’s an occurrence that is rarely seen in the actual environments where we once lived and serves as a teaching tool for kids in similar situations.
Beyond the relationship of athlete/rapper, Biggie showed all sides how to really live it up. Biggie’s visual displays of the spoils of his labor are what drove David Stern to adapt new rules as to how players dress when entering the NBA work environment.
When Biggie started rocking the Jesus piece, everyone followed. You still see the piece on the necks of James, Darnell Dockett and other athletes today. The Jesus piece is to black youth as the pinky ring was to the mob (though we still had to get a pinky ring thank you Henry Hill and Nicky Santoro.). When Biggie started sippin Cristal champagne, we all had to have it.
Biggie showed us the spoils of being young, black and famous. He pretty much bankrolled the designer Coogi and made Versace silk button ups a steady fashion accessory in hip-hop culture. Look at old photos of Jonathan Bender or JaMarcus Russell in one of those cable knitted multi-colored sweaters or think of the countless athletes in those free flowing shirts with some Versace glasses to match. How many dudes had to get something that resembled a Rolex after Big had one? I can’t afford one but I always have to have a nice looking watch on my arm
He was a trendsetter. Hell, his trends have lasted almost 20 years since he first jumped on the scene and are still seen in the NFL, NBA and MLB.
That’s why he lives on long past his death 14 years ago and through two or three different generations.
This morning on Twitter I saw Michael J. Smith, Chad Ochocinco, Jemele Hill and a bunch of my buddies in college posting random Biggie quotes from all of his songs. That’s a range of people from ages 20-40. When Biggie dies some of them were 6, I wasn’t in high school yet, others were starting their professional careers, yet we all know his lyrics word for word.
It’s funny that this year Biggie’s death anniversary fell on Ash Wednesday for me. It’s the beginning of Lent where we sacrifice something we love for a greater good and we mourn and repent for our sins. I mourned Biggie by listening to his entire catalog while fasting and posting a bunch of my favorite lyrics along the way. People would dispute that Biggie was nothing like Jesus and might’ve been a bigger heathen than most fallen martyr’s in entertainment.
But I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I knew of what Biggie spoke of. I knew people like Arizona Ron, Dark Skinned Jermaine and Sing from the 15th floor. I know about the dangers of life in those areas and what happens when you’re black and stumble upon some success in the real world. Everything with Biggie resonates with me from waking up “f***** up, pockets broke as hell,” to “talk s*** and get you neck slit quick,” to wanting a garage like cee-lo “4’s, 5’s and 6’s.”
Biggie was the good and bad in all of us where we are from. He was a great talent in a bad neighborhood with big aspirations and not enough people to understand. Like myself, Allen Iverson, Dez Bryant and others he didn’t care. His goal was make it, be great, look good and have fun doing it.
We all followed Biggie’s lead even to this day. We’ve forged similar relationship like he had with Shaq and that respect is still there.
I wish Big was here to see his influence, to see how many rappers follow his rhyme style, to see how many ballers follow his dress code and ways to live it up and to see how many people still spit his lyrics.
Biggie was influential in Hip-Hop’s uprising as well as the urban black athlete from his inception to way past his death. He made athletes aware of their surroundings and how similar they were in our upbringing. As we mourn/celebrate his legacy today I know that there other ways to make it out of the ghetto other than shooting hoops or selling crack. However, for the case of our generation, and for young black athletes, he let us know it was there and that not many of us were different from each other in who we were.
People like Iverson, Shaq, Randy Moss and others now knew someone understood them and that they could confide in people who had the same aspirations and goals as them. We should be thankful of Biggie for that. At least I am.