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Writing About Music (Honors 345A)

This guide features essays written by students as part of the class Writing About Music (Honors 345A, Fall 2018).

Notorious B.I.G. (Zack Tu)

Christopher Wallace, also known as The Notorious B.I.G, had a quick ascension to stardom in nineties hip hop. Born in Brooklyn, Wallace became the de facto voice of East Coast Rap after the release of his debut album, Ready to Die—his only album not to be released posthumously. He came into the game when every big hip hop artist was from the West Coast and flew straight to the top. His rise fueled the East Coast-West Coast rap feud with him and Tupac Shakur as the heavy hitters (though they were friends for a time outside the recording studio). This rap beef started during a time of major gang violence. Wallace was murdered less than half a year after Shakur was killed. Considered to be two of the greatest rappers to ever live, they only had a few years to leave such a permanent mark on the world.
Released sixteen days after his death, Wallace’s second studio album Life After Death is a continuation of his debut album. Already known for his unique flow and storytelling of semi-autobiographical events, Wallace continues this style in his second album. Many of the songs are all about his lyrics and rhyme scheme, with the beat taking a backseat and never overtaking him while still being iconic in their own right. This is most evident in the first single of the album, “Hypnotize.” Anybody who has listened to the song before can instantly recognize the beat even though it is not the centerpiece of the song. When the listener pays attention to the lyrics one can see that Wallace is a musical genius. He melds each rhyme into the next, making the entire piece flow like a waterfall.
I think that Wallace had a feeling that he would not have much time on this Earth. Even before his first album, he understood the position and culture he was in during that era. It was dangerous to be someone like him, not just because of racism, but because of people envying his success and offended at what he has to say. However, it seems he did not care too much about dying young, he just wanted to put out music that represented who he was and what he wanted to speak about. He died shortly before Life After Death while in Los Angeles to promote his first single, “Hypnotize”. He knew the nature of the situation in Los Angeles because he hired bodyguards to protect him while he was there. Some accused him of Shakur’s death a few months prior since—at the time—they had personal beef between each other.
Wallace almost knew that his time was up, and wanted to eek out the most out of the position he was given to speak about his hardship and the hardship of people that looked like him. He wanted to make the most out of a lose-lose situation. Life After Death is a too much of an appropriate title for his album because the idea and caricature of The Notorious B.I.G. grew to a size that he probably did not even imagine. His ethos lives on—even after death.

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