Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I used to love Biggie Smalls

Who shot ya?/Seperate the weak from the ob-solete
I used to love Biggie Smalls a.k.a The Notorious B.I.G a.k.a the black Frank White a.k.a Christopher Wallace with a consuming passion, an obsessive replay such as I had not felt since I first listened to Eminem’s 1999 Slim Shady LP and I was going, ‘Oh my God, that song is about me! That’s my life!” Rock Bottom, 2005/2006, ‘I deserve respect; but I work a sweat for this worthless check/Bout to burst this tech, at somebody to reverse this debt/Minimum wage got my adrenaline caged/Full of venom and rage...’ that was me and some of my closest friends! This what we were going through, meeting at that nameless bar in Wandegeya, sometimes in Kisenyi, to put our money together to buy liquors that would enable us to walk home, to sleep, to get up and face another day. And another. And another. If I Had...a million dollars...realer to me & my friends, in its fantastical dreaming than all the Scratch for Cash card games sneaky businessmen in Kampala, before the breweries joined in on the robbing blind spree the Kikuubo-Owino people who would never go to a casino but had the gambling gene, and believed, sometimes you can get lucky and get rich, bibaawo, they knew someone who knew someone who had become rich like that, they even bought a Pajero and now fly to Dubai for business and pleasure. 

 Eminem spoke to me like that. But he did not come as close to the near wordless connection I had the instant I tumbled into the Ready to Die world of Biggie Smalls. Yes, I knew Tupac Shakur, and I have reached a time in life when I appreciate that it no longer has to be either Tupac or Biggie Smalls-just as it does not have to be either Bebe Cool or Bobi Wine, Jose Chameleone or the others-I can love them both without guilt. But from the first time I heard Biggie Smalls Ready to Die album, with that stunning intro of the caterwauling baby and then a heartbeat progress through the life of that baby, man, I was hooked! These rap guys were being as innovative as the rock guys used to be (1950s-1970s), and as the New Orleans spilling out jazz guys had been (1880s-1950s). I was blown! 

Almost from the get go, instinctively even, I knew Biggie Smalls was like John Keats to Tupac Shakur’s Percy Shelley, that Biggie Smalls was like Martin Luther King Jr to Tupac’s Malcolm X. They were like twins separated at birth and one could not have been as great as they became without the other there to challenge them. I knew then that American critic Edmund Wilson had been prescient in noting that a writer is only as good as the best minds of their generation they are writing for, because every writer writes for someone they know, and this art is sort of a love letter, a dialogue when they cannot meet or see each other as much as they would have wanted to. 

With Tupac I knew could expect an education, sometimes a raving diatribe don’t you see if we only do this life could be better lecture. Tupac was sometimes like those shouting themselves hoarse preachers who stride between Kampala matatus trapped in traffic jams with scowling, reluctant listeners who have no escape. Biggie Smalls. Biggie Smalls was like the teacher who tells you in primary school, today we will not be in class, let’s go out and play-and you remember that lesson for the rest of your life, will tell your spouse and children about it one day, with an untroubled smile and wistful look they have never seen on your face.With Biggie... Biggie Smalls could do Everyday Struggle but he could also do something as silly and delightful as Living the Life like rapper Ludacris at his best or Snoop Dogg making anything sound tuxedo cool.

Like that English man Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci, ‘I never did see anything as comic as a man in love’ Biggie Smalls a master of mixing the high abstract with the lowly everyday muddy fingered realities of where Pringles come from, ‘You can be the shit, flash the fattest five (that's right)/Have the biggest dick, /but when your shell get hit/You ain't worth spit, just a memory’ and then get ready to Spit your Game

I used to love Biggie Smalls! I still do. 

But you can only love a dead man for so long. After sorrow. Before a living, breathing one takes your breath away. Reminds you the sun is still in the sky. Tuesday follows Monday. That groundnut sauce with smoked fish is still likely to curl your toes of pleasure. 

And Jay-Z’s On to the Next One did that. Where ‘Friend or Foe’ from 1996’s Reasonable Doubt had me thinking..hmmm... that slick black & white video with unashamed touches of Batman film Dark Knight, On to the Next One with "Niggaz want my old shit/buy my old album...I got to keep it moving..." finally hit it right. 

Then digging into the delights of the new Real Player’s ability to download YouTube videos, Lost One was like a forehead shove-hey, pay attention! Almost four years after Ishta had pointed it out in her no longer existent blog, as the 2006 Kingdom Come song that took her from the side that blogs over cappered Jiggaman had lost it to paying props to the Dirt off your Shoulder ‘best rapper alive.’ 

Because a song like Lost One, with a video like that, slow elegiac Godfather trilogy beginning, a varnished lost world that’s not quite lost, with it’s painting of scene on scene confirms Hova operating on another level, the hard crustacean shell off...

They don't...paint pictures/They just trace me (What More Can I Say?)

     Time don't go back, it go forward
Can't run from the pain, go towards it
Some things can't be explained, what caused it?
Such a beautiful soul, so pure, shit
Gonna see you again, I'm sure of it
Til that time, little man I'm nauseous
Your girlfriend's pregnant, the lord's gift
Almost lost my faith, that restored it
It's like having your life restarted
Can't wait for your child's life, to be a part of it
So now I'm child-like, waiting for a gift
To return, when I lost you, I lost it


Sleeks said...

It's hard to hate...very hard to hate. Dude has style, and some grace even.

steven said...

Who woulda thunk you could EVER place anyone on a higher plane than Biggie!!!

Iwaya said...

Sleek-true, true!

Steven-stop yanking my chain! You know I did not elevate above...I just said, well, he is very good too.

Ishta said...

Lost One was deep. I think I'll go and listen to it now. But to me the baddest rap album of our most recent times is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy!

Iwaya said...

Not got a chance to listen to Twisted Fantasy yet...now it's on the list!...but 808's & Heartbreak certainly wowed me. Did you read Russell Simmons open letter to Kanye West? Beautiful stuff. Never did 600 words say so much!

Estella said...

This is evoking, David, you've gone and made me fall in love with a dead man whose music i've never even listened to!I'm not a music girl but my kid brother was crazy about Tupac way back and would effortlessly rap along to all his lyrics and i remember thinking that man Tupac should have become a politician and gone on to become the first black American president.
Well, I really love your writing, David, and will most definitely be stopping by often. I've also opened a blog at wordpress; will you be a gentleman and add me to your blogroll? That is if you get to like my taste of quintessence, of course!

kiki said...

beautifully written.love your blog.have you watched the EMAs when, during a performance by 30 seconds to mars,kanye makes a surprise appearance? also, another band worth checking out is plan B.they sing a beautiful blend of soul and hiphop

Iwaya said...

Estella-welcome to the obsession! As for the link up-working on it. Planning some overhauls on M&C and will incorporate your link.

Kiki-Thanks so much. Now I'm looking out for those recommends.

petesmama said...

I saw the title of this post, mbu 'I used to love Biggie Smalls.'

And my first reaction was 'used to?' Canst thou ever be cured?