March 9th has been etched in hip-hop history as a day of mourning the death and celebrating the life of Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, who was killed in a still-unsolved shooting in 1997 at the age of 24. Kareem “Biggs” Burke, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, thinks of this date with even more meaning than most, since he knew the iconic MC.
“When I think about March 9th, I think about one of the greatest writers, the greatest personalities, one of the greatest people that’s gone,” he tells Rap-Up. “Big was really young. We lost…a great talent that, I think, would have been one of the best artists of all time, outside of hip-hop. What he left on this game, his mark is still living. I’m definitely happy about that, especially for his kids and his family. It’s something that’s truly missed.”
Biggie passed just months after Tupac Shakur died in a separate unsolved shooting. As two of the most iconic rappers that the genre has ever seen, their legacies remain intertwined, even for Biggs. “You’re gonna think about ‘Pac at the same time,” he adds. “Those are two people that I think would be game changers and I know the world wishes they were still here. They have the impact on us, just like Bob Marley does on music as well.”
Whenever loved ones talk about Biggie today, many remember the smiles and laughter that he brought along with him. Biggs is no exception, as he remembers their first meeting fondly. “That’s when we noticed their crew was really like ours,” he explains of the recording session for “Brooklyn’s Finest” between JAY-Z and B.I.G. “That’s what we do, we joke and play. Everybody’s really like brothers.”
After the session, both camps went to watch Bernie Mac perform a standup routine, but it was Biggie who made his friends laugh with a particularly impressive skill. “When Big got there, he was like, ‘I need some weed,'” Biggs recalls. “They got like an ounce of weed and Cease rolled like 60 blunts, and Big smoked all of them [laughs]. That was kinda crazy. I ain’t ever seen anything like that before.”
This friendship blossomed into one of the most legendary Monopoly games of all time, played on the set of the video for “Dead Presidents.” Big joined the Roc-a-Fella squad, playing the board game with real money. Great video concept, right? But Biggs says it was more than that. “Playing Monopoly with real money, that was just something that we did,” he said. “We had to floss. Also, at the same time, we had to front on Big and them too, because we didn’t drop an album yet so we was like, ‘What we talkin’ about is real.’ There was a respect level there, but you know, it was always friendly competition.”