How Frying Chicken for Notorious B.I.G. Made Me a Lifelong Fan of Hip Hop
Biggie and me
During the brutal winter of 1997, my sister and I were recruited to the kitchen of the catering shop where my father worked on weekends, to lend our nimble young fingers to tying strands of scallions around cheese-filled filo packages (otherwise known as Beggars’ Purses) while my father fried chicken and whipped up a humongous batch of collared greens. “We’re doing a job for a rapper,” said his boss, a woman whose rotundity fit her chefly position. “Do you girls know about a man named Notorious B.I.G.?”
Anyone with cable and the knowledge of where MTV fell on the dial knew about Notorious B.I.G., his mo’ money and his mo’ problems, his juicy lifestyle and his ability to hypnotize. At 13, Biggie was my gateway to hip hop. He was spending the day in our town, blue blooded to the max, doing a photo shoot at an old haunted mansion on acres of land, now inhabited by a small school of nuns who were just barely able to manage the grounds. Biggie’s people had contacted my father’s boss – one of two caterers in town – to provide him and his entourage with a true Southern feast. Fortunately, my classically trained Swiss father could fry some mean drumsticks.
We didn’t ever get to meet the man himself, though we caught glimpses of Puff Daddy and Mase, and were entranced with the whole setup. They sent their plates back clean.
Several months later, trapped at home during a March snowstorm, MTV broke the news that the Notorious B.I.G. had been shot and killed. The rumors swirled about East Coast/West Coast rivalries, gang affiliations, etc. I remember perfectly, still swaddled in parts of my sledding attire, lying on the couch in rapt attention as the story unfolded.
I don’t look like the type of girl who listens to hip hop. But my love for Biggie went beyond dancing to Mo’ Money at school dances, and it grew into a love of rap music in general – the pop stuff, the underground stuff, even the bad stuff. My freshman year in college, when I was asked by a man holding a banjo what type of music I liked, I replied, “Gangster rap and showtunes.” This was not a lie.
I know that I am incongruous to the stereotypical hip hop ideal. When I was just getting into hip hop, I was responding to the flow and the beats, and desperately wanted to be able to write something as clever as the rappers I was enjoying, even though my father, a self-proclaimed music aficionado, insisted that rap wasn’t really music, just people talking. But hip hop proved to me that there is harmony in subtext, in wordplay, in the right beat and fill and sample. That the first bumps of Hypnotize always hit my heart the same way and make me want to curl and unfurl my body wildly, freely, screaming the lyrics and thrusting my fist forward even if I look like I’m having a seizure while doing it. I understand that as a woman, I should probably say something about the prevalence of misogyny in hip hop, that I should underscore my frustration with all the talk about money and hos and guns and Dom P. But I can’t help the fact that this music gets my blood flowing more than Dave Matthews Band ever did. Though I have blond hair practically down to my ass and though I’ve never lived the life that many of these rappers perpetuate (either before or after fame), and though there’s no way that I will ever be able to dance well (or at least acceptably) to their music, I still love and understand hip hop on a poetic, visceral level, that guides me and pushes me as I drive or run or write.
When I got in the car this morning, I didn’t realize that today was the 15 year anniversary of Biggie’s death. Power 106 was playing all of his greatest hits, mixed together to produce a timeline of the man’s career. I rapped myself hoarse on the way to work today, thanking Biggie for that opportunity so many years ago, to expose myself to a world where no one looks or sounds like me, but a world that speaks to me all the same. And I hope that, wherever he’s landed, Biggie’s as big as ever. I hope that he’s, to quote another gone but not forgotten MC, Guru:
“Above the crowds, above the clouds where the sounds are original
Infinite skills create miracles
Warrior spiritual — above the clouds
reigning/raining down, holdin it down.”