Conclusive Culture Ch 5: Shaquille O’Neal/Christopher Wallace (Notorious B.I.G.)

By: Lamonte Thomas

Headline Photo Credit: The Source

Conclusive Culture Ch 5: Shaquille O’Neal/Christopher Wallace (Notorious B.I.G.)

Every now and then a figure in entertainment emerges to shift the culture, and society as we know it. Sports and music have the ability to unify the masses, and both industries unveil a passion that is unattainable by another source. Throughout history athletes and musicians alike deliver similar, life-altering influence on the way we perceive, engage and experience life’s moments. 

Modern-day artist Aubrey Graham (A.K.A Drake to the music industry) put it best by saying, I swear sports and music are so synonymous/cause we wanna be them, and they wanna be us”. From someone who succeeds in the business on both sides, the lines from the record Thank me Nowalludes to the timeless cultural access levied by the elite. 

As the influence from music and sports on culture is undoubtedly special, when paired together these eminent entertainers relate to each other’s social contributions. This measurement of cultural influence pairs music artists and athletes by their persona and methods of impact.

Persona- Dominant Era/Larger Than Life Impact

Influence- Game-Changers, Light Made Positive

Shaquille O’Neal

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Big. An adjective that describes everything Shaquille O’neal is and what he has done. He dominated college basketball for three years at Louisiana State University. As he averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds, it landed him as the number one draft pick of the 1992 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic. Though his efforts would yield a NBA Finals appearance in 1995, Shaq and the Magic were swept four games to none by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. The evolution of Shaq was to follow.

At the start of the 1996 season, Shaq signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, seemingly the only place to blossom the career of a 7’1, 300-pound phenom. LA needed Shaq, as their expectations were to fill the shoes of former superstars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain– and the feet they found were size 22. If each of Shaq’s career moments were defined by one of his many nicknames, LA would no doubt be the “Diesel” and the purple and gold uniform was the cape to his “Superman.” As he found his superpowers in L.A., the big fella crossed paths with a 18-year old rookie named Kobe Bryant. The two would evolved as one of the most powerful duos in NBA history. 

Through 1999 the two were mentioned amongst the best in the league, but they still lacked the shine that all true NBA stars possess — an NBA Championship. At season’s end, Shaq would finally clutch the Championship with endearment, releasing the fear of being really good and not great. However in the next two years, he would push himself to the status of a legend. The LA Lakers won the next two NBA titles to follow, becoming the third franchise to ever do so. 

2000 WCF: Kobe Lobs to Shaq to Win Game 7

By the time he solidified himself as a NBA superstar, Shaq was already embedded in American pop culture. Before 2002 he had journeyed into a music career, having created six rap albums (1 of which went platinum). Popular artists that collaborated with “Shaq Diesel” include RZA, Method Man, Bobby Brown, Jay-Z, Michael Jackson and the Notorious B.I.G. The three-time NBA champion found himself on television moreso off the court than on it. Though he seemed fit for the bright lights of LA on the screen, his tandem with Kobe Bryant and the dominant Lakers went dim. 

Shaq and Kobe admitted to have butted heads as early as their first off-season; however after a Kobe interview with Jim Gray in October 2003 the two collided at full speed. During the interview Kobe was quoted saying that Shaq was “fat and out of shape” and that he was acting “childish and selfish.” After being stunned by the Pistons 4-1 in the NBA finals, O’neal was traded to Miami per his request. 

Photo from: China Daily

Paired with Miami Heat superstar Dwayne Wade, “the Big Aristotle” delivered on his premonition to win the NBA championship with Miami in 2006. Later he ironically explained that he and Kobe Bryant were two enigmas that did not always agree but understood the prominent greatness they established on the court. The statement could not have been more true than at the 2009 NBA All-star game, where the two competed on the same team and won co- mvp’s in the most nostalgic fashion.

The 2000’s decade saw many great things come to its end– Hip Hop fashion (Phat Farm, Bape and Billionaire Boys Club) and sensored TV declined (With the Emergence of Southpark, not to mention the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction) along with the dominance of Shaquille O’Neal. When 2010 concluded Shaq had been a four-time NBA Champion, played for six different teams, recorded seven music albums, appeared in 12 films and over 250 commercials. Rolling stone called him “A celebrity for the new world”, and Forbes labelled him the 10th richest athlete, as he reportedly earned an annual $31 million. As far as Shaq’s influence on the culture, “The bigger the step, the bigger the impact.”

SHAQ CAREER HIGHLIGHTS  –Video Credit: Allen Wang

Christopher Wallace- The Notorious B.I.G.

Photo Credit: Jamaica Observer

The year was 1993, Shaq was a rookie and hip-hop was a way of life in the boroughs of New York. While the big #32 was making an impact on the professional basketball scene, Christopher Wallace from Brooklyn would “Kick in the door” of the rap game. Known by most as ‘Biggie Smalls’ the rapper would eventually go by the ‘Notorious B.I.G’ or ‘Big’ after a lawsuit from the Let’s Do It Again movie character (1975). His first solo track “Party and Bullsh*t” from the Who’s The Mansoundtrack was his combine to be drafted by Puff Daddy’s ‘Bad Boy’ Record label. 

In August of 1994 B.I.G would release “Juicy” which is commonly called one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time. The single spoke of “Big Poppa’s” dream of becoming a hip-hop megastar; and also, the journey of overcoming the perilous New York inner-city lifestyle of crime, drug-dealing and poverty. Quickly the song soared to number 1 on Billboard’s charts as his Ready to Die album reached gold in two months. 

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Shortly after Shaq gets to the Finals in 1995, Biggie’s instrumentals for his song “Warning” becomes the intro to the show Mad TV; it would remain that way for 13 years. If Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and ‘Death Row Records’ were raps Chicago Bulls, B.I.G, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Bad Boy Records were the Orlando Magic–Meaning ‘Death Row’ was on top, but they knew ‘Bad Boy’ was coming.

Since the start of his career the Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur were close friends at the top of the rap game, but things changed in November of 1994 at Quad Studios in New York. B.I.G was recording when he heard Tupac was there, and sent the message for ‘Pac to meet him upstairs. On his way to meet Big, Tupac was robbed and shot but survived; He later told Vibe Magazine that he held Big responsible for the incident, as no one informed him who the shooters were. That day would ignite Biggie and Tupac’s relationship into a full hip-hop hellfire as war ensued between affiliated east and west coast artists, fans and stakeholders alike.

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Unlike the Shaq and Kobe beef, the two once-in-a-lifetime legends did not get the chance to reflect on an issue that were much smaller than their hearts. In a time where narratives were even more-so controlled by mainstream media, the groundswell was more interested in the hate these two entities could spread as rivals; rather than the love and change they stood to bring as world influencers. 

Tupac Shakur was shot on September 7th, 1996 in Las Vegas after an altercation with a L.A. gang member. Six days later on September 13 the assault would prove to be fatal. Without a chance to mourn one of the greatest musical icons in history, survivors of the tragedy would suffer the same loss six months later. The Notorious B.I.G. was shot in an execrable drive-by shooting just before 1:00 AM on March 9, 1997 while leaving a Vibe Magazine and Qwest Records after party; Wallace was pronounced dead at 1:15. 

Tupac was 25 years old when he was killed. Christopher Wallace was 24. A severe solemn mood filled the communities in America. In the wake of their deaths, Tupac was like Hip Hop’s amygdala (responsible for  perception & emotional response) and Biggie was its cerebellum (responsible for speech and rhythm). Perhaps fellow artist Nas saw each of their contributions to the genre best when he declared “Hip Hop is dead” after the lost of its most significant components. 

Before his life and dominance of the rap game was abruptly ended, the Notorious B.I.G. was in Los Angeles for two distinct reasons: 1- To redirect  the evil, deadly course that storytellers made of rap and his relationship with Tupac; and 2- To promote his latest work to do so. His album, Life After Death (released 16 days after his murder) became the “Biggest” allegory to his cultural influence– From song titles “I Got A Story To Tell”to “What’s Beef”. From “Going Back to Cali” to “Sky’s The Limit”. Long after he is gone, Biggie’s narratives in his deep, raspy, wheezy voice with his clever, graceful word-styling diction is indeed his “Life After Death.”

Biggie Interview On His Lifestyle  – Video Credit Dan Reynolds

Photo Credit: Medium

Cultural Influence: Shaquille O’neal X Christopher Wallace

The 1990’s American culture got its shape largely from the impact of Shaq and B.I.G. Each of them left a mark on basketball and Hip Hop respectively for those who came afterwards. Every big man in the NBA desired to make a “Shaq-like” presence in the paint; synonymously every Hip Hop prodigy embedded Biggie’s “influential flow” into their skillset. Even if you didn’t rap or play ball, chances are you came across a Big or Shaq reference: whether it be a “Big Poppa” lyric or one of #32’s tales of dunking and bringing down the entire hoop apparatus; backboard and all. 

Aside from influencing the world around them, Shaq and Christopher Wallace encouraged each other in life as well. In his song Gimme the Loot Big rapped, “I’m slamming n*–*s like Shaquille–” Shaq even hosted B.I.G. in Orlando when they collaborated on “Cant stop the Reign”. Those who knew both men would describe them to be as kind as their stature– with the ability to leave a “larger than life” imprint on anyone who engaged them. 

Chronologically, Shaq and Biggie shared a seat on the roller coaster of trials, tribulations and perseverance. Here’s a timeline of events in sequential order: 

November 1994-  At the peak of his success, B.I.G. is thrown into the whirlwind of east/west coast beef with Tupac. 

Summer 1995- Shaq would be swept in the NBA finals, longing for his first NBA title. Biggie is awarded “Best New Artist” at the Source Awards in August

Fall 1995/Early 1996 – Christopher Wallace was trying to dismiss the feud with ‘Pac, as he focused on his best work yet: collaborating with artists such as Michael Jackson and starting on Life After Death

In June 1996 Tupac released “Hit Em’ Up”, the iconic diss-track that doused accelerant on the fiery clash between him and Big. 

July 1996- Shaq begins a glorious new chapter with the Los Angeles Lakers, trying to forget about the legendary duo he and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway could be. 

September 7, 1996- Tupac is shot in Las Vegas. He dies from injuries September 13. On the east coast, Biggie calls Faith Evans, who’s pregnant with his child. He explains his concern on ‘Pac’s sudden death & its impact on the Biggie/Pac rivalry

September 19, 1996- Shaq releases his 3rd album You Can’t Stop the Reign featuring the track “Still Can’t Stop the Reign” with Notorious B.I.G.

October 29, 1996- Faith Evans gives birth to Biggie’s son Christopher Wallace Jr, to which Big reports changed his outlook on life 

March 6, 1997- Shaq’s 25th birthday. Around the same time, he runs into B.I.G. in LA while promoting his album. Shaq warns him to be careful; being that Tupac was killed 6 months prior.

March 9- Shaq recalls missing Biggie’s party due to him oversleeping. From a penthouse nearby, he gets the news of his close friend passing. The memory will be forever painful as Shaq is reminded every year on his birthday. 

Shaq recalls his friendship with Big — Video credit: Michelle Johnson

Cultural scope– The names Shaquille O’neal and Christopher Wallace will forever be attached to doing it “B.I.G.” Both men rose to stardom as if “It was all a dream!” However that dream took a turn for the worst on that March night that Shaq overslept, and like the Juicy iterates, Birthdays were the worst days–”. Though for as long as Hip Hop and basketball shall live, so will these legends. Their story further proves that “The Sky is the Limit” and as they both proclaimed on the song 22 years ago “YOU CAN’T STOP THE REIGN” – Youtube Credit: Hollaballooza

Video Credit: Youtube