From negative to positive: Civic gurus approve co-naming C’Hill street for ‘Biggie’ after previously panning tribute

Encore: CB2 revisiting proposal to co-name street for rapper ‘Biggie Smalls’
Associated Press / Mark Lennihan

This B.I.G. honor is finally coming to fruition.

A Clinton Hill street will likely soon bear the name of the late local hip-hop legend, Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace, after members of the neighborhood’s community board on Thursday approved a pitch to co-name the block where the rapper grew up after him.

Community Board 2’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee’s vote to green-light the honor proposed by a borough artist came nearly five years after the man first brought the idea to the panel, which met it with shameful opposition back then, he said.

“At that time it was a pretty embarrassing reaction. It was sad for Brooklyn, and the community board,” said LeRoy McCarthy, who recently installed “Respect” signs in Crown Heights’s Franklin Avenue subway station as a tribute to the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

But despite earning the committee’s near-unanimous approval, and the support of Clinton Hill Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, McCarthy’s proposal to co-name St. James Place between Gates Avenue and Fulton Street as “Christopher Wallace Way” wasn’t embraced by all in attendance.

Fort Greener Lucy Koteen — who the last time around notoriously argued the rapper also known as Notorious B.I.G. was too fat to be honored, among other things — again begged committee members to vote “nay,” citing some of the rhyme spitter’s more salacious lyrics, printouts of which she distributed at the meeting.

“How many of you read his lyrics? I have a treat for you,” said Koteen, who called the rapper a gun-toter, drug seller, and misogynist as she whipped out her evidence. “I invite any of you to read these out loud, and read them to your children. I can’t even say what his words are, they are all about promiscuous sex.”

But the words spoken by Wallace — whom Cumbo argued still influences both local and popular culture decades after he was shot and killed in 1997 at 24-years-old in a statement supporting the co-naming — are no more inflammatory than those uttered by the 45th president of the United States on a daily basis, according to a board member who once chaired the panel.

“We have a president whose lyrics you can’t read out loud,” said John Dew.

CB2 members recently voted to co-name two other streets within its district, including Gold Street between Myrtle Avenue and Willoughby Street for pioneering African-American journalist Ida B. Wells, and Columbia Heights between Pineapple and Orange Streets for Emily Warren Roebling, who ushered the Brooklyn Bridge to completion after her husband contracted a fatal case of the bends.

And last year, the board’s Parks and Executive Committees unanimously voted to name basketball courts inside Clinton Hill’s Crispus Attucks Playground for Wallace — despite more objections from Koteen.

Still, Dew said the civic panel has a history of resisting recognitions for black community members, and that it’s about time its members came around to supporting the tribute to Biggie.

“Community Board 2 does not have a good reputation when it comes to co-naming for African-American folks. We’ve had numerous examples, not unlike what you saw here, but you can’t stand up and tell a community whom they can and cannot honor in their district,” he said. “When this was first presented to us, I said bring it forward — but it was withdrawn before it got to the board. Thank goodness it’s here now.”

The panel’s full board will next vote on the co-naming, which then heads to Council, where it will almost certainly pass given Cumbo’s already pledged support.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Biggie's basketball courts: The city last year named these hoops at Crispus Attucks Playground after Wallace.
Photo by Jason Speakman