New York City isn’t what it used to be. I’m not a native of the Big Apple, but after living there for four years and adopting it as my second home, I’ve seen the city’s drastic evolution. NYC has been getting soft. Its grit, attitude, and swagger are steadily fading, as gentrification and high rent is removing its character.
Bedford-Stuyvesant, aka Bed-Stuy, is an example of a neighborhood facing intense pressure to change. For decades, it’s been the cultural center of Brooklyn’s African-American population, producing a long list of accomplished persons like Jackie Robinson, Jay-Z, and Chris Rock. However, Bed-Stuy’s most notable ambassador has to be the Notorious B.I.G.
“Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the livest one. Representing BK to the fullest.”
Biggie was the King of New York, but he rose out of Bed-Stuy. When he was laid to rest after his untimely death in 1997, the streets of the neighborhood were flooded with fans looking to pay respect to their neighborhood’s star. In 2015, Naoufal “Rocko” Alaoui and Scott “Zimer” Zimmerman commemorated the Notorious B.I.G with a two-story mural on the side of a building on Bedford Ave and Quincy Street. Since then, the homage has been a destination for hip-hop heads, including myself.
I was shocked to hear that the mural was in jeopardy, as the building’s landlord wanted to remove it to make renovations. This would be a blasphemous act that symbolized the problem with the city’s quick spreading gentrification. NYC is the most desirable place to live in the world with the borough of Brooklyn being the epicenter of cool. High demand for housing with limited supply results in skyrocketing rent, which entices long time building owners to cash in on their real estate investments. But in doing so, they also sell off the culture that makes these distinct neighborhoods unique.
I enjoyed exploring Bed-Stuy en route to the mural, as it still maintained its personality. However, the transition was visible. Next to the liquor stores and Chinese fast-food spots were new coffee shops and organic juiceries. While some folks were blasting dancehall music on the stoop while kicking back with beers, little white girls scurried out of building with their yoga mats thrown over their shoulders. This was certainly not Biggie’s Bed-Stuy.
The mural is really awesome in person and is a true landmark for the neighborhood. Taking it down would practically represent the downfall of Bed-Stuy and eventually Brooklyn. Biggie would be rolling over in his grave if he knew he would be replaced by luxury condos or a Whole Foods. Luckily with the support of local art organizations, the landlord changed his mind about removing the piece art after learning how much it meant to Bed-Stuy.
If you’re in New York, make a trip out to Bed-Stuy to check out not only the couple Biggie murals, but also the neighborhood in itself.