Today, March 9, marks the 25th anniversary of the murder of Notorious BIG, the Brooklyn-born rap icon.
His assassination is forever linked to the murder of Tupac Shakur, a friend-turned-enemy who was killed months earlier.
Growing up watching news reports and specials about the beef between Biggie and Tupac, it always seemed like this was a conflict that could have been avoided if only these two men knew how to defuse their anger. This narrative has been useful to any racist seeking to condemn the perceived evils of black culture.
It is only as an adult that I discover, with the help of a few new storiesthat the story of Biggie and Tupac’s death is more a story of a media failure than a story of a personal feud.
And the sins committed by the media before Biggie’s death are still being committed today – perhaps more blatantly.
During the early to mid-1990s, television news, magazines, newspapers, and radio stations helped fuel the intense rivalry between Biggie and Tupac because it caught the eye. It was a slow-motion train wreck with an outcome—untimely death—so predictable that the two men talked about it endlessly in their music. But the media — both legacy media and budding non-traditional platforms like hip-hop radio stations — helped fan the flames that ultimately consumed two men in their mid-20s.
The parallels with today are obvious.
Today, it’s not just terrestrial radio and television stations that obsessively cover artist disputes. They’ve become the old guard and given way to YouTube channels, podcasts and blogs — like TMZ or The Shade Room or VladTV or DJ Akademiks — that capitalize on conflict with posts they can share faster than ever. .
The platforms these outlets use to share information – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, for example – rely on engagement to make money. And posting things that trigger anger or fear is the most effective way to elicit feedback from users.
It’s a point that New York City Mayor Eric Adams made quite awkwardly last month.
Adult profiteering from youth conflict and violence isn’t just a hip-hop problem, and it certainly wasn’t a problem unique to Biggie and Tupac. This is a problem in all media and a problem exacerbated today by social media.