A torrential monsoon-like rain could not stop devoted fans of Biggie Smalls standing on a Bed Stuy block for three hours or so to witness the long-awaited street sign unveiling honoring the mega hip-hop icon.
“This street is going to be a love street. People are going to come here and they’re going to know that a young man, my son, was living here,” commented Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace.
Go anywhere in the world, shout out, “Where’s Brooklyn at?” and you are going to get an enthusiastic person yelling back. Anywhere. That is what the energy was about on Monday, June 10, 2019.
Despite the relentless downpour, family members, friends and hundreds of fans of legendary hip-hop MC Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G., crammed the corner of Fulton Street and St. James Place in Brooklyn’s Bed Stuy/Clinton Hills section this past Monday to witness the unveiling ceremony of the Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace Way street co-named in his honor. It is a few buildings where his “one room shack” was located at 226 St. James Place and on one of the very same corners where he came of age and sharpened his lyrical gifts as a youth, prior to achieving international fame and recognition as one of the greatest MCs of all times.
The Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation, in partnership with the office of Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, hosted the official event celebrating the street co-naming of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace Way.
Notorious B.I.G.’s mother Voletta Wallace, his children T’Yanna Wallace and Christopher Wallace Jr., Lil’ Kim, Jadakiss, Lil’ Cease, DJ Enuff, Damion “DRoc” Butler, Diggy Simmons, Lisa Evers, Ralph McDaniels, DJ Mister Cee, Mark Pitts, Wayne Barrow, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, NYC Council Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, NYC Council Member of the 36th District Robert E. Cornegy Jr., and NYC Council Member of the 41st District Alicka Ampry-Samuel were in attendance.
Wayne Barrow, B.I.G.’s manager and co-chairman of The Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation, opened the Notorious B.I.G. street naming.
“We appreciate the overwhelming show of love and support. I know y’all standing in the rain but that’s just Biggie crying on us, happy that we’re standing on this street recognizing him,” said Barrow.
He introduced Cumbo who spoke of the long fight to get the street renaming accomplished and the necessity for the preservation of Brooklyn’s rich history.
As the burgeoning gentrification was blatantly apparent, with a large number of white folk and their friends and families coming out of their St. James Place homes to observe the street renaming, Cumbo, member of the Committee on Public Housing, told the amassed crowd with umbrellas hoisted high, “We shouldn’t let people come into our towns and erase our history…Today is just a reassurance that won’t happen to our Brooklyn.”
Although on “Juicy” he said of his home, “Thinkin’ back on my one-room shack,” in 2013 the ethnic cleansing of the Black neighborhood had his old three bedroom at 226 St. James St. on the market for a whopping $725,000.
“When new people come to our community, don’t get it twisted and don’t forget, we made this borough what it is today. We created this borough, and Biggie Smalls created the soundtrack of inspiration that gave us the growth and ability to create success in Brooklyn,” said Cumbo.
Notorious BIG was a generational hip-hop talent during his time from 1992-1997. He, along with his group Junior M.A.F.I.A, brought the world tunes such as “Players Anthem” and “Get Money,” both which rose onto top 25 music charts across the country. The group also helped launch the career of rapper and fan favorite Lil’ Kim, a Brooklyn native.
Electeds such as Cumbo and Cornegy both gave personal anecdotes and praised the event and its incredible cultural significance for a hip-hop community often denigrated, but also mentioned the renewed interest in issues such as the Central Park Five case, and the depiction and the reality of the Black community.
“We cannot continue to let the bullets cause the highways of death and remove the Biggie Smalls of our lives in our community,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, as he slammed the violence that took out icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“Everyone has a right to live out their dreams without the fear of being gunned down,” Adams said. “We need to protect all and future Biggies so stories like this won’t happen again.”
As he lauded the immense power and significance of the street renaming of the “giant” Biggie, Adams proclaimed of his beloved borough, “There are two types of Americans—those who live in Brooklyn, and those who wish they could!”
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said he was buggin’ out with excitement. Like a hype man onstage, he told the real live crowd, “We have a right to look up to our hip-hop heroes. We’re celebrating Biggie, we’re celebrating hip-hop and we’re celebrating ourselves.”
Cornegy spoke about growing up in the same building as Notorious B.I.G. during the early stages of his career and the close bond of the neighborhood.
Christopher Wallace Jr. shared heartfelt words about his father and expressed gratitude for the amount of love present at the event. Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Cease, Droc and DJ Mister Cee also shared remarks on the incredible impact B.I.G. made on hip-hop culture and their favorite memories.
“This block, it belongs to Biggie,” said Lil’ Kim. “He always had a vision, and I feel like today was part of his vision. I’ve always known this day was going to come; I used to dream about a street being named after Biggie, because it was only right. Everyone from Brooklyn represents him with so much love and passion.”
Notorious B.I.G.’s mother Voletta made final remarks, captivating the crowd with her emotion. She thanked all of the fans for their unwavering support and expressed appreciation for how loved her son was. She closed with a touching sentiment about always choosing love in life.
“This street is going to be a love street, people are going to come here and are going to know that a young man, my son was here…I want to thank you for standing out there in the rain to see a sign unveiled. That is love.”
She continued, “You out there, soaking wet? I will remember this for a long, long time.”
Voletta, C.J. Wallace Jr., Wayne Barrow and Lil’ Kim proudly pulled the string to reveal the Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace Way street sign to the public, as DJ Enuff played B.I.G.’s classic hit, “Hypnotize.” The crowd roared and cheered in response.
The last time this many people gathered on this particular block was to watch his casket roll through in March 1997. Sorrow turned to joy as somebody started playing Biggie’s “Hypnotize,” and it turned into a hip-hop party, making his mom smile just a little as she followed in the funeral convoy.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Christopher Wallace put NYC’s most densely populated borough on his back re-earning the East Coast’s respect within the hip-hop community during the mid-1990s after the West Coast had a decent run for the previous several years. He consistently referred to his beloved Brooklyn in his rhymes, and also brought along his local crew to also enjoy some fame and fortune.
Initially known as Biggie Smalls on the streets of Bed-Stuy while battling local MCs, he took on the performing name Notorious B.I.G. after another rapper had already trademarked the name “Biggie Smalls.” He recorded two classic studio albums: 1994’s “Ready To Die” and 1997’s “Life After Death.” Both albums sold millions of copies and upped the ante regarding lyrical skills.
“Born Again” was scrapped together compiling unfinished and unreleased works, which also featured some top hip-hop talents and was released posthumously in December 1999 but wasn’t received as warmly as his previous works.
At the height of his popularity, and just weeks before his second album was scheduled to be released, Biggie was shot and killed on March 9, 1997, in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles after leaving a music industry awards show. On March 18, thousands showed up and shut down his block as his casket was carried through the streets he ran as a youth, during his celebration of life. DJ Premier, Mary J. Blige, Ma$e and Lil’ Kim were among those who came out to pay their respects to the King of New York that memorable day.
Biggie’s murder occurred just six months after his former friend and rap rival, Tupac Shakur, was gunned down in Las Vegas on Sept. 7. Shakur succumbed to his wounds six days later. Both cases remain unsolved.
“We’ve been trying really hard to get this block into his name and it’s finally happening,” stated Biggie’s protégé Lil Cease.
Efforts to honor Biggie with a street sign began shortly after his death but were met with some resistance due to his lyrical content and truthful portrayal of urban life. One of the many Biggie murals graces the walls at Bedford Avenue and Quincy Street, as well as at Fulton and South Portland in Brooklyn, and another on Fulton Street and South Portland, “Comandante Biggie!” always “Spread Love— it’s the Brooklyn Way.”