A little over 20-years-ago, Hip Hop faced one its greatest tragedies: The Notorious B.I.G.’s untimely death. The fibers of his talent and promise interweaved with his brightly colored coogi sweaters to formulate a musical icon, and one of Hip Hop’s most heroic figures. A classic--borderline cliché--case of “what could have been” follows his legacy, provoking debates over his GOAT status, and ceiling.
While we will never know the deceased 24-year-old’s potential, Big’s impact only needed several years to materialize: his quick whit earned him countless freestyle victories; his vivid stories captivated listeners; he was one hell of a vibrant personality. Big was, and is, bigger than life. There will never be another Christopher Wallace.
Before Biggie left us, he fathered a son with the gifted Faith Evans--Christopher Wallace Jr., AKA CJ. Only four-months-old when Biggie passed, CJ has strictly met his father through stories, interviews, and two timeless albums (Ready to Die and Life After Death). It’s enough to familiarize CJ with his father’s legacy, but not nearly enough to substitute his father’s palpable absence--it’s a case sadder than his late father’s “what could have been” narrative. However, although the two had limited time together, the “Big Poppa” rapper’s genes comprise his son’s DNA, inclining him towards a musical affinity. With a recent announcement, it appears that CJ is keen on continuing the Wallace family name.
In addition to being known as Biggie's son, CJ is also a talented actor, evidenced by playing the younger Big in Notorious, being Will Ferrell's opposite in Everything Must Go, and most recently starring in the indie film, Kicks. While CJ has made a name in acting, he's looking to build a reputation with music. CJ and his half brother, Joshua Jashad Russaw (son of Faith Evans and music executive, Todd Russaw), are working on their debut album, scheduled to drop sometime later this year. This story is peppered with the proper ingredients for a sentimental, circle-closing recipe: famed rapper’s son revives his father’s legacy with flow and rhymes. Touching, no? The lights are bright, and the hopes are high. But unfortunately, the product will fall drastically short of the unrealistic expectations.
It’s an unfair stage set for the 20-year-old rapper hopeful. The stairs ascending towards the platform may appear supportive of CJ’s musical introduction, but society’s hyenas will pull the curtain on the storied musician’s offspring once his output doesn’t recapture Biggie’s magic. Social media has opened a host of opportunities, but its grandeur is offset by fueling online carnivores whose happiness emanates from someone’s depression. It will be a feeding frenzy once CJ and his brother drop their album. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, and the laws of physics won’t be rewritten by the hands of an unproven kid.
In November 2014, a video surfaced online entitled, “Can B.I.G.’s Son Spit?”--a naturally enticing headline whose possibilities conjured fantasies of the second coming. The Hot 97 interview began with Ebro and Rosenberg simply sitting in awe of CJ like proud parents, almost in disbelief that their fallen brother’s son was sitting within arm’s reach, looking into their eyes. I was waiting for Ebro to say something like, “Wow! Look how big you’ve gotten!”. Understandably, it was a memorable moment for the two iconic New York radio personalities.
Just 18-years-old at the time, CJ’s presence and stories lubricated the conversation, drawing parallels with his father: they share the same stature that made big, B.I.G.; the nasally, labored breathing did not skip a generation; they harbor a similar jauntiness. As the discourse unravelled, it was like this invisible hand hit resume on Biggie’s life to connect the dots, spread 17-years apart. It was beautiful. But for as great as stories are, and as cool as it was to get acquainted with Biggie’s progeny, we all knew Hot 97 phoned CJ for one reason: to hear him spit.
It held the same magnitude of Darth Vader unveiling himself for the first time. Rosenberg looked at Ebro and said, “You wanna do this?” CJ cleared his throat, inched towards the mic, and started bobbing his head to Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” instrumental. Goosebumps claimed my arms as prime real-estate.
I’ve never watched Jeffrey Jordan--Michael Jordan’s eldest son--play basketball. One would assume that his airness’ seed would follow in his father’s footsteps towards basketball excellence. But if Jeff’s collegiate statline (he played at Illinois and UCF) of 1.6 PPG, 1.2 APG, and 0.8 RPG is indicative of anything, it’s that sometimes, the apple does fall far from the tree. Christopher “CJ” Wallace, much like Jeffrey Jordan, is aggressively rolling downhill away from his dad’s firmly planted apple tree.
It’s not that he can’t spit, or that he doesn’t have bars--it’s that he’s shrouded in unrealistic expectations because of his lineage. After CJ finished his first set of underwhelming writtens, highlighted by bars, “Bitch nigga scared shitless / Don’t end up on that hitlist / Get dismissed in a matter of minutes”, he passed the mic to his friend and music collaborator--an unassuming, unkempt white kid by the name of Teddy. Teddy might not exude a prototypical Hip Hop image, he might not scream “thug life”. But he did best CJ on the mic--handedly. And it’s not even that Teddy can really spit, or that he has bars--it’s that his moment was indelibly heightened by CJ’s lowly set bar(s). After the cypher ended, and the dust settled, all Ebro could do was tell CJ that he had work to do, and that he was proud of him for hanging out white kids. It was a let down for the ages.
For as great as it is, Hip Hop can be a cruel game. A genre typified by overcoming hardships, Hip Hop celebrates individuals who convert traumatic experiences into layered rhymes. It is more learned than inherited, it is more nurture than nature. Growing up hustling Brooklyn’s corners to make ends meet, Biggie could author the book on leveraging inopportune circumstances for lyrical depth. Growing up out in LA with multi-millionaire recording artist Faith Evans, CJ didn’t adopt the acute, piercing “by any means necessary” mentality. The darkest pain produces the brightest art.
It’s perfectly ironic: Big worked arduously to escape the hood--the very thing that structured his rise, and the bleeding heart missing from his son’s work. It’s simply unfeasible for CJ to graze the bottom of Biggie’s cape. Take CJ Rivers for example--BIG Pun’s son. CJ Rivers, by no stretch of the imagination, is bar-for-bar one of the most nimble, lethal, and intelligent rappers I’ve ever watched work a microphone. His verbiage pours out of him with an intense passion that staples every bar with an exclamation point. It’s the kind of passion that cannot be learned--it is a survival mechanism. Like CJ, Chris lost his father at a young age. Unlike CJ, Chris grew up impoverished, not knowing the source of his next meal, or the roof of his next home. Chris Rivers raps to survive.
In fairness to CJ, our only musical insight into him stems from two-and-a-half-year-old footage. He could’ve paid multiple visits to Dr. Carter, and his musicality might exorbitantly exceed his younger counterpart’s. I’m sure he’s worked diligently, knowing what’s at stake, and who he’s up against. Realistically, CJ will always be given a closer look because of his father. By the same token, he will always fight to break from the shackles that have confined him since 1997.
Sometime later this year, we will find out what he’s really made of.