All Day, Daily Dose, Music, Notorious B.I.G -

Biggie mural will not be torn down in Bed-Stuy Art collective rallies enough support to save painting on Brooklyn apartment building

All Day, Daily Dose, Music, Notorious B.I.G -

Biggie mural will not be torn down in Bed-Stuy Art collective rallies enough support to save painting on Brooklyn apartment building

The battle for the crown of King of New York in hip-hop is a succession battle as old as the genre itself. But only one person has ever held that title without question: The Notorious B.I.G. The rap legend and Brooklyn, New York, native’s importance to the borough cannot be overstated from a cultural standpoint, but with the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood being taken over by gentrification, the fate of a popular mural of the slain rapper was up in the air. Now, it will not be destroyed.

Instagram Photo

The details of the situation felt like a violation at first glance because the owner wanted to renovate the apartment building and add new windows. His name is Samuel Berkowitz. So when the group Spread Art NYC put the word out that he wanted it down, reaction was intense. Add that to the fact that he then claimed neighbors were complaining about the crowd it attracted, and then turned down $5,000 to keep it up — countering with an offer of a $1,250 monthly charge — it was a gut punch.

Do we really live in a world where an art collective is coming up with rent money to keep its popular murals for local legends? That’s not a reality anyone wanted to face. So a lot of famous people, including elected officials and other artists, got involved. It’s not going anywhere in the short term. They persuaded the building owner by simply explaining who Biggie was.

Before that, though, all the headlines were similar. Something along the lines of “iconic mural threatened” typically populate the page, with the misleading assertion about the painting itself. It only went up in 2015. The two artists who did it are Scott “Zimer” Zimmerman and Naoufal “Rocko” Alaoui. It’s 2 years old, which is hardly iconic.

What’s iconic is the image itself, a photograph by Barron Claiborne. It was shot for Rap Pages magazine. Three days after that shoot in 1997, the artist, nee Christopher Wallace, was shot and killed. It appeared on the cover and for the two decades since has been bastardized. While the painting added to the original image, the facial expression, the pose, the crown (which has been changed) were all already burned into the brains of most hip-hop fans.

Photo by Barron Claiborne

Photo by Barron Claiborne

Complicating matters even more was that an online petition going around titled #LandmarkBIG was actually causing a rift between factions looking to save the wall. A representative for Claiborne said they get requests to use the likeness of the image almost monthly, so they can’t recall whether this was an authorized usage or not.

The removal of the image would have been unfortunate and sad, but hardly a travesty. If you want a full history of the image and the immediate aftermath of what it meant to Brooklyn at the time, the story is interesting. The story of when the portrait was made, why it was shot and how it spread an image of personality from that shoot is what the essence of B.I.G. was. Besides, that photo isn’t even the best one from the contact sheet.


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