Netflix’s ‘Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell’ Celebrates the Life of a Forever Inspiring Icon

Time to get paid: Biggie in front of the World Trade Center, 1996. Photograph by Chi Modu

How unlikely – so sudden and implacable – Biggie’s reign on the top was isn’t all that obvious 27 years after the fact. But there were clues all along: Black and ugly as ever; went from ashy to classy; while niggas flirt, I’m sewing tigers on my shirt; used to call me fatso. And Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell, the new documentary on Netflix about B.I.G. shows us, in loving detail, how his peculiar origin story helped define the most relatable rap superstar ever.

Why peculiar origins, though? The critic Walter Benjamin said, “All great works of…

‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Suggests Wary Hope for Today’s Movement for Black Lives

I remember you wasn’t conflicted: Daniel Kaluuya (behind podium) as Fred Hampton, with, below, Lakeith Stanfield as Bill O’Neal in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah.’ Photograph by Glen Wilson / Warner Bros.

Kendrick Lamar said on 2015’s To a Pimp a Butterfly (where it echoed like a wounded refrain), “I remember you was conflicted.” And in Judas and the Black Messiah (streaming since last Friday on HBO Max), just the opposite seems to apply: Fred Hampton, chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party has no conflicts about living and dying for the people; Bill O’Neal, the titular “Judas” appears to have none about completely throwing us under the bus.

Devoting even a little attention to such a morally bankrupt figure, based on the real-life O’Neal, a petty thief who…

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey
by Kamala Harris
Penguin Press, 336 pp., $30

Kamala Harris; drawing by Lauren Tamaki

The Democrats have a self-esteem problem in addition to a marketing problem. Meanwhile, we keep hearing that we should be wary of establishment-backed leaders like we are forever hearing that we should steer clear of gluten. The preference we on the left have for grassroots politicians, those for whom words like “energy” and “enthusiasm” are popular descriptors, who either aren’t in consideration for the big presidential prize in 2020 (a recent Axios/Survey Monkey poll shows that 74 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democrat…

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump
by Michiko Kakutani
Tim Duggan Books, 208 pp., $22.00

Michiko Kakutani; drawing by Jillian Tamaki

In 1979, the year Michiko Kakutani joined the Times as a reporter, the culture was such that the predicament for thinking persons could be summed up in that politically incorrect period when only three major news networks competed for coverage (before #MeToo was even a thought, let alone a hashtag appropriated from a black woman, and the film’s squirmy romantic plot at best raised only a few eyebrows), by Isaac Davis’s impassioned rant in Manhattan from that spring:


From left, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest in 1993.Credit…Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In a 2010 interview with the “Juan Esptein” podcast, Jay-Z was asked somewhere around the halfway point by host Peter Rosenberg whether he’d listened to De La Soul during his formative years in Brooklyn. “Not so much” replied the Forbes-topping megastar, then basking in the success of “Empire State of Mind,” while there to promote a book about his legacy, who on his debut album, 1996’s Reasonable Doubt repurposed the hook to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” …

Slick Rick
The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

The rap album, once a kind of misnomer for those who came up on novelty singles like “Rappin’ Duke” — and never thought that hip-hop would take it this far — had by 1988 become not only a thing in the world, but the standard format in which to hear the genre. No longer the stuff of one-hit wonders, rap had matured to the point where a fully developed sensibility could be expressed via the long player in a way that even the firmly entrenched rock establishment could no longer easily discredit.

Birth of the World
an exhibition at MoMA, New York City, February 24–June 15, 2019
Guide to the exhibition by Carolyn Lanchner (2008), 46 pp., $9.95 (paper) (distributed by the Museum of Modern Art)

Joan Miró: “Hirondelle Amour,” 1933 — 34

There’s anecdote that’s now available to posterity wherein Ernest Hemingway went to great lengths, as it were, to obtain his friend Joan Miró’s assiduous masterpiece, The Farm (1921 — 22). After reportedly doing everything from shooting dice to giving boxing lessons to (more likely) selling vegetables part time to get it into his possession, Hemingway and Jon Dos Passos in 1925, he later recalled, were at…

MOOD: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2018–19
an exhibition at MoMA PS1, New York City, June 9–September 8, 2019
Guide to the exhibition by Farrah Jasmine Griffin, Vivian A. Crockett, and Hannah Black
Studio Museum, 36 pp., (distributed by Studio Magazine)

From left: Sable Elyse Smith, Allison Janae Hamilton, and Tschabalala Self, New York City; photograph by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich

The feeling you get when taking in for the first time Tschabalala Self’s ghetto-fabulous minor character study Dime, which was on display at MoMA PS1 until earlier this month as part of the MOOD: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2018–19 exhibition is one of familiar intimacy. …

Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today
an exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery, New York City, October 24, 2018–February 10, 2019; and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, March 26–July 14, 2019
Catalog of the exhibition by Denise Murrell
Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, 224 pp., $50.00 (distributed by Yale University Press)

Charles Alston: Girl in a Red Dress, 1934

When we think of what is modern we think of many things. Cursorily, some things that come to mind are the telephone, the automobile, the airplane — new technologies each, which allowed for new ways of being in a world made that much smaller by…

Ari Lennox
Shea Butter Baby

Ari Lennox definitely gotta have some nudes floating around out there. “New Apartment,” a brazen song off her fantastic debut, Shea Butter Baby talks up the joys of self-exposure (and coming into one’s own as an adult) with charmingly exhibitionist vibes: “I just got a new apartment/I’m gon’ leave the floor wet/Walk around this bitch naked/And nobody can tell me shit.” It’s an ethos not unlike that which she expressed on a recent episode of “Angela Yee’s Lip Service” podcast where, when asked by Yee about the contents of her iCloud Lennox said, “I like…

Will Dukes

Cultural Critic | Past: @SPINmagazine @villagevoice @VibeMagazine @thefader |

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