On any other day, the storm that lingered over Brooklyn, N.Y., may have been looked on as ominous or foreboding. It certainly would’ve deterred anyone from standing in it longer than they absolutely had to. But on Monday, on one block bordering the Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods, it was an affirmation.
“Biggie is crying right now—tears of joy,” New York City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo told a crowd who had gathered on the corner of Fulton Street and St. James. They were all there to celebrate the block’s new name: “Christopher ‘Notorious B.I.G.’ Wallace Way.”
The steady drumbeat of rain, which lasted the whole afternoon, had to compete with the rapper’s iconic discography blasting from speakers large and small. Before the official re-naming ceremony started, chants of “Go Brooklyn” punctured the air, as umbrellas bobbed to the beat. Surprising no one, the crowd spit back Biggie’s verses bar for bar.
“I didn’t even know this was his block. I didn’t even know he lived here,” a black woman with a distinctly New York City accent said to herself as she navigated the crowded, wet sidewalks.
The fight to rename the block Biggie grew up on was 22 years in the making, Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace told The Root after the ceremony. She attempted to have the street renamed shortly after his death, but met opposition from members of the community who told her it was “too soon” to name the street after him, or who disagreed with “what he represented,” she said.
Still, she and thousands of others from around the world persisted, signing petitions and lobbying officials to co-name the intersection for one of hip-hop’s most influential figures.
The event was part block party, part Christening, and a raucous rallying cry for Brooklyn residents who want the world to remember the borough’s history and struggles, especially as gentrification dramatically reshapes its neighborhoods. Speaking at the event were Biggie’s blood and chosen family, his son C.J. Wallace and his mother, as well as Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease, with whom he formed Junior M.A.F.I.A. A slew of local politicians also spoke, weaving Biggie’s lyrics into their speeches. To all of them, Biggie represented the best of what Brooklyn was—and helped make the borough a global destination.
“There are only two types of people in the world, those who live in Brooklyn and those who wish they could,” Borough President Eric Adams said, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
New York City Public Advocate and Brooklynite Jumaane Williams, sharing a stage with hip hop royalty, was audibly giddy as he told everyone who had gathered, “I’m bugging out now.”
“I’m a hip-hop head,” Williams confided. “I reek of Brooklyn and there’s nothing I can do about it.
“We’re celebrating Biggie. We’re celebrating hip hop. We’re celebrating ourselves.”
The proliferation of umbrellas made it difficult to see many of the speakers unless you managed to snag a space in the front row or the steps of one of the neighboring brownstones. So it was hard for many gathered to see Li’l Kim, though her distinctive Brooklyn lilt carried through the rain-drenched street. To her, seeing Biggie officially recognized with his own street was all but inevitable.
“This block, it belongs to Biggie,” Kim said. “He always had a vision, and I feel like today was part of his vision.”
C.J. Wallace, Biggie’s son, who was just a few months old when his father was killed, found himself at a loss for words at the outpouring of devotion in front of him.
“This is beautiful, man,” the 22-year-old entrepreneur and actor said, noting that the last time he had seen this many people on Biggie’s childhood block, it was when he was filming his father’s biopic (Wallace played a young version of the rapper).
“I have a responsibility, my sister and I both have a responsibility to keep his legacy alive,” he continued, taking in the scene. “I’m just so happy to see this. The rain, all of it, it’s perfect ... I love y’all.”
The biggest cheers of the day, however, were reserved for Voletta Wallace.
“This is what I call love,” Wallace said, noting the long journey it took to get to Christopher Wallace Way. She spoke as she usually does, her voice soft, her cadence steady, her speech shaped by a beautiful Jamaican accent. She recalled the moment back in 1997, shortly after hearing the news of her son’s death in Los Angeles, when she first saw the crowds that had gathered in Brooklyn to pay tribute to him.
“Tears came to my eyes and I said to my friend, ‘My son was well-loved’,” Wallace said, smiling. Now, the image of all the people standing before her in the rain brought tears of joy back to her eyes.
“I want to thank you for standing out there in the rain to see a sign unveiled. That is love,” she said. “Do you hear me?”
“This street is going to be a love street, people are going to come here and are going to know that a young man, my son was here,” Wallace added.
As anyone who has ever listened to Biggie knows, spreading love is the Brooklyn way—and throughout the celebration, the importance of remembering the contributions of longtime borough residents was emphasized. During the celebration, several speakers noted the changes Brooklyn had gone through in the two decades since Biggie’s passing.
Councilwoman Cumbo pointed out that while Biggie was creating hip-hop masterpieces, the neighborhood was redlined. Residents had fled, and gun violence was rampant.
“They had left us to die,” she said. “But there were people that struggled, people that fought. And they made this the hottest place in the entire world.”
“Now, everybody is coming to Brooklyn, New York. They want to erase the history,” Cumbo continued. “That’s why this sign is important today, so that the history of why this place is what it is, is told to our children and to our children’s children.”
The crowd cheered as Cumbo told them that they helped make the borough what it is today.
“Biggie Smalls created the soundtrack of inspiration that gave us the growth, the ability, the inspiration, the blueprint to create success in Brooklyn, New York,” she said.
As she spoke, a man in a blue suit rose his fist high up toward the sky. By mid-afternoon, the sign was unveiled, new and slick with rain. Biggie’s voice seized the block again as “Juicy” poured out over the street. Later, lingering onlookers bobbed their heads up and down underneath an awning, while a few brave souls twirled around in the downpour, their words seemingly made for this very moment:
“You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far,” they rapped along. “Call the crib, same number, same hood—it’s all good.”