Sometimes I find myself thinking about what the world must look like through your eyes. So much has changed since 1994, when you first blessed us with Ready to Die. Back then, hip hop was on the fringe, and all of us coming up were on the outskirts agitating to push our way in. We wanted to be heard, to be seen, to be understood.
Did you know then where your example would lead? Did you dare to imagine how important your music would become? Sure, our dreams were big, but I don’t think any of us had any idea how far things would come.
Back then I was a young manager working with Nas, Mary J. Blige, Trackmasters’ Tone and Poke, and others who were your contemporaries. And all together, we were pushing; trying to move our culture forward. We were trying to make the best records, try to top the charts. I remember one time being in the studio with you and watching you sit with your face four inches from the television screen, no pen in your hand. Then you got up, went to the studio booth and recited a rhyme. You imagined it, then recited it with no need to write in down. It was the most remarkable artistic expression I have ever seen.
Now, all these years later, we have found our way in, and hip hop has become the center of it all. Today, the biggest stars on the planet are hip-hop artists. When you were alive, Capitol Hill took a stance against rap music; today, we experienced a President of the United States who openly discussed his favorite rap albums and gave hip-hop artists a seat at the table at the White House - literally. Years ago, many of the NBA’s major stars hailed from Brooklyn, but the league had no team to represent the borough. Today, a basketball arena housing the Brooklyn Nets sits only blocks away from where you grew up and Jay-Z proudly helped open-up the stadium.
From the Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 classic Rapper’s Delight onwards, hip hop has become the storybook of our times. Rapper’s Delight came from the TV entertainment show Good Times, but when the times called for a shift in the narrative, artists answered, covering brutal truths in their rhymes that were uncomfortable for society to confront.
This was true of "Fuck tha Police," which many chose to write off as sensationalism. Instead it was a product of the hardships that many people of color had been experiencing for years. It wasn’t until the Rodney King tapes were made public that the world really understood the honesty in N.W.A.’s lyrics.
And then you came along. Your rhymes resonated with so many because they directly mirrored the culture. Your lyrics were real time reporting. At times, your music made us feel good, recalling that moment of feeling like you’ve arrived, and like you’ve overcome all the obstacles in front of you. At other times, a B.I.G. song told the world the hard truths of growing up with all the odds stacked against you. A world that seemed to shine favorably on some, but not those that we represented. You demonstrated the dichotomy of being black in America in a way that was inclusive and awe-inspiring.
But your lyrics – and your life - are not just an archive of that time, they are the ultimate example of what can happen when aspiration meets audacity. You made us believe there was more, and you possessed the genius to paint a picture so vivid, so captivating that it made us all want to aspire. A song like "Juicy" continues even now to be the truest testament to “the come up” on record.
With "Ten Crack Commandments" you gave us a rulebook for those striving to build a business. Hustlers and entrepreneurs alike look to your words to turn their passions into their enterprises. Countless publications reference your lyrics as some of the most sound rules to succeeding, even all these years later.
In this way, your work and the greater tapestry of hip hop is music’s greatest record of the “American Dream”. A dream no longer reserved for the working class family achieving the cookie cutter home in the suburbs with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids. Today that dream lives in the kid from Compton, Kendrick Lamar, who spits politically charged lyrics and yet whose entire album charted on the Billboard 100 at one time. The dream looks like what some call our generation’s Beatles, Migos, who have made trap music a mainstream phenomenon, and went from walking the streets of Atlanta to the red carpet at the Met Gala. The American dream is Chance the Rapper, or “little Chano from 79th”” who hails from Chicago’s Southside, and became the first artist to win a Grammy without selling one physical copy of his album.
And this dream extends far beyond the borders of America. Everywhere in the world people want to rise from the struggle, and your example proves this is possible. I believe this is why hip hop resonates so deeply, inspiring artists all over the world to create local interpretations of hip hop using samples of your voice, or paying homage visually through public murals on buildings everywhere from New York to New Zealand.
You are the greatest. Your rhymes changed everything.
So what does this world look like to you now? I hope when you look at it, you’re proud of how far we’ve come. I hope you see that your legacy lives on. Through your children, through Puffy, who has passionately represented your legacy in every facet of his life, through your die-hard fans new and old, and through every person on earth who has ever felt moved when they heard a Biggie song, you live through us all.
And in true B.I.G. form, I know you would want us to keep pushing for more. So we will. We will continue to aspire, inspire, and strive for greatness, in your name and for all the ones who’ve yet to be discovered.
Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G., presented by Biography, premieres on September 4.