"Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way."
The Notorious B.I.G. shared this sentiment with the world on his lead single, "Juicy," a hip-hop ode to the American dream. From the moment he entered the rap game until his untimely death in 1997 at the age of 24, Biggie proudly repped his birthplace: Brooklyn. In August, LeRoy McCarthy started a petition to have St. James Place and Fulton Street—the corner where Biggie grew up—co-named Christopher Wallace Way in his honor.
Despite gaining the support of both the local and hip-hop communities, the petition was met with horribly predictable opposition from Community Board members in Brooklyn who feel that Biggie's past, lyrics and appearance make him unworthy of an intersection named after him. McCarthy refuses to let this obstacle stop him.
We spoke to him about his reasons for starting the petition, the process of having a corner co-named or renamed in someone's honor and hip-hop's continuous fight for respect in a world that still refuses to acknowledge its positive contributions.
You can sign the petition here.
Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
What motivated you to start the petition?
I’ve lived in Clinton Hill since ‘98. I used to live in Atlanta, and when I lived in Atlanta, I used to work for Bad Boy/Arista. When I moved to Clinton Hill, I didn’t know until like a year later that Biggie lived around the block. [Once I learned that] I said there should be some type of symbol for this great artist that lived nearby. Years went by and nothing happened, so I decided to start the petition. First I discussed it with a few people in the neighborhood to see if they would support it, and they said they would, but nobody had done anything. So I took it upon myself to start the petition.
Can you talk about the struggle you’ve experienced having this petition taken seriously? Specifically by Community Board 2.
Community Board 2 includes Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, parts of Bed-Stuy, Boerum Hill, downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights. Some of these Community Board members are in Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Heights is a different tax bracket than Clinton Hill was back in the day, so it’s like a different planet to them. They’re not really comprehending what we’re trying to do. But, at the same time, the community appreciates [Biggie] and respects him.
In your email, you mentioned that you had started petitions to establish a Beastie Boys Square in Manhattan and the Wu-Tang Clan District in Staten Island. Can you describe the process for getting a street or corner renamed or co-named after someone?
For an individual, they have to have been deceased at least three years. For a group or organization, the have to have been an integral part of the community and meet other criteria. With the Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang, MCA passed away from the Beastie Boys and ODB passed away from the Wu and in Queens, Jam Master Jay passed away from Run-DMC. They all fit the criteria to have those things put into place.
Regarding a street name, you need a petition, local support and political support. You need support from a civic association, like a church or a block association too. Different Community Boards have different processes, and even when they say you need "community support" for a petition, it doesn’t specify a number. I have all of the requirements surpassing what is requested.
In reference to Biggie’s lyrics, he was just speaking a language representing where he came from that people in similar situations could identify with. Do you think the people opposed to your petition are really just afraid of hip-hop?
Afraid of hip-hop but also illiterate of hip-hop and the culture that hip-hop is rooted in. They kind of lack the ability to have a clear and concise understanding. If all of your information comes from Wikipedia—
Which can be wrong.
Yeah [laughs]. You can use Wikipedia as a starting point for your research, but you can’t rely on that [as a primary source of information]. But some people don’t think that there’s anything good about people from the ghetto in the first place.
Right. In your email, you also mentioned Big Pun’s sister and her struggle to have a street co-named after him in the Bronx. We see artists like Big Pun and Biggie as cultural icons; they mean more to us because we view them as inspirational figures. Some people simply view them as menaces. It goes back to what you were saying about people being ignorant of the culture. In the essay that I wrote yesterday, a commenter characterized Biggie as a "community menace" and a "repeat offender." This person also questioned what he’s done to have "taxpayer-funded property named after him." What would you say to someone who feels that way?
Let’s go back even further. Let’s go back to 1973 when hip-hop was created in the Bronx. Since 1973—40 years—how much money has hip-hop made for New York City? Where is the representation of hip-hop’s birthplace in New York City and how much respect has been given to hip-hop in New York City? I think that New York City has been suppressing hip-hop and hip-hop culture since the very beginning, yet still taking the money generated from it. All of the popping bottles in the club and all of the fashion that trickles down to New York Fashion Week, a lot of that is influenced by hip-hop culture and there was a lot of money made off of that. So you want to talk about a $100 street sign in honor of someone who hired many people from his own neighborhood and started prosperous careers for individuals and companies including in the record industry, the fashion industry and businesses like record stores.
A lot of negative things have been said about hip-hop, and there hasn’t been a study on it, but New York City has not represented hip-hop in the manner that it deserves to be recognized. That’s contrary to a place like New Orleans, which is the birthplace of jazz. Everywhere you go in New Orleans, they have something that reminds you jazz was founded there. Now to request a street sign for Christopher Wallace—is that such a big thing for New York City to do for an artist or even an artform that has contributed so much to the city? People may not know that there are tours for people who would like to see the places [in New York City] where hip-hop was created. This is already a stop on the tour, so to have a street sign up for it—which generates money and tourism for an area that is not a tourist attraction—this is something that would be beneficial to New York City in that capacity as well.