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Top 40 Philosophy: Notorious B.I.G., “Big Poppa/Warning”

Posted in Friendly Philosophy, Music, and Top 40 Philosophy

Background

If people know anything about rap, it’s that there’s some kind of feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers. Or, at least, there was. If they know anything else, it was that “2Pac and Biggie” were both killed as part of this feud (at least purportedly), one (2Pac) from the West Coast, and the other (Biggie) from the East.

In 1995, the feud played out on the Billboard Rap Songs chart, with Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa/Warning” going #1 for six weeks, to be replaced for one week by 2Pac’s “Dear Mama/Old School” for one week, which was replaced in turn by “Big Poppa/Warning” for one week, which was replaced in turn by “Dear Mama/Old School” for one week, which was replaced in turn by “Big Poppa/Warning” for two weeks, which was replaced in turn by “Dear Mama/Old School” for one week, which was replaced in turn by 2Pac’s fellow West Coaster, Dr. Dre, with his song “Keep Their Heads Ringin'” for one week, which was replaced in turn by “Dear Mama/Old School” for two weeks.

In all, Biggie gave the East Coast nine weeks at #1 from the end of January through the beginning of May, while 2Pac (and Dre) gave the West Coast six weeks at #1 during the same period. East Coast artists would dominate the chart from there on, until Coolio (a West Coaster) released “Gangsta’s Paradise” — a kind of despairing critique of the entire situation — which went #1 in September and ended up the #1 song in all genres for the year.

Since our focus for the moment is 1995’s top songs — and we’ve already done “Gangsta’s Paradise” — let’s do Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa/Warning” today and Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama/Old School” later this week.

The Song(s)

“Big Poppa/Warning” is two songs that overlap, musically, with “Warning” beginning before “Big Poppa” ends. The two videos have a similar connection, with “Big Poppa” taking place at a club, and “Warning” taking place later the same night. Neither is particularly NSFW, but “Warning” (the second video below) is definitely more NSFW, and ends pretty violently.

These two songs celebrate the two opposed thematic extremes of hip-hop, with “Big Poppa” focusing on the “playa” lifestyle, and “Warning” focusing on the “gangsta” lifestyle. As the songs work together, however, the second is presented as a consequence of jealousy over the first. Once you become successful (monetarily and with women) you attract attention, evidently. And that attention leads others to want to take what you have acquired.

The two songs together, then, present violence as a result of greed. This should put us in mind of Plato’s explanation for the origin of war in the Republic. If people seek pleasures beyond what is strictly necessary — which Biggie refers to as “foolish pleasure” — they will have to take from others. And this will create conflict.

The difference between Biggie and Plato is that Biggie thinks he has not had to exploit anyone else to acquired his wealth. The greed that leads to conflict in Biggie’s world is the greed of jealousy, which leads have-nots to attack the rich, while in Plato’s world there is no jealousy involved, and the conflict seems to be between economic equals.

This would probably be the appropriate place to say something about Marx as well. Marx wouldn’t like the nouveau riche, capitalist Biggie, for example. But I need to get back to pre-semester prep, so I’ll leave it to you to continue the comparisons and contrasts.

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