The hip hop world has something to be angry about, and it’s more serious than Nicki Minaj’s lackluster response to Remy Ma.
Alabama rapper Doe B is in the news. Which is surprising, considering he’s been dead for three years. Doe B, an up-and-coming rapper who was signed to T.I.’s Hustle Gang label, was shot and killed back in December 2013. Since then, in a practice that has become common whenever a musician dies, his friends and associates have made plans to release a posthumous album using Doe’s unreleased music.
Although the efforts seemed to have good intentions, the album was suddenly put on hold when DJ Frank White, Doe B’s former manager, shared the album title, No Life After Death, along with the album cover art, which is an actual photograph of the deceased Doe B lying in his casket at his own funeral.
Along with many fans, Dariauna Dior, the mother of Doe B’s three children, called out DJ Frank White for the album cover, which she perceived as “tasteless,” and posted screenshots of a text conversation with White. Citing “Business”, White refused to change the cover and apparently broke off contact with Dior.
While many accused White of deliberately using an incendiary image to drum up publicity for the album, White explained his decision about the album cover in an Instagram post, citing it as an attempt to bring more attention to the violent conditions of Doe B’s hometown of Montgomery. Many accused White’s post of perpetuating stereotypes about violence rather than uplifting people.
To play devil’s advocate, let me add that Montgomery’s crime rate is 65% higher than the national average. Montgomery is so violent that Richard Davis, one of the survivors of the shooting that killed Doe B, was shot by his own cousin six months later. So White may have a point about violence, but whether the album cover actually expresses that or not is up for debate.
After some apparent intervention from T.I., No Life After Death will be released in June with a different cover, but Frank White has maintained his support for the original album art, and explained that, despite Dior’s accusations, all of the money from the album’s sales will go toward Doe B’s family with White is not receiving anything from it. He further complained that everybody who got angry about the album cover wasn’t angry that “the man who put [Doe B] in that casket is around here smiling and having fun.” What White was likely referring to was that Jason McWilliams, one of three defendants in the 2013 shooting that claimed Doe B’s life, was released on bail in December of last year.
The controversy couldn’t be more timely. It coincides with the 20th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s unsolved murder on March 9th, 1997. The anniversary was widely celebrated throughout the country in remembrance of the long-deceased rapper. Even Congress took a moment to pay their respects. Hell, Doe B’s album title, No Life After Death, is an obvious play on Life After Death, B.I.G.’s own posthumous album. But as Biggie’s memory and influence lives on, so does his unsolved murder. Last week, Voletta Wallace, Biggie’s mother, gave an interview where she claimed to “have a very good idea” of who the rapper’s murderer was, and believed that the police in Los Angeles (where Biggie was killed) knew who the killer was and did nothing to arrest them.
The murky details of Biggie’s murder, as well as it’s connection to the murder of Tupac Shakur, have long been a point of debate among hip hop circles, and the discussion is still so relevant that a true crime TV series is being made about it. Even Biggie’s wife is currently putting together a posthumous album. Needless to say, as with the case of Doe B’s No Life After Death, the amount of public interest behind a rapper’s death can lead to a surplus of honest tributes dedicated to carrying on a rapper’s legacy, even if a few people are exploiting it for personal gain.
And then, there’s this shit:
Yes, that’s right. For the asking price of one-and-a-half million dollars, you too can own a piece of hip hop history. “The Car in which Biggie Smalls was killed” (did Yoda write this?) is now available for sale at Moments in Time, an auction house whose other morbid memorabilia include the album John Lennon signed for his murderer. However, while selling an historical item is an acceptable practice, Moments in Time has shown particularly bad taste in how they’ve decided to price Biggie’s car.
Yes! Just like Kanye, you too can drive in the same car Tupac was shot in! Moments in Time was contacted by the sellers of Biggie’s car after hearing that Tupac’s car was also on sale. That the asking price is identical tells you why they decided to do so, after realizing how much they could potentially make from the sale. And while Moments in Time presents itself as an auction house dedicated to selling historical objects, placing Biggie’s car into competition with Tupac’s is itself an act that uses a violent history for profit by ignoring the results of the deadliest rap beef of all time.
While it’s still unclear if Frank White or anyone else is using the discarded Doe B album cover in a bid for publicity, it’s a modern example of how rappers, especially when their deaths are premature, are subject to exploitation by anyone seeking to use their visibility to make a quick buck. Paying homage to rappers is a worthwhile endeavor, but not when it’s done by fetishizing death.