Blurry pictures and videos of a concert. Signed album artwork. The occasional signed female (sometimes, male) chest. All typical Hip-Hop memorabilia a fan may have from his or her favorite artist, but what about an icon’s childhood apartment? As of seven days ago, everyone with $725,000 to spare had the chance to live in the same quarters that Christopher George Latore Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G., once shared with his mother, Voletta Wallace. But a few things have changed since Chris moved out. Due to zoning revisions, Apartment #3L at 226 Saint James Place is now a part of the Clinton Hill community instead of Bedford-Stuyvesant and it was renovated in 2004, making it listed as a 3 bedroom/1 bathroom unit with a living room and study area (refer to the floor plan, below). It’s also a convenient walk to the Barclay’s Center (about a fifteen minute walk). But the real estate agent who the listing was made under, Judith Siegel Lief, was quoted by the NY Daily News saying that the price was “based on the size of the apartment and the light,” and not the celebrity factor.
While this development regarding the sale of the apartment made a minimal splash in online media, it got me thinking about Hip-Hop’s objective value to the public. Granted, had this been the house Elton John or Sheryl Crow grew up in, the story may have made a bit more noise but nothing comparable to front page news. But it was still a slightly unpleasant jab-in-the-ribs-reminder that while Hip-Hop is my life, it comes close to nothing to a lot of other people. While HUSH Tours continues to gain fame and momentum, opportunities to do something meaningful with a piece of history pass us by, like the sale of Biggie’s apartment. Brooklyn rapper, Skyzoo, told us, “if possible, it should be turned into some sort of museum or gallery. Not the entire brownstone, just his actual apartment. The issue though, becomes who’s gonna pay the $1800 a month plus lights to keep it open.” He recognizes that the monthly expenses may render the idea impractical, but I agree with the original sentiment. Rob Markman of MTV News expanded on this thought by sharing with us that, “as a fan I’d love to be able to tour the apartment and see how Biggie lived before his rise to becoming one of the greatest artists of our generation. A move like that would go a long way in showing that Hip-Hop music is genuine art-often times our music and culture is viewed as something less.”
I’m not demanding that namely, a Brooklyn rapper, should have picked up the apartment off the market and transform it into a walk through exhibit of Biggie’s life and legacy, restoring a room or two to its original furnishings. What I am saying is that of all the filthy rich rappers, producers, DJs and managers in this country who attribute their inspiration and start in the game to Christopher Wallace, not one has stepped up to monumentalize the property, or even have a plaque fixed upon or etched into the limestone. I’m not going to debate with people on who the G.O.A.T. in Hip-Hop is, but I will claim that the impact Biggie left on the game is immense on multiple levels, especially given the fact of his extremely short career. And for that, he deserves some commensurate form of appreciation from today’s younger generations.
Skyzoo recalls simpler times before the Junior M.A.F.I.A. was Junior M.A.F.I.A., when Biggie and his clique would be seen out on the streets hanging out. “I met B.I.G. when I was 13. His road manager Hawk, who’s a good friend of mine, lived directly across the street from me, so B.I.G. would be there pretty often. One day he was out there and I went out there and said what’s up to him and he was real cool. But as a kid I saw B.I.G. all the time in passing, as well as Kim, Cease, etc. They were the older kids in the neighborhood before they were Biggie and Junior M.A.F.I.A., and my friends and I were the little bad kids playing basketball and running out of the corner store with pockets full of candy. Good times, man. Good times.” Biggie was a man of the people and the streets. He didn’t try to pretend to be something or someone he wasn’t. He kept it real and is one of the quintessential Cinderella stories in music history. And at this day and age, it is a shame that most kids in the United States don’t know his story unless they’re exposed to Hip-Hop to the chagrin of their parents.
Another issue the sale of Biggie’s apartment brings up is urban planning and rezoning. As certain parts of Brooklyn become richer and others, poorer, the rezoning of the borough has exacerbated some socioeconomic problems instead of alleviating them. Rob Markman relates that “there are blocks that in the 1980s and 1990s you wouldn’t even dare to walk down if you didn’t know the right people. Now Brooklyn feels a lot safer, but the down side is that our neighborhoods are beginning to lose their character. Now that zones are getting shifted, certain families just can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods that they grew up in.” Personally, rezoning can ruin the perception of how, what someone calls a hometown, improves. Skyzoo remembers “when it was Bed-Stuy, when people thought the worst of us. Now its trendy and cool to be here. And the name we came up on should remain attached to it, as proof that “Bed-Stuy” has become better, for us.”
Although the identity of the new owner of the apartment may be a mystery for now, let’s hope and pray he/she is not oblivious to the importance of that space in time. And just in case for those who visited the Sotheby’s listing and didn’t know about the history of the apartment, D.Boss left the sole comment, “RIP Biggie Smalls” – now you know.