‘Dear Culture’: Talking the Notorious B.I.G. and the book ‘It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him’ with author Justin Tinsley

OPINION: The author breaks down writing a book about an icon and adding to the legacy of one of the greatest rappers of all time. 

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Admittedly, I’m pretty against the over-academicization of hip-hop. As a genre, it’s worthy of analysis, debate and discussion, but I think we have a tendency to go too far sometimes. I wonder if many of the rappers tossed into the educational gauntlet think of themselves as deeply as we do. Needless to say, the mark is missed at times. 

But other times, just the right mix of analysis and reality hits the marketplace and then we can have a real discussion about what an artist means to the culture and how that culture and society shaped, influenced and provided the means for an artist to ascend and thrive. And sometimes, even perish. 

Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. are two such rappers for whom I think there really can never be enough discussion about their contributions and what they meant for the world around us. Unfortunately, their legacies are forever tied together because of the untimely and unfortunate demise of both titans. To that end, there are countless books and forums and television shows and movies, etc. dedicated to their rise and fall, which creates an interesting quandary: With so much out there already, how does one add to the oeuvre? Thankfully, Justin Tinsley found a way. 

Tinsley, a writer who I first encountered years and years ago while he was a writer at one of my favorite mid-to-late aughts haunts, The Smoking Section, is somebody deft enough to discuss the pop culture significance of both Christopher Wallace and the Notorious B.I.G. while adding to the discussion through economic, political and societal lenses. 

That’s what Tinsley did in his recently released biography of the Notorious B.I.G., It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him. Essentially, what world existed to create the universe for one of the greatest wordsmiths hip-hop has ever seen to reach his potential and thrive. 

And ultimately what cost him his life? What happened in the lives surrounding Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. that brought them together AND tore them apart—and it wasn’t just hip-hop. Especially considering the two were such good friends at one point. You think you know the story, but Tinsley adds color and perspective to it with detailed accounts and interviews that add to the discussion of just what went wrong. 

Not for nothing, I had to know just how in the world Tinsley was able to helm such an important and significant book in the first place, and the lesson as always: all of those crazy emails that seem like spam…aren’t. We talk about the process and the result and how this fits into the tremendous writing and journalistic career that Tinsley has managed to put together. 

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Dear Culture without a Blackfession and then a Blackamendation. Tinsley’s Blackfession might split the Black vote in America but might also require many of us to accept some facts about a show we all claim to hate. I ain’t spoiling it; I’m just saying you might want to check out his Blackfession to see if you feel the same way. 

Basically, Justin Tinsley has a story to tell. Thankfully, he had a chance to do it.

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download here.

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