On Friday, August 26, some bright spark decided to paint over a popular mural depicting the beloved Bed Stuy rapper Notorious B.I.G a.k.a Biggie Smalls, aka Frank White––real name Christopher Wallace.
The world-famous entertainer hailed from the neighborhood, and in fact the painting is opposite the street where he used to live.
Dark burgundy paint is smeared on his face, and “East Coast” is scrawled in blood red beneath it.
And in his Bed Stuy/Clinton Hill St. James Place neighborhood he is a much-respected presence, even 25 years after his still-unsolved murder in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997.
But, locals and other fans say sacrilegious is the vandalism which saw someone deface the huge Vincent Ballentine painting which has decorated the corner building on St. James and Fulton Street in the some-parts landmarked area in Brooklyn, since 2019.
Suspicion had fallen on more than the possibility of marauding kids up to mischief––some observers hinted that it might be newcomers to the heavily-gentrified neighborhood; or trouble-makers trying to perpetrate as disgruntled youths, or gang-members. When the Amsterdam News visited the site on Saturday morning residents of the area gathered to look at the destruction of the beloved image debating who may have done the senseless deed.
Just a block away earlier this summer, hundreds of people waited from just after dawn into the early afternoon at the Clinton–Washington Avenues subway station to pick up special-edition Biggie metro cards, to celebrate what would have been the rap stars’ 50th birthday. He was 24-years-old when he was murdered. That same day a massive block party was held at his old St. James Place address to remember the Brooklyn dude who became a member of hip hop royalty.
Residents are taking some solace in the fact that there are many cameras along that business and residential block. Apparently a surveillance video captured someone with a dog next to the mural, but it is reportedly difficult to decipher what the person is doing. Locals told the AmNews that he is known to the community and it was not him, but another man seen on camera at around 2.30 a.m. on Friday night.
Christopher Wallace, contradictions notwithstanding, is an icon to a certain demographic. Vincent Ballentine is the well-known artist who took two days to create the mural in 2019 on the corner wall of Beauty World salon on Fulton Street and St. James Place. “Oh…the disrespect is real. Damn shame. Why did they do that?” wrote Ballentine on Instagram. In an interview with CBS, he stated, “I woke up to this… I think the neighborhood really saw it as he was one of ours, and he made it out and made something of himself. That’s the story that people hold on to.”
“It’s a terrible thing. I really don’t know why they did it, because they spray painted on it ‘East Coast’–and we’re in the East Coast. Like, if they vandalized it and they put ‘West Coast’ then it is understandable. But putting ‘East Coast’ and spilling blood on it like the red paint makes no sense. It’s definitely done by somebody not from out here. It had to be someone that has something against the East Coast to make it look like it is somebody from the West Coast,” local Keyfood supermarket co-owner Subi Wuddi told the Amsterdam News on Tuesday evening. By then, artist Ballentine had repainted the mural, the damage gone.
Wuddi added that it was not the guy with a dog as reported, he is known to the neighborhood and denied being involved. It was another individual who “spraypainted it, then threw a can of paint. He came prepared.”
Biggie became known for his poignant lyrics about dealing drugs on the Fulton Street block as a youth, set to beats by Puff Daddy––the ’90s saw his star rise. A protracted, possibly manufactured beef between the East and West Coast rap world saw violence and disruption in the world of rap.
Residents say that what was scrawled on the picture in the East Coast City of New York, close to Biggie’s Brooklyn homestead makes no sense to folks trying to figure out who the culprit is.
“Hip hop raised me, along with so many other Brooklynites, and Brooklyn raised Biggie,” Public Advocate Jummane Williams, told the Amsterdam News, “Vandalizing this mural just blocks from this icon’s home is disrespectful to the artist, his family, the broader Brooklyn community and identity, and the world he impacted. The Brooklyn way is to spread love, not destruction.”
The NYPD public information told Amsterdam News, “There are no arrests and the investigation remains ongoing.”
Retired NYPD captain, and current mayor of New York City Eric Adams told the paper, “Biggie is a hero to our community, and that’s darn sure not how you spread love the Brooklyn way, as Biggie would say.” The city’s chief executive officer who held an event at City Hall to mark what would have been Biggie’s 50th birthday continued, “We’re going to look into that and make sure that mural is cleaned up and repaired because this has a place there and it remains there, and we want to find the person responsible.”
Any time of the day in the New York City borough––in particular folk walking, on bikes, in cars, or through open apartment windows––can be heard blasting Biggie hits: “Big Poppa,” “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” “Juicy,” Life After Death” etc. Passersby usually join in at whichever verse is pouring out of the speakers. Biggie––contradictions notwithstanding––is a “hood hero” because he really did go from “ashy to classy,” to quote his famous line. His come-up is well documented, his murder is still a topic.
Biggie used to bag groceries at the Keyfood supermarket which is directly opposite the mural. It has been owned and operated by the Wuddi family for decades, and proudly displays a tribute to their famous one-time employee. Subi Wuddi continued, “Yes, I knew him personally. I was in the ‘Juicey’ video. He was a good guy.
“He used to bag groceries here, and his mother, Violetta Wallace, is a sweetheart. He comes from a good, educated background. He was a good person, and until this day his name and legacy carries. Last Saturday [at Crispus Attucks Park], they had the Biggie basketball tournament for the kids. His mother funds that every year for the kids. Plus she takes the kids on three charter buses to the water parks: to Wolf Creek, Great Adventures, Hershey Park. She gives back to the community, she gives back to the churches in the neighborhood. So, yes, she gives back.”
While Ballentine has been able to fix the damage, the energy in the proud neighborhood of the Biggie-stronghold is both vexation and disappointment.Amsterdam News nightlife columnist David Goodson said,“Not Surprisingly, it’s a whodunnit regarding who would do such an act. Instead we’ve been hearing disparaging remarks from a new wave of artists regarding the accomplishments and skill level of BIG. Unfortunately their expression is often rooted in disrespect.”