biggie-smalls-mural
Photo: Raymond Boyd

Iconic Biggie Smalls Mural May Soon Be Destroyed

This weekend, Brooklyn will celebrate what would have been the 45th birthday of Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. Ever since his premature death in 1997, images of the legendary MC have graced walls all over the borough that he represented to the fullest. To this day, if you travel in Brooklyn it’s impossible to miss art dedicated to the late hip hop star. Which explains why local residents are outraged that one of the most recognized memorials to B.I.G.—situated on the side of a building on Bedford Ave and Quincy Street—may soon be destroyed.

A collaboration between Scott “Zimer” Zimmerman, and Naoufal “Rocko” Alaoui, the mural was designed to be the biggest B.I.G. mural ever. The lyrics in the background are taken from “Microphone Murderer,” a cut from Biggie’s very rare demo tape. The artists were joined by Biggie’s neighbors, community, and even members of the Old Gold Brothers crew in celebrating this particularly well-placed public portrait of Brooklyn’s Finest.

The building’s landlord, Samuel Berkowitz, is planning to demolish the mural in order to make space for more windows. The landlord’s priority is maximizing his real estate market value, and the more window space, the more he can charge for rent. “Why should I keep it?” Berkowitz said when asked for comment. “I don’t even see the point of the discussion. I could demolish the building if I wanted to.” According to records from the Department of Buildings, Berkowitz secured the permits to demolish the wall back in March, which also marked the 20th anniversary of Biggie’s murder.

Despite Berkowitz seeing no reason to keep the mural, many Brooklyn residents do—including myself. I was born in Brooklyn nearly an entire year after Biggie’s death, but his impact is not lost on me or many of the new generation that grew up in the 2000s. The iconic image of B.I.G. with the crown on his head, shot by photographer Barron Claiborne, is more than just a great portrait; it’s a symbol for his status as not only the king of hip hop, but the king of New York. It’s a representation for all the kids in Brooklyn who grew up wanting to wear their own crowns. Whether it be on the sides of buildings or on the front of T-shirts, it’s an image plastered all across New York City. The ubiquity translates to how much Christopher Wallace truly mattered to this borough.

However, none of that matters to Berkowitz. The history and legacy of Biggie Smalls and the east coast hip hop culture he helped bring to prominence appear to be lost upon a new era of Brooklyn residents. Berkowitz is more concerned with AirBNB-ing out his space to millennials than in upholding the culture of this borough. His cultural indifference highlights the primary dilemma with gentrification: when a new group of people from a different culture move into a place previously inhabited by “the other,” they begin to get rid of all remnants of that culture. Biggie’s close friend Lil Cease recently lamented the fact that his efforts to rename St. James Place as “Christopher Wallace Way” have been unsuccessful.

The Brooklyn I grew up with is slowly fading away and being replaced with one dominated by white girls in their early 20s who consider Lena Dunham’s minority-scarce GIRLS a realistic depiction of New York.

New York City is undeniably rap and hip hop’s first home. From Jay Z to Nas to the Wu-Tang Clan, hip-hop’s heart and soul can be found here—and the spirit of the New York City rap scene lives within the legacy of Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. Biggie was at the forefront of the East Coast rap renaissance of the mid 1990s, and a cornerstone of rap as a whole.

The Biggie mural is just a spoke on the wheel of erasing the previous customs that made Brooklyn the cultural juggernaut that it is in the first place. With 100s of racks of Citi Bikes and new mayonnaise shops opening up every month, the original Brooklyn that came to be because of its gritty and rugged, yet awfully charming essence is being torn apart because of people like Berkowitz.

 

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