(The Root) — Brooklyn, N.Y., resident LeRoy McCarthy has long been a fan of slain rapper Christopher Wallace, who was also known as Biggie Smalls, Big Poppa, Notorious BIG and so on. So he started an online petition to rename a street corner in honor of the rapper, who immortalized his Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in his rhymes.
But community leaders of the neighborhood that today is known as Clinton Hill recently rejected the idea of renaming a corner "Christopher Wallace Way," according to DNAinfo New York.
CB2 committee member Lucy Koteen said she "looked up the rapper's history" and read what she had learned to the full board Tuesday night.
"He started selling drugs at 12, he was a school dropout at 17, he was arrested for drugs and weapons charge, he was arrested for parole violations, he was arrested in North Carolina for crack cocaine, in 1996 he was again arrested for assault, he had a violent death and physically the man is not exactly a role model for youth," she said. "I don't see how this guy was a role model and frankly it offends me."
To be sure, rappers may not be the best role models, but just who does deserve to have streets, public spaces and buildings named in their honor? Perhaps Nathan B. Forrest, the Confederate general who helped found the Ku Klux Klan? A Jacksonville, Fla., high school has carried his name since 1959, selected in protest of school integration. Forrest was accused of heading up the 1864 massacre of black Union soldiers and white Union sympathizers after they had surrendered at Fort Pillow, Tenn. A parent has started a petition to change the school's name.
But back to street names. Slate points out that New York City has a laundry list of streets named for men and women of questionable character.
The streets of New York City are named after a fascinating group of men and women—some genuine heroes, some slave owners and Gilded Age plutocrats. Surely there's room for a man whose main contribution to history is some excellent music, and who, as Jody Rosen wrote in a 2009 piece for Slate, "reclaimed the zeitgeist for New York."
Slate also explores the double standard faced by hip-hop artists, compared with those in country western and punk music, in which songs are filled with references to violence.
A hero in a Willie Nelson song goes around shooting prostitutes, and Johnny Cash cheerfully sang about killing women, even romanticizing cocaine use while he was at it. No one bats an eye when these men are honored in museums and by having streets named after them. Joey Ramone got his street corner, despite singing a gleeful tune called "You're Gonna Kill That Girl." When it comes to country western and punk, for some reason, it's easier to understand that audiences have complex relationships with crime narratives in pop music, much as they do with Scorsese films and AMC shows that depict drugs and violence, even misogynist violence, in glamorized ways while still expecting viewers to know that it's wrong. Hip-hop has always been held to a different standard.
The "Christopher Wallace Way" street-corner name proposal could move forward if it's supported by City Councilwoman Letitia James.