Filed under: BK All Day,Features,Interviews,Rest In Peace,The 90's Files
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Seems like the perfect time to revisit Uptown‘s memories of his friendship with Biggie Smalls…
Uptown: I was about 10, 11 years old. I grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York – about three blocks from where Biggie Smalls lived. Me and a whole bunch of friends would go around in the neighborhood and do these little block parties. They would stop the street off, put a DJ out there and we would grab the mic. Biggie, Half-A-Mil, there’s a couple of us that was out there together in the neighborhood, used to go ‘round to all kind of block parties and do the shows. Me and Biggie Smalls, we would bump heads a lot. He lived three blocks away from me – I was on Nostrand Ave and he lived closer to Clinton. My people knew his people and they were always trying to get us together, ‘cos they knew it would be a great fuckin’ show. Big was a cool dude. I have a homeboy right now, if he could find some of the cassette tapes that me, him and Big did in the crib, rhyming while we smoked a blunt and shit like that, he would probably be a millionaire.
Even though he was big-time, he was known to come back in the neighborhood, sit down and chat with us when he didn’t have to. He used to make jokes at me, ‘cos he had first took a ear to the Buckshot LeFonque project. “Let me find out you a jazz rapper now? So now you don’t do parties? You do fuckin’ jazz?” We grew-up respecting each other – he knew the skills I had, I knew the skills he had. We just used to make fun of it. He was like, “Well I’m glad you took that route, now I can get all my money!” Just to know that he was still paying attention to the stuff that I did was an honor to me.
It seemed like he continued to study his craft even after all the success.
He was smarter than people gave him credit for. He kept his ear to the street, no matter how big he got. He would still come around and chill with us, to see what it was, still in the street. That’s why he was so good at what he done, because his lyrics came from the streets and he would go back to them same streets and hang. That’s why every time he came out with another song, the streets’ respect it because they knew he got it from the streets. It wasn’t some make-believe shit. Even when he was famous, he would come around the neighborhood and sit out there and drink a beer with us and just chill. That’s why he was unstoppable. He never left the street. Of course the streets can be dangerous for somebody who’s that famous now, but that didn’t stop him from coming around and still hanging with us. That gained him more respect than anybody! Why you think when he did pass, they wheeled his casket all around Brooklyn? We had real love for Big, that wasn’t for TV, that shit was real.
It made his pen game so sharp. If you wasn’t from the streets like he was, you couldn’t just come off the top of your head like that. He wasn’t a dude who wrote his lyrics down, he just went to the studio and spit it. The only time he had to write ‘em was when he had to submit ‘em for his copyright! He wasn’t a writer. You give him a beat, he go in the studio – he make a song in the studio – just saying what he felt. The only way that he was able to do that was because he was in the streets, knowing what to say and how to say it. Anybody who was not in the streets could not do that! They would have to go home and write something about it or ask somebody’s input. He didn’t have to do that because he was right there. He didn’t have to have no help.
Do you think he would have been where Jay-Z is today if he was still alive?
It would have been a lot of people that probably wouldn’t have made it in the industry if Biggie was still alive! Jay-Z wouldn’t have had a chance to be that popular. Don’t get me wrong, Jay-Z is nice too, but I don’t think he would have been as successful because he [would have] had to share that limelight. Even when Big did that thing with Bone Thugs, he flipped their style, but in a street way! I can only imagine as times would’ve changed, he only woulda got better and it would have been fearful for a lotta MC’s. Before he did pass, we were beginning to see what the commercialism was doing. That’s how Puff made they money, but it was getting to the point that I don’t think Big wanted to do that no more. That’s why he was coming out with his own label – Brooklyn Mint – he didn’t want that glamour, Versace look no more.
He was Biggie Smalls, he was our Brooklyn street rapper! He was gonna go back to that, and unfortunately his passing came. If he’d have never got killed, they’d have heard some unbelievable shit from him. He was doing more beats with Premier after a while, it wasn’t no more happy radio stuff like the stuff with Ma$e. He was doing stuff like “Kick In The Door” so it was really getting ready to change, he was getting ready to get back on some hardcore, street shit, like Ready To Die, album one type shit. Puffy loves the glamour, but Big was getting his own label and it would’ve been very interesting to see what that turned out to be, ‘cos Biggie would’ve been in the street finding those rappers to sign, not those one’s that’s on TV. He would’ve had a very vicious label to compete – I sure wish it would’ve happened.
What about The Commission?
It was gonna be Big, Charli Baltimore, [Lil’] Kim, Cease – it was gonna be their answer to The Firm. It was gonna be some real hardcore rappers. “OK, y’all think you’re The Firm? Listen to The Commission!”. It would have been crazy. But at that time, that’s when all the drama was going on – now he had to start keeping his ears to the news, because there was so much rumors about this and that, so he ain’t really have enough time to put into The Commission because of all the stuff that was going on around him.
How did you feel about the remix albums that came out after he passed?
Puffy just trying to squeeze every dollar that he could. A friend of mine in the neighborhood, his name was Dre, if he coulda found some of the originals shit he did in his house, that woulda been so much better than all the remixes they put out – because that was hardcore, no rehearsal – just Big being Big. Unfortunately, that’s music that probably will never be heard.
So he still has the tapes but can’t find them?
The last time I spoke to him, I said, ‘What ever happened to all those old tapes when we used to be in your crib, chillin’?’ There was a spell that he had got incarcerated, and when he came home there was a lot of stuff that he couldn’t find, and that was some of the stuff he couldn’t find. I told him if you ever find those things that would be an instant money-maker! Lost fuckin’ tapes of Biggie Smalls? Please! People would just want to know what it sound like.
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