Friday, November 2, 2012

Biggie Smalls, the everyday struggle, and me

Biggie Smalls a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G.
Biggie or Tupac?

It's one of those great pop culture debates, like "Beatles or Stones?" or "Partridge Family or Brady Bunch?" (For the record, my answers would be the Beatles and the Bradys, even though "I Think I Love You" is a great record.)

When it comes to the two slain 1990s rappers, I have a clear preference for the work of Christopher Wallace a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls. What on earth could I, a meek Caucasian man from the Midwest, possibly find in the musical output of this rapper whose violent, hardscrabble life began in the Bedford-Stuyvesant  section of Brooklyn? I don't know exactly, but I get a kind of solace from Biggie I don't get at all from Tupac. 'Pac's vocal skills cannot be denied, but something about him seems insincere to me. Look at pictures of Tupac, and you'll notice his chiseled physique and arrogant smirk. Then look at pictures of Biggie, like the one at the top of this article. You'll see haunted eyes, a worried brow, and a face stained by sadness. I think an important factor was his weight. His physical body gave him an outcast's perspective on the world. The sadness seeped into his lyrics. This was a man who began a song ("Suicidal Thoughts") with these brutally self-critical words: "When I die, fuck it, I wanna go to hell. 'Cause I'm a piece of shit. It ain't hard to fuckin' tell." That's my kind of rapper!

(Side note: I also just like the sound of Wallace's voice -- that inimitable, deep rumble which emanated from him. "My slow flow's remarkable," he once bragged in one song. I was even moved to create a crude homemade mashup of Biggie's vocals for "Juicy" with the instrumental for the song "I Yam What I Yam" from the movie Popeye. I called the creation "Juicy Yam," and Matthew "Slug" Brown played it on his podcast once. I recently got a Facebook message from Slug in which he says that "Juicy Yam" still comes up at least once a week in shuffle mode on his iPod.)

The Biggie song which has been running through my head today, though, is "Everyday Struggle." The reasoning is simple: My life is now an everyday struggle. I mean, everyone's life is, but I'm more focused these days on just getting through the routine activities of each and every day. My medication keeps me calm and centered, but that doesn't make it "easy." This was my first full week back at work, and I got through it without incident. That's a major victory in my book. Here's a version of the song I especially enjoy. It combines Biggie's vocals with Frank Sinatra's "A Day in the Life of a Fool." Please take four minutes and listen.

P.S. - It is true that Biggie's lyrics contain sentiments which I cannot possibly condone. I think that's healthy, though. I don't need to agree with everything which comes through my headphones. It's just another person's perspective on the world. We should be shocked by ideas from time to time. Besides, agreeing with people all the time gets boring. I think many people feel they now have an inalienable human right to never be offended by anything ever. That's a lot of nonsense, in my opinion.

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