There is a fight brewing in one community board in Brooklyn over whether or not Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. should have a corner named after him. During discussions about whether to co-name the corner of St. James Place and Fulton Street “Christopher Wallace Way,” several board members threw heavy objections the deceased rapper’s way. CB2 committee member Lucy Koteen said, “He started selling drugs at 12, he was a school dropout at 17, he was arrested for drugs and weapons charge, he was arrested for parole violations, he was arrested in North Carolina for crack cocaine, in 1996 he was again arrested for assault, he had a violent death and physically the man is not exactly a role model for youth. I don’t see how this guy was a role model and frankly it offends me.”
No one can argue with the historical content of her statement. These are facts that are more than likely pulled straight from Wikipedia. But is she missing the point? We are all aware of Christopher Wallace’s shortcomings (even if we didn’t see the horrible biopic), but should this immediately discount him from consideration? Perhaps it rests on whether we think Biggie is important to the history of the place he grew up, and whether this should be celebrated.
As the article in DNAinfo New York succinctly puts it, “Wallace was raised by a single mother at 226 St. James Place in Clinton Hill. He went on to become an award-winning rapper and Brooklyn icon. He was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles in 1997.” He rose from this place and brought the story of his struggle to the world. He may not have made as much of an effort as more activist-minded rappers like 2Pac to give back to the community, but he did contribute to the cultural history of Clinton Hill.
Maybe the real fight here is for hip-hop’s consideration as a serious art form, as it’s unlikely the same type of accusations would be hurled at someone like Pablo Picasso, no matter his personal life.
The question that does remain is how moralistic we as a society want to be when naming our streets, whether you need to be Mother Teresa or her equivalent to have the honor of your name on a sign. Is street-naming a chance to scrub our history of anyone who had any prominent objectionable qualities, or is it an opportunity to preserve figures who contributed to the cultural richness of our neighborhoods and cities, no matter how imperfect? Maybe the real fight here is for hip-hop’s consideration as a serious art form, as it’s unlikely the same type of accusations would be hurled at someone like Pablo Picasso, no matter his personal life. And no matter how you personally feel about Biggie, that is certainly a fight worth choosing a side for.