I was 12 years old when Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. died. Honestly, I had never really heard of either of them until that point. I was raised on the non-mean streets of Scottsdale, Arizona. Compton it was not. My exposure to anything remotely close to gangster was incredibly limited. The affect their deaths had on me was not one of sadness, but curiosity. I found out who these two figures were postmortem and only then beginning to learn about them. The first record I had ever heard by these two was Tupac’s “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” and the first lyric I ever heard was from the song “Bomb First” (and this is edited because I’m a classy individual) “These n**** is still f**** talkin? You n**** still breathin? F**** roaches, aight. Aight, it’s the Raid for you cockroaches.” The sound you heard is the sound of my 12 year old mind being completely blown. I had never heard anything like that. Violent, angry, profane, and all business. Who is this man, who is he angry at, why? A few of my friends and I listened to that album a lot over the next few months. It was so foreign. It was a different world, and I knew I wasn’t a part of it but I had the ability to look inside. My exposure to Notorious B.I.G. came shortly after, but none of it resonated then as much as Tupac’s album did. Did I like Tupac when I was 12, or was I merely just amazed at what was happening on that record? I’d say mostly the latter. Let’s fast forward 18 years to present day. Plenty of these gentlemen’s music have been listened to, and opinions have been formed. The following reasons are why I enjoy the music of Notorious B.I.G. more than I do Tupac Shakur’s.
My Childlike Fascination with New York
I have spent my entire life on the West Coast, and one in that situation usually flies the Tupac flag high and hard. I can’t blame someone for doing that. However, it’s my childlike fascination with New York that pulls me in the direction of Biggie. I’m not sure when this fascination began. Maybe it was the movie The Newsies! Biggie opened my eyes to the other side of the country. Biggie embraced this “Don” figure that has such a New York gangster feel and look to it. A smooth gentlemen figure that you do not want to cross. This fascination extends to all parts of the city. Any chance I get to travel to New York I take. Once I am there I feel compelled to walk anywhere and everywhere. New York City and its boroughs are magically different compared to Scottsdale and Los Angeles (my only homes for 30 years). Yes, there is garbage everywhere. Yes, it can be seedy at times. Matt Baker does not care! It is an amazing place. When I listen to Notorious BIG’s music I feel like he is rapping me through New York. Walking with me through the glam (we are both outsiders in our own ways), and walking me through the parts of the New York I would not have the balls to go through otherwise. Notorious B.I.G. wanted to expose the rest of the country to the greatness of New York (if they didn’t already know), and do justice to the part of New York he grew up in (the part most people did not know/care about). Do I ever actually feel like I am a part of his world? Not really. At least I am being welcomed into it for a short period of time.
Biggie Makes My Head Nod
This is not going to be a debate on sampling in beats, and whether or not it is stealing or creativity. Blah, blah, blah. Regardless of what it is, Biggie’s tracks make me nod my head more than Tupac’s. The beat for “Hypnotize” might be one of the most recognizable beats in rap history. If you put that on at any party, on any college campus, there is a 100% chance it is met with overwhelming approval. Have you ever heard the song “Kick in the Door”? It is fitting that it samples “I Put a Spell on You” because I can’t get enough of it. I could just sit there and listen to the instrumental version on loop. He embraces old school soul and funk music and makes it his own. Even when Biggie is trying to be more serious, his beats still have some carelessness to them. I say carelessness, not as in his doesn’t care about being serious, he is just being serious on his own terms. Now, I’m not saying I do not like Tupac beats, they should be commended for their originality and pure West Coast feel, but his music tends to amp me up while Biggie winds me down makes me want to chill. If I was in the NFL, and it was game day, I’d probably choose Tupac, and then proceed to rip faces off on the field. Once we won the game, I’m blasting Biggie in the locker room. I’m not in the NFL, obviously. I don’t need to be amped up. Give me the locker room victory celebration.
A Little Bit of Gangster Goes a Long Way
There is no debating who was more “gangsta.” Tupac. Tupac was more gangster. He even had “Thug Life” tattooed on his body. However, that does not mean he was stupid. If you want the more socially conscious rapper, Tupac is also your man. He had his finger on the pulse of the community, and he wanted it there. He wanted to do right by his people, and he wasn’t afraid to mix it up if he had to, and mix it up he did. His music is so heavy. It feels like a weight dragging me down while listening to it. Don’t forget though, that his surroundings were a weight on him, dragging him down. It would have been an injustice to his upbringing if he were to completely set that aside. He wanted you to know about it, and he wanted you to feel it, not because he wanted to drag you down with him, but because he wanted you to really truly know that this is how his side lives. I will never truly know what it was like to be Tupac. I would never be foolish enough to think that’s possible. Biggie wanted you to know about his upbringing, but that is because it is part of his story, not a part of his future. Yes, I’m sure Tupac wanted to break free and move to a “new house on a new hill” (to quote Dr. Dre), but his primary focus was the community. It led to Tupac song being more poetry, and that is why people say he is the greatest rapper of all time. I’m not going to argue that. The reason I relate, as much as I possibly can, to Biggie is because he was not so bogged down as Tupac was. Yes, Biggie had it rough. Yes, Biggie had struggles that are much greater than many many people, but he was going to crush those troubles. I think referencing Scarface would be cheap and obvious, but that’s what I am about to do…Biggie wanted to live lavishly like Scarface. He wanted to provide for his family, and he wanted to have fun while doing it. That is why his music is not nearly as heavy as Tupac’s. That is why my privileged mind enjoys his music more than Tupac’s. Tupac felt like sometimes he thought so much and so hard that he was on the verge of going insane. All the great thinkers are like that though. Does my opinion make me oblivious to his struggles? No, I’m not denying the struggles. Does it mean I do not care about the hardships that Tupac and his community faced? No, I care. Just because you prefer Tupac’s music may not mean you care more, you might just be living vicariously through him. It’s not up for me to say. For someone, like myself, who truly will not know what it is like to be Tupac, a little bit of gangster goes a long way in music. If you look at music from every angle, when it comes to lyrics, social consciousness, and influence, Tupac would rightly be considered a better rapper than Biggie but if I am going for pure enjoyment then Notorious B.I.G. is my pick.