Ideology and Popular Culture
For this assignment I decided to analyze the rise of Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace as an iconic figure in popular culture and how with the right relationships and proper exposure one can be launched into the mainstream media; and also how technological advances have shaped how a person is able to become a part of pop culture over time. But before anyone thought of just posting music videos on the internet waiting for it to reach a million hits, there were people like Christopher Wallace.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised by a single mother. He attended a nice elementary school and received a fair education before entering high school. But once in high school he felt like he was wasting his time there and would rather scheme on how to make money. He saw the crack epidemic in New York at that time as a lucrative business venture. He would soon learn all about the tricks of the drug-trafficking trade from his peers on the corners of Bedstuy and would soon be selling crack himself.
Like many other rappers proclaim in their songs, Biggie spoke on how the richest people in his neighborhood would drug dealers and the only way to acquire the finer things that they had was to become one of them. Biggie had a deep love for hip hop music, and could be caught battling in rap cyphers for the crowds on the street corners, in-between crack sales of course. He made a bit of a name for himself, but only locally and most likely wouldn’t have been recognized outside of Brooklyn. But through word of mouth and a cassette tape Biggie recorded, his name was being mentioned to the then record label assistant Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, who had already produced successful acts in the hip hop industry and introduced Mary J. Blige. Biggie’s relationship with Puff had a lot to do with his opportunity to be a part of pop culture.
After being introduced to Puff, Biggie thought he had a legitimate chance at a record deal, but would soon be disappointed when Puff would be fired from the label, leaving Biggie to go back to the streets. But a drug deal gone wrong got him locked up and he had his stay in prison. His girlfriend gave birth to their daughter while he was incarcerated, and he felt very guilty for not being there; so while on the inside, Biggie wrote his songs, using his daughter as motivation and as a means of remaining sane if nothing else. After being released from prison, not knowing any other way to make money, and no upcoming record deal, he went right back to selling drugs. But when he and a friend were arrested brought in on a weapons charge, he was at risk for going to jail for even longer. Fortunately for Biggie, his friend took the bid, even though he was the innocent one of the two and effectively got Biggie to quit the drug game and focus on his music career. At this time the entrepreneurial Puff had been working to create his own music label in New York by the name of Bad Boy Records. So with his new found motivation, and his relationship with Puff, Biggie found himself as not only a new act as part of this record label, but as the main attraction. His debut album “Ready to Die” was released on September 13th 1994, and is considered by many to be a classic hip hop album, and considered by me to be one of the best.
To me fame is a term closely related to popular culture, and the two are sort of synonymous in a way. If a person or thing is described as famous, it’s likely that they will be recognized by most people who partake in pop culture. It amazes me the type of people who are able to reach fame. Particularly these hip hop stars who were former drug dealers with similar rags-to-riches tales of going from pushing drugs on the corner to having successful and profitable music careers. I think Biggie Smalls is one of the best examples of how an unlikely underdog can be catapulted into pop culture. With a talent for wordplay, he used real life experiences of drug dealing, encounters with gang violence, and sometimes sentimental feelings for his family as inspiration for his songs. But a lot of his fame had to do with having relationships with the right people. Of course 17 years after the release of Biggie’s debut album, there is a multitude of other ways to get a name out into the world, just upload a YouTube video and millions of people will have instant access to it.
While hip hop music can address a wide range of issues, it seems that if a record is more controversial, it is more talked about in the media. I think this has something to do with America’s infatuation with violence, sex and drugs; which all seemed to be emphasized more in rap music than anywhere else. This may be why it became appealing to so many people and didn’t die out as a fad as many thought it would. It went on instead to become a dominant genre of music in popular culture.