The Notorious B.I.G. fans have petitioned to have a street named after him in the late rapper’s Clinton Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn. LeRoy McCarthy started the petition to name the corner of St. James Place and Fulton Street “Christopher Wallace Way” and 3,700 supporters have signed a Change.org petition.
McCarthy presented his case with letters of support from two local churches, a mosque, a nearby block association, several local businesses, and more than 1,000 comments to the community board. However, board members were not convinced and objected to the notion of a street corner named after the rapper.
Member Lucy Koteen, who “looked up” Biggie Smalls, was offended at the proposition and isn’t convinced he was a role model.
“He started selling drugs at 12, he was a school dropout at 17, he was arrested for drugs and weapons charge, he was arrested for parole violations, he was arrested in North Carolina for crack cocaine, in 1996 he was again arrested for assault, he had a violent death and physically the man is not exactly a role model for youth,” she explained.
Kenn Lowy, another board member and owner of the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, said he did not appreciate that the rapper referred to women with derogatory names in his music.
Other opponents argue that Big’s corpulent size prevents him from being a role model.
McCarthy said after the meeting that “board members should not hold Wallace’s physical appearance nor how he died against him.” He did not provide a comment in response to the validity of Wallace’s past.
“You can use Wikipedia as a starting point for your research, but you can’t rely on that [as a primary source of information]. But some people don’t think that there’s anything good about people from the ghetto in the first place,” McCarthy said.
The proposal faces another barrier. Without the endorsement of Councilwoman Letitia James, the proposal has stalled. James commented to XXL that “the proposal had not gone through the standard process in order to reach her desk, including an official application, a petition in the neighborhood, support from local businesses, or other recommendations from the community board.” The renaming of the street could come with a hefty price tag to change the street signs.
New York served as the backdrop in hip hop’s infancy of boomboxes on stoops and break-dancing on cardboard. McCarthy cites hip hop magazine The Source for crediting Wallace as the King of New York, and Biggie’s love for Brooklyn as starting points to consider changing the minds of politicians. It’s true. Biggie embraced Brooklyn’s good: “Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.” And its underbelly: “Gram chopping, police van docking.”
Clinton Hill has changed drastically from Wallace’s days of rapping on street corners down from his 226 St. James Place home. The area has largely faced gentrification and is home to the more wealthy in the borough. It’s no secret that selling drugs was a means of survival before enjoying the finer things in life for many rappers, including Sean “Jay Z” Carter, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and Nasir “Nas” Jones. Now, Clinton Hill is labeled as one of Brooklyn’s Most Liveable ‘Hoods, and The New York Times even compared it to Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. And let’s not forget how Vanity Fair gave Jay Z another platform to discuss his drug-selling past by way of a magazine cover.
Biggie’s debut album Ready to Die introduced the world to a range of topics, including his Brooklyn neighborhood, his troubled past, race relations, a crack epidemic, and his hope for better life. A quick scan of the album’s track-listing, shows titles like “Ready to Die,” “Me & My Bitch,” and “Machine Gun Funk” provide a glimpse into some of the album’s content. Yet supporters say that Biggie’s story is an inspirational one that the “Sky is the Limit.”
Concerns also lie with setting a precedent in other areas for similar acts. If McCarthy gets a street named after Biggie, another group might seek to immortalize another rapper in a similar fashion. There’s already a push to get a street renamed for Big Pun in his Bronx neighborhood.
The Notorious B.I.G.’s legacy is an interesting story of a rags-to-riches rapper whose death at the end of a supposed East Coast vs. West Coast feud changed the trajectory of rap music. Biggie was a product of his environment and used his artistic talents to shine a light on Brooklyn. While his remembrance may be of importance within hip hop culture and music overall, and an inspiration to a youth that faces similar circumstances, the board is not convinced. (I wonde if these same people have patronized the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets.) Maybe naming a musical venue after Biggie Smalls would be more appropriate?