Monday, January 12, 2009
"The most important film of our time" goes the tagline for the new biopic "Notorious” which is the story of the life and death of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. aka "Biggie Smalls." Really? This is a more important film than Malcolm X? And it’s more important than the films about Martin Luther King or films such as "Cry Freedom" or "The Great Debaters?" I don't even think it’s the most important Hip Hop movie. What about Krush Groove or Beat Street?
I’ve loved hip hop since I first heard "Rock Box" by Run-DMC in the early 80's. From the era of Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow, the Sugarhill Gang, the Whodini, Fat Boys, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys in the mid-80's. In the late 1980s it was the EPMD, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. & Rakim, Public Enemy, NWA, the Tribe Called Quest, De la Soul, Queen Latifah, Compton's Most Wanted, and Dr. Dre. They are the legitimate pioneers of rap and hip hop.
Now granted, I can't stomach much of what passes as Hip-Hop nowadays as it seems like it’s geared more towards a segment of the population that wear "skinny jeans" and Mohawk hair styles. In other words most of the stuff nowadays is more for little kids and adolescents.
This brings me back to “Notorious.” His entire career can be confined to two albums. TWO ALBUMS! The first album was "Ready to Die." This album is labeled as a classic but I would have to disagree. Can you really compare it to Public Enemy's "It takes A Nation of Millions." or to Ice Cube’s "Death Certificate" or a Tribe Called Quest’s "Low End Theory?"
These albums defined a generation and helped to revolutionize the way Hip-Hop was viewed. These albums made you think as well as made you move. While all three of these albums are as different as Obama is to Ronald Reagan they are lyrically and musically on point. "Ready to Die" is mostly filled with the usual tales of hustling, sex, standard rap braggadocio and party songs. It is no different than anything that has come before it. The only thing that set this album apart is the beats, which deviated from the mid 90's grimy east coast sound which permeates throughout the albums of such New York artists as Wu-Tang Clan, Black Moon, and Onyx. But this is more attributed to P Diddy and his Hitmen production team and not Biggie himself.
Biggie's first album did showcase a sort of hard-luck case who was able to pull himself up out of a bad situation and become a winner. This could have been inspirational to a lot of people but the whole rags to riches story was nothing new or innovative and neither was the whole "I had to sell drugs to feed my daughter" song and dance which was supposed to make his actions seem honorable without any remorse on his part. At least, when NWA or Ice T. told a tale of drug hustling there was some kind of repercussions within the song. On Biggie’s second album "Life after Death" the content remained the same as the first album except now the tone was less bleak now that he had made it. There were less hard luck songs and more "lets party, drink champagne, and bone random chicks" songs. He even had the good sense to include a how-to song on the rules of selling drugs (the Ten Crack Commandments. This is just what black youth need). However there are a few notable songs contained on "Life after Death" such as "Notorious Thugs" which pairs Biggie with the rapid fire delivery of Cleveland rap quartet Bone Thugs & Harmony and even showcases Biggie impressively going toe to toe with the nimble tongued Bone group.
I don't think that Biggie is without talent. On the contrary I think he is a very talented wordsmith. But to label him as "the greatest rapper of all-time" as a lot of people has done is a slap in the face to all the great emcees that came before and after him who have had more of an impact in the development and evolution of Hip-Hop. What about Krs-One, Big Daddy Kane, Ice Cube, or the man who I think should be in everybody's top-five, a person who revolutionized Hip-Hop music, and in my opinion truly took rap to a new level, that’s Rakim. When are their movies coming out about their lives? That’s not a notorious question.
Fanon Hutchinson is the editor and publisher of a Los Angeles based hip hop and sports blog http://bighutchbaby.blogspot.com