I was a middle-class teenager growing up in a small town in Oxfordshire, a position of absolute privilege 3,400 miles from Brooklyn, when a school friend decided to take issue with my music taste. At the time, it was limited exclusively to the work of other middle-class teenagers from the home counties.
That day after school, he sent me a link to “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls, an artist I was totally ignorant of.
From the opening monologue, Biggie Smalls transported me into a different world, sharing his experiences a million miles from my own. Teachers promising him he wouldn’t amount to anything, the struggle to feed his daughter, landlords threatening eviction; in just a few verses he showed me that there was a world outside of Oxfordshire.
And that world was one of struggle, but also of rich culture. Because “Juicy” is not a reflective song about pain but an inspirational story of working to become something extraordinary. Of rising from destitution and poverty to become notorious worldwide. After all, Biggie Smalls ends his final verse with “because I went from negative to positive, and it’s all good.”
Now, we are in our 20s, and almost ten years have passed since I first heard “Juicy.” My friend continues to send me music recommendations, frustrated that I simply don’t get the appeal of Black Country, New Road, Death Grips, or whatever other experimental group takes his fancy.
These groups will come and go, but Biggie Smalls is timeless, and for that recommendation, I will be eternally grateful.