Here at LUNY! we’re very proud to create all kinds of custom-designed tours. Some off-the-beaten (but still popular) tours we’ve done include Art Deco Architecture in Midtown Manhattan & Taco Crawls of Sunset Park Brooklyn. Some one-of-a-kind types of tours would be our Brooklyn Nostalgia Tours where we visit the client’s childhood neighborhood, their elementary and high schools, and if we’re lucky we can even get inside their childhood home! These kinds of tours are always a hoot for both client and guide.
But we rarely get requests for hip-hop tours because, let’s face it, I’m a nerdy Jewish white kid from Flatbush. And although the same story applied to hometown heroes The Beastie Boys, my musical tastes trended instead towards classic rock (YES, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and geek rock (They Might Be Giants, Violent Femmes) than local rap stars Big Daddy Kane, Mos Def and Raekwon. So when I got this tour request, focusing on local legend Biggie Smalls and all the spots where he hung out during his short time on this planet, I was a little taken aback.
I was even more taken aback when my clients were two young, fashionable Indian gents from London, who came armed with a list of all of Notorious’s hangouts, from crib to beef pattie place. So they already knew where they wanted to go, and just wanted my local expertise and help in getting them from one spot to another. Although they knew that Brooklyn was now the coolest place on the planet, they thought some of the neighborhoods we were visiting might’ve been a little “dodgy.”
For those of you (like me) who don’t know their East Coast rappers from their West Coast counterparts, Biggie Smalls, aka Christopher Wallace, was an exceptionally talented rapper and hip-hop star who blended intelligent lyrics with whiplash-fast delivery, complicated rhyming structure and true-to-life biographical narratives. He was murdered at the age of 25 in a drive-by shooting in LA, some say as revenge for the murder of Tupac Shakur six months earlier.
It didn’t make sense to structure the tour chronologically but geographically instead. So we started in downtown Brooklyn on Fulton street, the site of the Albee Mall, a popular hangout spot where Lil Kim and other up-and-coming rappers would shoot amateur videos, a million years before YouTube. After Albee, we stopped for pics in front of George Westinghouse High School where Christopher cut class, smoked blunts and started to make a name for himself. Then it was over to legendary Juniors, where Biggie probably feasted on their famous fried chicken and cheesecake (and undoubtedly helped put the “Biggie” into Biggie Smalls – that cheesecake’s got a lotta calories!)
We spotted multiple murals of Biggie throughout Brooklyn – a sky-high mural on the side of a Brownstone in Ft. Greene; a black and white local piece across from Marcy Houses (where Jay-Z grew up,) and an awesome glass mosaic piece outside the supermarket where Biggie worked as a bag boy before his big break. We posed outside of Biggie’s apartment building and snapped a shot of the Orient Temple, a bare-bones Masonic lodge where house parties were held.
We checked out the Roman Catholic school where he went as a youngster. We snacked on Jamaican beef patties where The Notorious B.I.G. did the same; we stopped by the barber shop where he got his hair cut; we posed outside a rolldown gate of a Medical Health storefront where he (allegedly) dealt drugs.
After these stops we took a long hike out to Marcy Houses, the NYC Housing Authority complex where Jay-Z grew up, as the boys were very interested in seeing what a traditional style of Public Housing projects in NYC looked like. They were impressed by the cleanliness and the safety of the complex and especially by the humming neighborhood surrounding the houses.
13 miles later, with countless memories of Biggie’s Brooklyn, my London lads hopped the subway over to Grimaldi’s for their pizza stop and I learned more about my hometown’s heroes than I ever knew!