Dear Culture

It Was All A Dream: The Legacy and Impact of Biggie Smalls

Episode 05

Dear Culture, what is the impact and legacy of Biggie Smalls? This week, I’m joined by Author Justin Tinsley to talk about his new book exploring the life and cultural importance of Bed-Stuy’s very own Christopher Wallace.

American rapper Notorious BIG (born Christopher Wallace) attends the 1995 Billboard Music Awards, New York, New York, December 6, 1995. (Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage)

Panama Jackson [00:00:03] This episode of Dear Culture podcast is brought to you by the all new Honda Cr-V. Every creator is driven by a strong sense of curiosity, and the 2023 RV is ready for any path that the power determination can lead to. With sleek exterior styling and a spacious interior, this SUV is a statement piece made to keep up with the pace of your dynamic lifestyle. The All New Honda Cr-V. Learn more at the best looking RV ever. Dot com. 

Justin Tinsley [00:00:34] I don’t know if its funny but it’s more so just like one of those, like, really intimate stories about Big that I just never heard before. It is just like Big  got basically halfway through The chronic and was like, “Dawg,  I got to go home.” He’s like, “If this is what music is going to sound like for you, then I got to step my game up.” He’s like, Because everything that comes out after this has to be just as good, if not better, than this. Other than that, you don’t need to use that. I got to step my game. 

Panama Jackson [00:01:06] What’s going on, everybody? Welcome back to another episode of Dear Culture podcast here on theGrio Black Podcast Network. I am your host, Panama Jackson, and you are listening to a part of our Black Music Month, our June suite of discussions where everything is focused on on Black music, where we’re talking about you here. You’ve already heard a conversation about Michael Jackson’s albums versus Janet Jackson’s albums. I mean, you’ve heard us kind of have discussions that we might have among ourselves, or at least ones that I have among my homies. But one thing we’re also going to do and what we’re going to do today is have a discussion about a book about Black music for Black Music Month by one of I’m going to go ahead and say it: he’s as far as I’m concerned, the goat rapper of all time. And we’re going to do that with my homie long time friend, somebody I’ve known more as a writer, longer than I’ve known him in person because I’ve been following him forever. And we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to get into that. But today we’re joined by our friend, the homie, the author of the podcast that we’re gonna get and all that. Justin Tinsley, what’s going on, brother? How you doing today. 

Justin Tinsley [00:02:14] My guy! It is a true, true honor to be here talking to you, man. I’ve been looking forward to this. 

Panama Jackson [00:02:19] Listen, I’m excited. I got to get your bio out here because people need to know who I’m talking to, if it’s probably a whole lot of if, you know, you know, happening here because people see your name, they already know. But we got to give everybody the proper respect. The bio dropping it in your bio, it was very impressive. And I can’t wait to talk more about this. We’re going to get into that before we start talking about the actual book. But let me let me let me give you the official bio here. So Justin Tinsley is the senior sports and culture writer with ESPN Disney’s Andscape, which was formerly The Undefeated. His work lives at the intersection of sports, race and culture. Tons of hip hop stuff, obviously, because hip hop lives at the intersection of of culture, pop culture, sports, all of that stuff meets here in the middle. Storytelling, which is what brings us here today, is the most is the most important element of Justin’s bag. He’s the author of the recently released biography of ” It was All a Dream:  Biggie and The World That Made Him.” Last year, he worked alongside Dwayne Wade, providing editorial direction in the future Hall of Famer’s photographic memoir, Dwayne, which I also own. I like to support the homies. I got to make sure I support all my people doing amazing things. And I’m at the point in my life, I’m at the point in my life where amazingly, so many people I know we’re doing amazing things. He’s also the host of King of Crenshaw, a Multi-Episode ESPN 30 for 30 podcast on the late Nipsey Hussle Deep Brotherhood with several NBA players. And you can also find Justin as a weekly panelist on ESPN’s long running sports debate show Around the Horn. Give it up virtual. Give it up for Justin Tinsley. My man is doing literally everything you could possibly do, my man. 

Justin Tinsley [00:04:02] Yeah, I’m trying to do everything. Trying to. 

Panama Jackson [00:04:05]  How does it feel hearing your bio? You’ve been I mean, you’ve been doing this for a long time now. And I know you’re making the circuit, you’re making the run around. Like when people do bios and talk about all the stuff that you do, like how does that feel hearing about all of these, like, tremendous, amazing things at this point? 

Justin Tinsley [00:04:19] You know, it’s crazy because I definitely remember a time where I was like, man, I just want to get paid to. Right. You know, I just want to, you know, I want to get paid doing something that I love to do and then, you know, to hear it all, you know. Read out like that. And it’s just like, Damn, and how did you get here?

Panama Jackson [00:04:38] Like, I’ve known you. My first introduction to you was obviously through The Smoking Section. The site started by the homie John Gotti. I remember reading that site. It was one of my favorite hip hop culture sites as a writer. Early on, I got to know, I mean, there’s a ton of writers and people that I’m friends with now who all came from that space. And I’m you know, I don’t know that I ever told Gotti this. I’m like, dude, you’re like the you were like the perfect curator of the culture at the time back then. Because I think about all the people that were there who have gone on to do amazing things yourself, David Dennis you know, and you guys are kind of in a funny way linked at the hip nowadays because of it, because your book releases. But we’ll get to that. But how did how did you even get there? Like what’s what’s the beginning of the Justin Tinsley writing journey, man? 

Justin Tinsley [00:05:21] How much time do we have? It was kind of one of those things where when I was I went to school at Hampton University and like my senior year there, I was the coach, sports editor. But I also wrote a lot about music and things of that nature. And at Hampton, I was always known as the dude who had the new the new music. So whether it was in Lil Wayne mixtape, whether it was, you know, the Dream or T-Pain dropping some new and I had it early and like people would always come to me for it. And so it was easy. Get my friends new music. We were all on campus together, but once we graduated, we dispersed around the country. And my senior year at Hampton, I took an elective to show me how to like build a website. And so when I was living in, I moved to Chicago after I graduated from Hampton because I thought I had a job which got cut before I started it. Um, this is 2008, so we remember what the country was like in 2008. The recession was in full swing, right? And so I couldn’t find a job. And to pass time, while I was basically applying for jobs at my apartment in Chicago, I would just post music on my blog and I would give like little blurbs about what each, you know, mixtape or song was about. And one day one of my homeboys called me and he was like, Yo, change. Like, I really like, what you doing with the website I go to every day to, you know, get my music fix or whatnot. And he said, Buddy, I got an idea for you. And I’m like, What’s up? He’s like, You should post less music, but you should write more about the music that you do post. And I’m like that make any sense. Like, why would I do that? Like, that feels like I’m wasting my time and then, you know, leave it to your homeboys to check you, man. He was like, it ain’t like you got a job. You got plenty of time. Okay. Yeah. And so. 

Panama Jackson [00:07:11] You free. You got some time on your hands. 

Justin Tinsley [00:07:12] A lot of time on my hands. And so I started doing it and I’m like, know this is pretty cool. I kind of I kind of like doing this. And, you know, over time, I built another website of my own that I just started posting more and I write more about like, you know, the things that I did post, I would post less but do like my homeboys and that kind of parlayed that kind of snowballed into, you know, I was writing with different people, Karen Civil. And then a couple of months later I saw the smoking section, which was a site I always read because even back when I was in college, I thought the smoking section that was like my version of like Rolling Stone or Your Times or whatever it easy, like, you know, pristine publications were like. And I started looking for new writers and I applied and, you know, one thing led to another and they basically accepted me in. And Gotti told me from day one, he was like, I don’t care what you write about. Just, you know, I mean, make it dope and well, I’ll take care of the rest. He literally told me to. I’ll take care of the rest. And once I was on there, man, I was like, Yo, I got to become like one of the more known writers who I want my voice to get out there. And I just used the smoking section as a means to just basically like chisel away at finding my own voice, finding the perspectives that I love to write about sports and music and pop culture and politics and whatever, whatever topics that interested me. This guy, he didn’t give me like a lane to stick in. He basically said, Go create your own lane. And I did that over the years. And I just saw I saw myself improving and but, you know, God, he would also tell us to like look out for other people, not look out because, oh, they’re competition, but like look out for these people because they’re dope and they’re doing great things. And that’s how I found out about Vibe. I was and then I read, I’m like, Yo, this how like this you fight like I read I was like it’s like I’m not even reading. It’s like I’m listening to them talk but reading their words why they do it. And I’m like, Damn, all right, these dudes dope. I got to step my game up because I need my stuff to read like there’s reads. And so that’s how I met you. That’s how I met Damon. And it just fostered like, a this this like online brotherhood because we hadn’t met at that point in time. Yeah. And it was, it was cool. Like the community we built, like we would always link back and forth to each other just, you know, drive traffic each way. And so I kept freelancing, I kept building, you know, my connections up through there. And to make a long story much shorter, this is homecoming 2014 at Hampton. And we had like an alumni day party in our students in our ballroom, which is wow, because we never had day parties in the ballroom at Hampton. We damn sure didn’t have alcohol and the students in our ballroom. So we were really right. 

Panama Jackson [00:10:03] It’s still a HBCU. We don’t do that. 

Justin Tinsley [00:10:05] You don’t do that. You do that off campus but we we was in there and one of my older frat brothers came up to me and he was like, Hey, Justin, do you mind if I introduce you to somebody at ESPN? I’m a big fan of your work and I’m like, Hmm, that’s I know you’ve had one too many because you’re asking me, can you introduce somebody? Right. ESPN to me should be the other way around. But I’m like, All right, yeah, let’s do it. He didn’t do it that day. But when I was driving back to work that next morning at the time, I was working at the Housing Authority in Richmond, Virginia, working with the different housing projects in the city. And something told me when I was driving up there, I was like, Man, let me hit Fred up and see what he’s talking about. His friend was she? She’s a Hampton grad herself. And at the time she was Mike Will Bond’s executive assistant, and she was like, Send me some of your writing samples. I sent her some. Two weeks later, she was like, Somebody, ESPN want to reach out to you? They’re forming this site around, you know, the Black gaze. And they’re trying to get young Black writers on there and they like what you wrote. I’m like, for real. And I lied to you, not Panama, like. That was November 2014. By January 5th, 2015. I had a one way flight from Richmond, Virginia, to to Los Angeles, and that’s how my career at ESPN started. 

Panama Jackson [00:11:25] Dude. That’s crazy. Well deserved. I mean, listen, as somebody who’s been reading your work since. I don’t know if I was there on day one. I don’t know. I just know. I remember at some point you’re writing on the smoking session. Smoking Section was something that I always looked forward to. Right. Yo, yo, yo. Takes on hip hop, the sports stuff, the culture. Like, you know, you were always somebody who I looked out for. Your name started to be a singular name. I was, like, just intensely like I knew you as just intimately the writer who was a part of these other things. I mean, that’s that’s fascinating and amazing. And look at. I’m glad you worked on getting better because it clearly worked out for you. It puts you in these positions where you’re doing. I mean, look around the horn now, which I love. Like I love seeing my homies on TV. 

Panama Jackson [00:12:12] Is still surreal. Like, yeah, I mean, I got to be surreal for you and everybody in your family who was like, you know, is go get to a point with this. They’re so used to seeing you on TV or phase nobody. 

Justin Tinsley [00:12:21] But I hope that’s a long from time now. Like, it’s still true to me. I tell everybody, man, I’m on at every barbershop bar, an airport. I don’t know. I don’t know where else I’m on that. But I know I’m at every one of those locations, man and man, you helped me more than you probably realize just in my journey. And, you know, I hope I can say the same for you. You know what I mean? Like, seriously, you were an inspiration. You are an inspiration too. Forget the work. 

Panama Jackson [00:12:47] I appreciate that . 

Justin Tinsley [00:12:48] I mean, I thank you, man. Like, I. I don’t even remember when day one was, but I just know you. You’ve been there for a long, long, long, long time. 

Panama Jackson [00:12:58] Yeah, man. And it’s. You know that you’re an inspiration in the sense, especially because for one, you wrote a book on artists that early was like probably my favorite rapper. Like, I actually have this debate and I had to come have a heart to heart with myself about the fact that I genuinely think Biggie is the goat. So when I saw that you were writing this book, I’m like, Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Justin Tinsley is writing a biography on Big. Yeah. Hold on. And then when I saw when it was coming out May of 20, May 20, 22, so right around the 50th birthday. So wait a minute. This is a big cultural moment, an event. 

Justin Tinsley [00:13:33] Hey, bro. 

Panama Jackson [00:13:34] How did this even come to be like? How did you get to that point? How did that how did Justin Tinsley writing this Biggie biography come to be? 

Justin Tinsley [00:13:42] So it’s so wild, man, like. Because you know that the theme of the conversation so far has just been like, you just work and work and work and eventually going to put yourself in the right place at the right time. And I would I would venture to say it is kind of like the same with this book. So by the fall of 2019, you know, I have, you know, established my, my my name, at least with The Undefeated, which was named at the time, like who I am. Establish my name here. I feel good about where my name is. I feel I think people recognize my name and they recognize my name with like the work. And so I’m just going through my Gmail one day, right? And you know, you know how it is. You just delete and spams, like, whatever. I don’t need this, right? I come across this, this, this email and I actually looked it up the other day in preparation for this conversation because I really wanted to know, like, what is the literal like day one moment one, second one, how this entire journey began. I got an email in the subject line, says, Biggie book. No, no Biggie book. 

Panama Jackson [00:14:44] I’m just as Biggie book. 

Justin Tinsley [00:14:46] Biggie book. I’m like, I think that’s awesome. I don’t know of any Biggie books. 

Panama Jackson [00:14:50] Because I would’ve deleted it. 

Justin Tinsley [00:14:51] I almost did. Almost did. But something was like, you know, adjust and just open it and see what it says. And I opened it and it it was from the gentleman who eventually became my editor on the book. His name is Jamison Stolz. And he he obviously works at Abrams Press ,Abrams Books. And he reached out and he was like, look, I know this is a shot in the dark. I know. I know this is not the common way for these things to go. But you come highly recommended from some people who I work with and I’ve read your work, especially on Biggie Smalls, and I wanted to know if you would be interested in writing a book for Abrams, a biography of Biggie that will come out around the time of his 50th birthday. And I’m like, This is wow. Because everything I knew about the book publishing world is I come up with the idea and I pitched Lupine, and then you decide if you want to, you know, take it, take the next step. And I’ve never thought I would have somebody approach me about a book, especially a book on somebody like Biggie Smalls. And I’m like, so I do my research and I eventually sign the contracts and, you know, late January 2020. And I’m like, Yo, this is crazy. I’m about to write a book on Biggie. And then, you know, after the new car smell, you know, goes away and it’s like, damn. Well, I can’t give the first half of this check back because I had to use that on some stuff that I had to pay off and just in my own personal world, like. So I really got to do this book now. And that one question hit me and I’m like, Damn! Okay. What do I tell people about Biggie Smalls that they don’t already know? Because at this point, he’s like a folk hero, like in so many, you know, documentaries, books about the investigation behind his murder. And all those things have been written. And I and I still am a big fan of jail. Hodari Coker is original by Biggie Biography Believable. I think that’s an incredible book and. 

Panama Jackson [00:16:52] It is. 

Justin Tinsley [00:16:53] Great. It’s phenomenal. It definitely helped me out a lot in my process and he was actually one of the first people I talked to once I signed the contract and I was nervous because when he knew big personally like, you know, big love detail and he told Jay I once was like, I want you to be my Alex Haley. And I’m like, okay, well, that’s no pressure at all. It’s no pressure at all. And, you know, yeah, he he hit me back and he was like, Yo, I’m so happy for you. I’m so proud of you. That definitely needs to be another big biography, one written in the vein that isn’t like a who killed him, you know what I mean? And here, the 8,000 conspiracies behind that. Obviously, you talk about that stuff in the book. But when he gave me like his blessing and his cosign, I was like, I can do this. And so I booked out his travel to Atlanta where he had ties. Obviously, I was going to spend some time in Brooklyn, L.A., Chicago. I did. I did all of that in February 2020. I booked all that travel. If you know the history of the world of the last two years, you know exactly what happens in a couple of weeks. And yeah, I’m glad to you not, man. The entire book was researched. Interviewed, reported and written basically in quarantine. So this thing. 

Panama Jackson [00:18:14] All right, let’s  hold that thought. I want to dig more into that. Let’s take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk more about, like, how you put this book together, because it’s fascinating. Like I genuinely am enjoying it. But let’s let’s take a quick break here on Dear Culture. We’re going to come right back with Justin Tinsley talking about it was all a Dream. Biggie and the world that made him here on theGrio Black Podcast Network. 

Speaker 3 [00:18:40] Hello. I’m world famous wypipologist michael Harriot and the host of the brand new podcast, The Grio Daily on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Are you, Batman? Like the only reason you would ask a Black person about Black on Black crime is if you thought that like Black men were superheroes and could just put on a cape and go around stopping crime. Join us every day as we get to the nitty gritty of everything going on in the world will be everywhere. You find the podcast starting in June. And as always, tell your mom and ’em I said, Hey. 

Panama Jackson [00:19:32] All right, we’re back here, Dear Culture with Justin Tinsley talking about it was all a dream Biggie and the world that made him new book about the Notorious B.I.G. Christopher Wallace. And this book really is about both because there’s a lot of discussion about both Biggie and Christopher Wallace and the two worlds they occupied and where they meshed and where they didn’t. All through this book. And you were just telling us before the break about how you had to do this entire book in quarantine. And that’s interesting because. I mean, this book is like a culmination of a ton of stuff, I think. I think so. Book came out in like 2003. It was it was early, early 2000. So this is like almost 20 years later that you are bringing back your retelling a story. And you mentioned something earlier about what were you going to add to the conversation effectively about Biggie. So I really want to know more about that because when I’m when I’m reading this book, I’m like. I know almost all of this stuff, but you did. You do have stuff in there that’s brand new, right? Like I thought a lot of the Tupac information, amazingly, was still stuff that I didn’t really know, like some of the specifics. But how do you re tell a story that has had documentaries, movie books, podcasts, true crime like mini series? I mean, literally everything that you can do with the Biggie story has been done in some way, shape or form by how do you add to that conversation? 

Justin Tinsley [00:21:02] You know, that was a daunting question that I had. So I had to get out of my own head like the first I’ll probably say like two weeks of actually really working on this book. I didn’t really get anything done because I was in my head the entire time. I was like, you know, I’ve gotten myself into something that I now I can’t back out of and I’m not going to release anything that’s half ass. So I was like, I have to figure this out. And I got I just got out of my head and I’m like, Look, you’re going to do it. You’re going to do it. So the dope is. The extent imaginable that you can and something that they’re really, really they’re really kind of gave me the inspiration while I was doing it was when I was reading Voletta Wallace, his memoir that came out like 2005. And she was talking about how while she was dating, you know, Biggie’s biological father, one of their first dates was in 1971 to go see Shaft. Like he took her to the movies to go see Shaft. And I’m like, Damn, 1971. Biggie was born in 72, so she got pregnant probably like not too long after that. And like I said, one might write down Afeni beat her case in May of 1971 to have pop in June of 1971. And like how, you know, Muhammad Ali is just coming back out of exile. Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On? Like, yo, that’s it. And hence, you’ll see the title Biggie and the World that made him like, Yo, obviously you tell Biggie’s life story front to back, life to death, and thereafter you’re going to have the parts that everybody knows in there. But if you could contextualize the world around him and maybe forces that were in play even before he was born, and forces that he probably didn’t really know much about, just like growing up in make some of the reasoning for his own decisions, especially as a as a young boy and a teenager, it all makes it make sense. So, you know, Voletta Wallace saying like, oh, I want to move to America because it’s the land of opportunity and it’s so great. But her home, her main influence or main knowledge about America are just these brochures that she’s reading at a travel agency, that she’s working it. Then when she gets to America, she realizes, wait a minute is nothing like these brochures are saying. And so that that honestly, Panama, that helped me contextualize so much stuff and I felt like it helped help me tell the Christopher Wallace story like that much better because the big the biggie story as you said in so many ways, it’s been it’s been done and it’s been it’s been done in amazing ways and it’s been done in some not so amazing ways over the years. I want him on the teeter towards the amazing not the not so amazing but yeah that was that was once I got that idea in my head. And obviously you’ve read a great portion of the book and you can see how it weaves in from his life. They’re like, What the hell is going on in America around this time? And you know, in my head I was like, Oh, this is going to like contextualize so much about his life that, you know, about events, about his life that a lot of people already knew about. But then when you place it in in reference to what the hell was going on in the world and definitely America at this point, maybe it’ll give them a new prison to view Christopher Wallace and Biggie Smalls. And so that was my reason for doing that. 

Panama Jackson [00:24:39] And it’s clear, too, because as soon as I started reading the book, I was like, Oh, we’re going to like look at the world, the world that made him it made very clear sense that, okay, we’re starting with where America was at this time. I saw all the points you mentioned the Muhammad Ali of everything. Like, as I’m reading, even Bill Clinton, like the drug wars that happened, even the inception of the war on drugs, and how that was basically like a pivot from the common sense statements that were being made by people that were around a president at the time, not Clinton, but, you know, prior to that, it’s like it was really interesting because it does set in motion this idea that all these things are interconnected. Right. Like none of this stuff is just happening in a vacuum like that. Like how the letter gets to America, the decisions Biggie’s making in Brooklyn, what Brooklyn looks like at the time, how like hip hop comes into play and how like  Puffy’s own family, right? Like you get into all that other stuff. And it’s interesting because again, these are all a lot of this stuff is things that I know, but putting it all in one place and making it one cohesive story that weaves through the story for Biggie or Christopher Wallace here, I think that was really well done. And I do think it did add something new to this story, like this is the kind of book that honestly I think you use in a college course on Biggie because I don’t know, there’s a ton of them at this point. Like there’s classes on park. Yeah, but this should be like this should be classes on Biggie. So I’m like, oh, you can use this contextualizing big it in an academic sense. 

Justin Tinsley [00:26:03] I think I thought that was what I wanted to do that and I wanted to present Biggie in that light because I felt he was deserving of it. Obviously, you know, I’m a huge Tupac fan as well, and I understand why Tupac’s life and definitely his works are deserving to be put in there. But I also felt Biggie is deserving as well. He’s not just the laid back guy that likes to have a great time and ladies man and all that. And I mean, he is all of that don’t get it twisted, you know. But like when you and you know, when people read the book. And when you when you realize that Ready to Die came out on September 13th, 1994, and literally the same day the 94 crime bill was passed like that, these things literally happened on the same day. And they they’re polar opposites of one another. And once you start to understand the deeper context about that crime bill and you go back and read listen to Ready to Die, like you hear that album completely differently now because it’s not, as you just said, Biggie, just like your life. Just like my life, just like anybody else’s life. They never happen in just a vacuum. You know, Biggie’s life story would never be about just Christopher Wallace. It’s going to be about the people around him, the opportunities that were in front of him, the opportunities that were taken away from him. And, you know, some beyond his control, some within his control. And I felt like if I could do that, I could paint Biggie Smalls in like this, this different light that we haven’t seen in, especially for, you know, people like you and I, we remember Biggie in real time and we remember where we were when he passed and how, you know, gaping of a hole that was. But I mean, it’s been 25 years. So there’s a lot of people who weren’t even alive when, you know, he lost his life. So I hope when they pick this book up, they’ll they’ll have pretty much the same understanding that you had, like, oh, wow. Like, it wasn’t just him making music and getting all this adulation and he beef with Tupac, and then he died in a tragic manner. No. Like his life was so much more than what those, you know, headlines made. It made it to be. And once you start looking at the world around him, then you will really understand the true, definitive picture of what I believe Christopher Wallace represents and what Biggie Smalls represents. 

Panama Jackson [00:28:26] Was it easy to get everybody to participate? 

Justin Tinsley [00:28:29] No, no. I mean, it wasn’t incredibly difficult. I knew early on, like trying to get the estate would be difficult, you know, his mother and, you know, people like super, super close to him, whether it be Faith and Lil Kim. But thankfully, there has been so much archival material over the years that it it would have been great to get new information from them. Right. But, you know, I reached out to the to the estate early on. Obviously, the last chapter in the book is about Big and Faith’s son. We we’ve established a good rapport over the years. And he’s somebody that I think very highly of and he’s always been gracious with this time for me. He was definitely appreciative of me writing this book on his father because he learned a lot of things about his dad over the course of it and that that humbled the hell out of me. 

Panama Jackson [00:29:17] Yeah, that’s got to be the highest compliment right there. Like you’re giving him new info on his own father, which you would think would again, would be just there’s so much out there already with the fact that you were able to add to his own context of who was father was like, that’s you succeeded. You don’t have to you don’t even have to sell a book to be a success on that front.

Justin Tinsley [00:29:37] You write it. And I think about people just his age because he is 25, which is why, because he’s older than his dad was at the time of his death. Like, if if C.J. picks up that book and reads it, Im like, damn, I didn’t know this or I didn’t realize it was like this. Just imagine how many people his age and younger are going to say the same thing. So. But I knew it’d be tough getting this date, but I reached out to this date earlier and I let them know what I was doing and they were aware of the book. But my main thing I wanted them to understand was that, you know, this is not some like money grab or a hit piece. This trying to like, you know, devalue your son or your friend or your father or your cousin or your best friend’s legacy. Like, no, I’m here to do this thing authentically. I’m going to tell the truth. And, you know, there were some parts about his life that were uncomfortable, but we got to talk about him. But it’s not going to be something something that was ever done with like ill intent or to discredit him or to demean him or defame him by any stretch of the imagination. And I think they understood that. I haven’t heard anything negative from him. So I’m taking that as a  good sign as well. 

Panama Jackson [00:30:46] I mean, I’d be surprised if there was anything negative to say about it. I mean, it’s look, it’s it’s a it’s a story that adds a new layer to the discussion about Biggie. Right. It’s a book that actually adds to what we already know out there. And as somebody who was a lifelong fan, like you said, I grew up with Biggie. You know, like I, I remember I literally remember where I was, and I found out he died. My father’s the one who actually told me when I was getting ready to go to school my senior year of high school that morning. So, you know, as somebody who has been a lifelong fan, somebody who still gets misty listening to, you know, I get mad about what we lost because what he could have become, you know, I’m the story’s still compelling. Like even as I’m listening to it and reading it, it’s still a compelling story. Like even after knowing all the information that I know about him, like reading new stuff. And still even I get so mad about the whole Tupac Biggie part of this. I get so pissed and I still care. Like this stuff can still be solved. Like at the end of the book, they’ll both still be here and all will be okay. I get so mad about it, but I still care and I think that’s probably what comes across like. It’s still a story to care about. 

Justin Tinsley [00:31:52] Man One of the things that was really important for me, you just mentioned Biggie and Pac, and obviously you’ve read that part of the book, but I was like, Yo, I don’t want people to think that this is a book about Biggie and Tupac because both of their legacy legacies are strong enough to stand on their own. But like, let’s be real, they’re always going to be intertwined. They’re always tied together. And I think over the years, especially as we’ve had like more and more intense and in-depth conversation about, you know, the value of Black lives and, you know, how we see things. I feel like Biggie and Pac have kind of been subjected to just being like, Oh, these two guys had a crazy beef and then lost their lives in a very tragic, many tragic manners. Like, yes, those things absolutely happen. And they absolutely had to be part of the story. But even before that man, there was an intense and beautiful friendship between those guys. Like, I want the love and the brotherhood between them to get just as much, you know, acclaim and just as much coverage as everything that happened after Pac got shot at the studios. You know what I mean? And I think that was that. And I think that was important for me to to showcase the origins of that friendship, just how deep it ran and just how loyal they were to each other. Because eventually we’re going to get to the part where, of course, hit them up and, you know, they run into each other at the social the Soul Train Awards in 96. And that was important for me because I, I think when we just, like, defined them as beef in death, we’re kind of we’re we’re stripping them of their humanity. And like those two dudes had, they they lived lives. They weren’t here for a long time, but they lived a lot of life in that little time. 

Panama Jackson [00:33:41] You know, that mean listen, I’m not trying to tell you what you need to be working on next, but maybe, maybe there’s a there’s a next project right there that there’s never enough discussion about their actual friendship. Right. We have the free where the famous freestyles we got a couple of pictures. But you know how like there’s like the Southside With You like like movie about Obama and Michelle like their date or like the the Miles Davis movie. This like really just kind of like a day in the life of like, maybe we need that. We need that movie, we need that, that film about like the day, like the biggie in friendship. We don’t worry because we don’t get any of that. It never. It just doesn’t exist anywhere like everything. Everybody has to mention that because it’s true. But because of the other stuff that really overshadowed the rest of it, I feel like we get lost in the fact that by all accounts, like everybody who was around, they were legit, like friends. They genuinely value these. And you you spend a lot of time talking about that like they legitimately valued one another and like respected each other and liked each other in a way that, you know, like we could have it could have been amazing if they ever gotten an opportunity to, uh, to, I don’t know.

Justin Tinsley [00:34:46] It could have been. Like their friendship is a footnote, which, which is unfortunate. But, you know, like, while we’re here, people like us, while we’re here, there’s always ways to, to change that moving forward. And I don’t know, you may have just given me an idea for for something that it may not be the next project. It is something I would be interested in working on. 

Panama Jackson [00:35:04] Now, I’m wait on that because I think I mean, based on all the stories and the different types of stuff that you’ve done, I think you I think you could knocked it out there any like fun stories about putting this book together that you have like like is there any overarching memory that really this was. 

Justin Tinsley [00:35:18] Oh, man, it’s. 

Panama Jackson [00:35:19] With you about putting this together. 

Justin Tinsley [00:35:20] This there’s so many there was one where I was talking to, I believe, cinematically. And, you know, he was just just telling me stories about because Matty C would get all the new music for the source and he would review it like this is well before the Internet. Kids of the internet will never know about the days of actually having to wait for a release date. There was a really cool story he told about he got the advanced version of The Chronic. And so he’s sitting at his brownstone in Brooklyn and he’s smoking. He was like, Yeah, let me call Big. Let me let him listen to this. Because he knew Big. He had the demo tape at that point, but Big was still in the streets. You know, he used what he had to do on the streets, but everybody knew Big was rapping about them because everybody heard the demo. And Matty C was about to put him in, you know, unsigned, high column. But he was like, Yo, big, come over my house. I got some I want you to listen to. And so they’re all they’re they’re over there. They’re sitting there smoking. And he’s like. What is this huge? Like, oh, this Dr. Dre, his new album. He was like, Wow. Dre got a solo album because Bay was a fan of everybody in this whole East Coast, West Coast thing will lead people to believe you only listen to people from New York and that’s it. Like, right. One of Big’s favorite albums was Freaky Tales, about two short, as you can probably come to imagine. So he he loved it. Yeah. It makes a lot of sense, right? 

Panama Jackson [00:36:45] It makes a lot of sense.  

Justin Tinsley [00:36:46] UGK. He listened to Outkast a lot when he was recording that, put the finishing touches on Ready to Die when Matty C called him over there. They’re smoking. They’re basically high. Their man and big is listening. It is. And he’s just sitting back in his chair, like got the blunt in his hand. But he’s not even smoking the blunt. The blunt is basically burn it. And he was like. This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard. Like, what is this? And I don’t know if it’s funny, but it’s more so just like one of those, like, really intimate stories about big that I just never heard before. And it’s just, like, Big Got done basically halfway through the Chronic and he was like, Dog, I got to go home. He’s like, If this is what music is going to sound like moving for you, that I got to step my game up. He’s like, Because. Everything that comes out after this has to be just as good, if not better, than this. Other than that, you don’t need to release music. He was like, I got to step my game up. And it’s very it’s very rare that you hear a story about Big saying I got to step my game up, and this is well before he became the star. And so I really love that story, too. Maddie C told me about Big hearing the Chronic for the first time in like three or four months before it came out. 

Panama Jackson [00:38:00] Bro, I still remember hearing The Chronic for the first time, so I, I was in 92, I’m in eighth grade at that point, I think, or seventh, eighth grade. I still remember that. I still remember my tape and everybody felt the same way, even as little kids were like, This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Before we cut to a break, I do want to ask you, you know, you mentioned earlier, but like this book has come out the release, it’s been you know, it’s been in the world for, I think, almost two weeks now. How is that how does that feel for you, man? Because this is listen, as somebody who is a writer who sure looks forward to to putting a book out into the world, I’m always excited when I see people know when I went to them on May 11th, I went to Barnes Noble and I went to Black bookstores. Here. I have a relationship with Black bookstores in D.C., so I go check them all out and I go pick up copies everywhere. But I love walking into bookstores and seeing people and seeing the books from people I know. And I’m like, Yo, I know this guy. Like, this is somebody I know these are my people. And I’m able to do that so much more and more nowadays. I can go in there and be like, I know this person. This person. Like it’s like albums. It’s like like looking at albums like, Yo, I know the person that dropped this. Like, How do you feel, man? Like, how does it feel to have this out in the world, you know, such a monumental thing because this ain’t just a book about anybody. This is Biggie like you are about be basically creating a definitive work about a definitive artist. And I mean, that’s amazing. 

Justin Tinsley [00:39:25] Bro. Still surreal. I mean, I remember you posted some I believe was on Instagram when you posted it. I was like, Yo is dope walking into these bookstores knowing like, yo, I can point out like six or seven people I know personally, like they’re in my phone for me. I felt the same way and it’s just like, Yo, man, we like. It feels great seeing people that you’ve known for a long time who you know are great at what they do and get the success that you know they deserve. And so just walking into, like, mahogany books and seeing my book with with yours or with Daniel Smith or David Dennis, I’m like, Yo, this is really crazy. It’s just like how Panama said it would be like. I can point out books that I know the authors and I never want to lose that feeling. Like I never want to lose the feeling of what I’ve had for like these last two weeks since my book came out. And I love seeing people post pictures on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or whatever social media outlet. They like these like, yo, just copy this book. Just got this book. Can’t wait to dove in. And it’s just one of those things it makes. Writing is a very lonely process, and you questioned yourself a billion times over. And I want to take this moment and this feeling with me as I work on whatever projects I have in the future is like, no, the end result in the payment. If you put your heart into it, it’s going to pay you back in ways that you know in like tenfold. So I love it, man. I love it. And I never want to forget with this feeling at this very moment. 

Panama Jackson [00:40:59]  Kudos to you, brother. I mean, hand clap dawg. Like, I could not be prouder. 

Justin Tinsley [00:41:05] Hearing that from you, that means a lot, man. Like, I love that the basically the overwhelmingly positive reviews I’ve been getting about it every now and then you’ll have like a, a person on Twitter with like a dog Abby saying, like, I hate this book, it sucks. And I’m like, Well, if you bought it reading it, I hope you bought it and then didn’t like it. So but no, to hear from people who I deeply, deeply admire and respect and consider a friend, I want you to know that. From the bottom of my heart. That means a lot. So thank you, bro. I appreciate that. Seriously. 

Panama Jackson [00:41:40] Yeah, man. All right. We’re going to take a real quick break here and we’re going to come back with some Blackfessions, some Blackacommendations. And we’re going to find out where you can get Justin’s book, where you can find his work and all that here, right here on Dear culture. 

Panama Jackson [00:42:04] All right. We’re back here on Dear Culture. We’re having our conversation with Justin Tinsley, the author of the book, It Was All a Dream: Biggie And The World That Made Him. And we just had a wonderful discussion about the inception of the book, creating the book, writing it, the release of the book. Basically, everything I wanted to know. And I think that everything people need to know about this amazing book that I’ve had the opportunity to read, I’m almost finished. But as a fan of Biggie, as a fan of Justin, as a fan of you, like it’s a compelling read. I’m enjoying it. And frankly, that’s what I look for in books that I’m reading. Like, I want to actually enjoy the things so that I can get to the end because I see nothing worse than reading a book about somebody I care about. And I cannot make it through the book because it just isn’t well done or it’s like the story isn’t that good or the way, you know, it’s amazing how that can happen, right? 

Justin Tinsley [00:42:53] Yeah, it is. It is. And I’m glad my book isn’t that for you. So I appreciate that. 

Panama Jackson [00:42:59] This book is a it’s a page turner. Like a mug, bro. It’s a page turner like a mug. And I asked as another one of those high compliments that you can give an author. So this segment of the of Dear Culture is the part where I like to have fun with the with the guests and talk about a couple of things. So, you know, we always like to say in our community that Black people are not a monolith. It’s one of our favorite sayings. Well, what I have come to find out about this segment, which we call Blackfessions, which are basically Black confessions, confessions about your Blackness, effectively, is that this is so true, because the things that people share on this segment, typically now, people usually talk about movies. And so I have to start telling people they can’t talk about movies anymore. Everybody wants to tell me movies. They haven’t seen the amount of people that have seen Friday’s frankly embarrassing. So I just I can’t let people do that anymore. Yeah, it’s. A lot of people never saw Friday. I don’t I don’t understand that. But either way, you, sir, though you do, you have a Black fashion. And I saw this in advance. It’s going to be this is going to be a fun conversation. So please, please share with us. Yo, Black Vest. And Justin Tinsley is on the Blackfession stage. Go ahead. Go ahead and share your Blackfession. 

Justin Tinsley [00:44:08] Okay. Here’s the back story. So it all started over quarantine and has nothing to do with the book. Oh, start of quarantine. There’s no sports on TV except for The Last Dance. There’s no music coming out because why would you release music in a quarantine? You can’t do anything with it. And. I started watching this series off the recommendation of my wife. And she told me she started watching it years ago and she laughs. She thinks it’s hilarious. And everything I knew about this show would not my Blackness would not allow me to like the show because. Of the history it had with another show that was super Black. I’m going to come right out and say it. Friends is funny as hell, dawg. I know. All right. I want us to tell you. Oh, it’s out. Yo, Panama. I was so adamant. Like, hell nah. I was like, CB4. And I’m Black and I’m Black. I’m like, I ain’t watching no Friends. After what they did to Living Single, Living Single is the superior show. And for the record, I still love them single. I watch all the episodes on Repeat Rerun, but and this is the messed up part too, because Friends is basically aired from like. Nine to like four every night on Nickelodeon. So they’re getting those syndication checks. And I’m like, some nights you don’t be anything on TV shows. I just watched a couple of episodes when I watched the first episode, and I chuckle and I’m like, And I’m trying to keep my laughter in. Oh, my damn. It’s pretty funny. Next thing I know is like four or five episodes later, I’m like, Yo, I might actually like this. Like a couple of months later, I’m starting to see episodes that I’ve seen again, like three or four times. I’m like, Yo, I’m still laughing at him. I’m like, Yo. 

Panama Jackson [00:46:03] I like Friends. I’m like you, bro. I actually like I went to a friend series finale party. I actually went and I had I put on a bandana and I definitely had on some shirt that was proof that I was down for the cause. But I enjoy Friends I always like. I still have I have favorite episodes of Friends. Like, I genuinely enjoy it, bro. 

Justin Tinsley [00:46:22] Like in like the six main characters. Like, you know, they’re all funny in like their own way. And I’m like, Yeah, this is awesome. I’m like. 

Panama Jackson [00:46:30] I was invested in the relationship of Ross and Rachel. Like I actually cared. I wanted them to work out like that. So listen, I’m with you. I love Living Single. I’m with you Living Single. Dope Show.I’m all there. But I really, I like Friends. 

Justin Tinsley [00:46:44] Yeah, we,  definitely did not give Friends the, the shake it that, that it deserved. I think like I’m with you. I got, I got favorite episodes of, you know, the joint whatever they were trying to move the couch up the stairs and Ross was like pivot. 


Justin Tinsley [00:47:19] Yo. This joint is hilarious, man. It is. So. Yeah, that’s. That’s my Blackfession  like I am. I am a huge Friends fan.  

Panama Jackson [00:47:31] Thank you for sharing with the people. I’m sure more people probably agree with you than you think. Even though the the internet would have you think we all hate friends is just like a general rule. But the truth is, it’s a good show. I enjoyed it and I’m unapologetic about that. So. But since you confess to something, I’m also going to give you an opportunity to recommend some Black to put back into the world so that, you know, we can we can we can write whatever whatever wrong this Black fashion may have done for your for your reputation. So Blackacommendation being a recommendation by foreign about something Black, Black culture, whatever it may be. So, sir, what is your Blackacommendation? 

Justin Tinsley [00:48:03] Yeah, man, it is just kind of par for the course of what this conversation has been like for its entirety. I’ve always supported Black bookstores. I’ve always loved the energy that I had. When I walk in there, people greet me and they’re always down to, you know, basically help me however I need. But working with Black bookstores on this recent book tour that I’ve done is giving me an even deeper appreciation than what I had before, and I don’t even know that was possible. So my my Black commendation is just, you know, support Black bookstores as much as you can. If they don’t have a book that you want, just tell them and they’ll order it for for for you and just purchase from them, not send it. You shouldn’t ever order anything from Barnes Noble or Books-A-Million or whatever the case may be, but just give them the same type of support that you would give these like huge change because they’re, they’re not just places with books. They’re they’re pillars of the community. And when I was going through my publicity planning for for this book, I reached out to Mahogany Books and they they were more than welcome to accommodate anything that I wanted to do. They, they, they made me feel like I was, you know, working on my 10th book. And I was like this internationally acclaimed author. They treated me like a big ass me up. And I and I really appreciate that when I needed it because I had no clue what I was going through. And Green Light Bookstore up in Brooklyn, we went to the one on Fulton Street. They showed a lot of love and so support to Black bookstores man like they they, they, we all need our help. But they’re so important in terms of just the spirit and soul of the community. And yeah, keep it Black. 

Panama Jackson [00:49:50] Yeah. So shout out to Mahogany Books. That’s here in Washington, DC where both of us live. I do a book club with them, so we always have a good time. And you know, look, the store is owned and operated by two hip hop heads. And, you know, Derek, who? I know you. I wasn’t able to make the talk, but I know you did the talk with Derek and Derek. And I’ve had some of the most loudest, lengthy hip hop debates ever. Like we literally get in so full out arguments. I have kept that store from doing business on occasion just because he and I are in the midst of a full argument about something. You know, I walk in with a hot take about something and next thing you know, hours go by and we’re still arguing about something. So shout out the mahogany books here in D.C.. Love that space. 

Justin Tinsley [00:50:31] Great, great people, man. Great people running that store. Yeah. Derek. Derek is my man. We’re supposed podcast about this book. At some point, whenever he’s ready, I’m down to do it. But yeah, he. He definitely likes his hip hop a certain way. I will say that. 

Panama Jackson [00:50:46] Absolutely. I will tell people where they can find the book, where they can find your work, like what you’re up to. Like please let us know how we can be in the Justin Tinsley business. 

Justin Tinsley [00:50:55] Hey, man, look, I like that business where you can find my work. Just piggybacking off our last topic, go to your local independent, Black owned bookstore. If they don’t have it, they can order it. I’m obviously it sounds cliche to say wherever books are sold, but literally wherever books are sold on Amazon is on Barnes Noble Books-A-Million The audio book is out. The audio book is is incredible shout out to Deon Graham who did the narration for that. So it’s it’s everywhere. And you can also find the book. I got links to it on my Twitter and Instagram. Those are just my name @Justin Tinsley. I need my little cousin to teach me how to really use Tik Tok so I can, you know, tap into that market. 

Panama Jackson [00:51:41] Me either, bro. 

Justin Tinsley [00:51:41] I don’t know. I just watched the videos and, you know, for for for the for us oldest geezers out there, I still do have a Facebook profile. Um, so, yeah, I’m everywhere where I can be at all times. 

Panama Jackson [00:51:55] Well, look, brother, I appreciate you coming on here to dear culture. Thank you for sharing about your process, about putting together a book. Thank you for putting the book together, for checking your emails and adding to the culture. I’m a big fan of books about hip hop that aren’t just, you know, that are about the culture as a as a whole. Because I think the more books that we can have about hip hop and individuals and the culture at large, like the better it will be for the culture because hip hop, you know, it’s is clearly here to stay, hasn’t gone anywhere and is only more stories that could be told so. Thank you for, for your contribution to the writing game, to the hip hop game, to those of us who came up in that like blog writing space, you know what I’m saying? Like, it’s wonderful to see us all love that up into something that’s legitimate career, career wise, like we actually all made it. I’m just I’m proud, man. I’m glad you had to come back. We’ll talk more about that at some point because that’s that’s definitely a whole conversation in and of itself, like the whole lot of conversation, what it actually did to the journalism as a whole, how it changed everything. And and thank you to everybody who’s second is out here. Dear Culture. Thank you for listening. If you liked what you heard, please give us a five star review. Subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcasts. Share what everyone you know. Thanks to Justin.  I’m Panama, you know, please email all questions, suggestions and compliments. The podcast at Dear Culture Podcast is an original production brought to you by theGrio Black Podcast Network also is produced by myself, Panama Jackson and Crystal Grant, edited by Cameron Blackwell. Taji Senior is our Logisitics Associate producer and Regina Griffin is our Managing Editor of Podcasts. Thanks to everyone who’s listening. Have a Black. Next week on Dear Culture is Brandy the Vocal Bible? 

Dai Poole [00:53:48] I definitely believe that she will be remembered by the tone of her voice and how unique it was. You can’t discuss nineties music, not just RB nineties music without talking about Brandy, because what she, along with Aaliyah and Monica did was truly unprecedented the level of success they had at such an early age.