“It was all a dream.”
Twenty years after Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace’s untimely passing at 24, the hip-hop icon was honored with the ASCAP Founders Award at the 2017 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards on Thursday (June 22). Donning one of his father’s trademark Kangol hats and shades, his son Christopher Jordan “C.J.” Wallace was on hand for the celebration at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.
“Tonight means a lot of things,” said C.J., who was only five months old when his father’s life was tragically taken. “But at the top of the list, it means inspiration and continuing to push the legacy forward in many different ways.”
C.J. is doing that by following in his father’s footsteps. He’s one-third of Non-Fixtion, a group that includes Lotus Ley and his brother Jahad Russaw (whose father is Faith Evans’ former husband, Todd Russaw). For all three, Biggie remains a pivotal driving force. “My father’s a huge inspiration for us,” C.J. told Rap-Up. “Tonight, we’re looking back 20 years and seeing how many people he’s impacted and how much he’s impacted us.”
That impact goes far beyond family ties, according to Remy Ma. “Some people come to the game and they’re just in the game. Some people come to the game and they literally change the whole dynamic of what’s going on,” said Remy, who was being recognized for “All the Way Up.” “When B.I.G. came out, people started rapping different, dressing different, talking differently. Those are the people that you tend to reflect on and call legends. What he did deserves this type of recognition.”
That level of influence had its roots in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where a young Christopher Wallace lived with his mother, Voletta Wallace, back when he had the red and black lumberjack (with the hat to match). Remy’s husband Papoose, who is also from B.K., stressed just how important he continues to be for one of hip-hop’s most important boroughs. “If you from Brooklyn and you don’t put Biggie first when they ask you for your top rappers,” he said, “then you ain’t from Brooklyn. I can’t even explain it. You gotta literally be from Brooklyn to understand what Biggie means to us.”
While that hometown hero effect might be unique to Brooklyn, Biggie’s talents transcended boundaries. On the other side of the country, Mistah F.A.B. also found himself being inspired by Frank White’s skills and his story, starting with “Juicy,” the breakout single from B.I.G.’s debut Ready to Die, in which he muses about not having a Super Nintendo or a Sega Genesis, and about how “birthdays was the worst days.”
“You can hear somebody who grew up in poverty, with a single mother trying to raise a child, fighting the temptations of being in the streets, wanting to do right, but still being plagued by having to do wrong to survive,” explained F.A.B. “That duality, knowing you have to do wrong to do right, is kind of an oxymoron, but he exemplified that and represented that to the fullest. That resonated in my heart growing up in Oakland, Calif. where we had very similar situations.”
Thanks to his unique charm, lyrical depth, and relatability, Biggie has influenced rappers long after his death. KYLE, for instance, was only four years old in Ventura, Calif. when the Bad Boy legend passed, but years later, he discovered the Notorious one through vintage footage, noting his supreme excellence on the mic was eye-opening.
“Until about 10 or 11, hip-hop was foreign to me,” said the “iSpy” star, who performed at the event. “I was listening to rock music and stuff, but I needed to discover hip-hop for myself. The first figure I remember polarizing, really capturing my attention, was Biggie. It was the video of him battling on the corner. Never before had I seen something so raw. That was always like my guide for what an MC should be, especially when I started rapping myself. My favorite rapper is Jadakiss and he gives all his praise to Biggie so I always looked at B.I.G. as a checkpoint of where you should be trying to get to, almost like a destination marker, like, ‘This is the level of flow, the level of bars, and the level passion you should have.'”
The Rhythm & Soul Awards also included a celebration of iconic producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who received the ASCAP Voice of Music Award. Speaking with Rap-Up, Jam said it was a particularly meaningful honor. “At the base of it, it’s great because it’s a songwriter award,” he explained. “I think a lot of people think of us mostly as producers, but most of the songs we produce, we write, so I love being recognized as a writer.”
Sevyn Streeter, who presented awards at the event, gushed about what Jam and Lewis meant for her growing up. “I love them so much,” she explained on the red carpet. “Their ears for melody, I could pass out on this floor right now. I could just take one artist. All of their Janet [Jackson] records, and the melodies, and the chords, and everything being in the right place gives me chill bumps. I live for it. Honoring them, we’re giving people their flowers while they’re still here. We gotta start doing that more.”