I hate mainstream hip-hop. I don’t hate all hip-hop, but I hate mainstream hip-hop with a passion. I know it is sacrilegious in America for a young black person to say it, but I do. The day I really began to develop a dislike for mainstream hip-hop was the Monday after Biggie was shot. I was a senior in high school and only had been in a stable home for about five years, after considerable drama and living in a nasty housing project. Feeling the sting of being made fun of for my lack of funds and my "blaccent," I was desperate to forget and shed off everything "hood" in me, so at the time, and for a long time after words, Biggie wasn't my cup of tea. But on that Sunday morning when I heard the news of his death, I felt a deep sadness, a certain familiar emotional pang that so many African Americans feel when we hear of a young life wasted over something insignificant.
The morning Biggie was on the topic of almost everyone's minds in Curtis high school, located in University Place, a suburb of Tacoma. Almost to a person the expressions ranged from shock to astonishment to contempt. I didn't pay much attention to them until one kid said "Oh, boy who do you think is gonna die next, snoop? Nas?" Just then the realization hit me so hard I nearly doubled over. Two talented young men had died over something painfully trivial, and to these privileged kids it was a game, an event, something you watch for pleasure, as if BET and MTV were the roman coliseum and both rappers were the Christians and the lions. The kid was salivating over a young man's death as if it was a punt return for a touchdown.
For, in hindsight, has there been any two cultural figures in African American arts and letters so woefully miscast? Listen to Biggie’s narratives and lyrics and you will hear the same artistic sensibility as Richard Wright, a young man trying to transcend the nightmare of his existence by brutal, unrelenting honesty, serving his own life story as a warning to millions of kids. And if 2pac was born 20 to 30 years before he was, one can easily imagine him as a cultural theorist or firebrand righteous activist in the mode of Fred Hampton or Fred Shuttlesworth. But because Suge Knight, who belongs in a pit below sing sing, and Sean “P-diddy” combs, one of the 21st century's greatest race hustlers, wanted to make themselves and the record executives they work for some money by starting a beef, that didn't happen.