The memory of murdered rapper Biggie Smalls was manifestly in the house—the House of Representatives—three years before it was more subtly invoked in the Senate.
Back on March 9, 2017, three representatives took separate opportunities on the House floor to mark the 20th anniversary of Biggie’s still unsolved slaying.
The first two, Rep. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands and Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York, both quoted the best-known refrain from “Juicy,” the autobiographical hit song in which Biggie describes his rise from small-time crack dealer to hip-hop megastar, from street life to sweet life.
“And if you don’t know, now you know,” the famous line goes.
The third was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He arranged for a congressional page to set up an easel and a portrait such as has never been seen in the House chamber.
There was the man formerly known as Christopher Wallace in his full glory, his bigger-than-life portrait in a place he could not likely have imagined it ever being, wearing a gold crown in keeping with his continued stature in the rap pantheon. The crown was of course set at a jaunty angle lest anyone think he was just some ordinary monarch rather than the king of hip-hop.
Jeffries began by quoting a verse of “Juicy,” just a hint of a rap rhyme in his voice and therefore a hint more than had previously been heard there.
“It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine. Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine, Hangin’ pictures on my wall, Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl….”
Jeffries then said, “Those were the words of the late great Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls… the king of New York. He died 20 years ago today in a tragedy that occurred in Los Angeles, but his words live on forever. I have got the privilege of representing the district where Biggie Smalls was raised. We know he went from negative to positive and emerged as one of the world’s most important hip-hop stars. His rags-to-riches life story is the classic embodiment of the American Dream. Biggie Smalls is gone, but he will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, Notorious B.I.G.”
Jeffries ended by reciting the title of a rap number that Biggie had performed with Tupac Shakur, whose 1996 murder also remains unsolved.
“Where Brooklyn at?”
Jeffries did not mean the Brooklyn of Lena Dunham and the HBO show Girls, and hipster refugees who fled the boredom of the suburbs, driving up real estate prices to where the erstwhile “one-room shack” of Biggie’s autobiographical lyrics sold in 2013 for $825,000.
Jeffries was speaking of streets where you learn early on that what you say is what you say and what you do what you do, that your words and actions have consequences, that breaking the law will likely land you in jail, that taking drugs can leave you a street junkie, but you can make your luck and beat the odds with hard work and talent and spirit and resilience.
Jeffries did not join the other two representatives in citing the famous refrain. He saved that for the floor of the Senate on Tuesday. He was there serving as a House manager in the impeachment of a president who is a tale of riches to riches, who progressed through life protected by privilege from consequences, who routinely lied, grabbed, welched, betrayed, cheated, and anything else that was to his immediate advantage at the moment.
Jeffries stepped up to respond after Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow posed a question that sought to provide its own answer by offering nonsense in the guise of logic.
“Why are we here?” Sekulow inquired. “Are we here because of a phone call? Or are we here, before this great body, because since the president was sworn into office there was a desire to see him removed?”
Jeffries’ response proved that true Brooklyn can also speak with the rhythm of history.
“We are here, sir, because President Trump pressured a foreign government to target an American citizen for political and personal gain,” Jeffries said. “We are here, sir, because President Trump solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election and corrupted our democracy.”
Jeffries continued, “And we are here, sir, to follow the facts, follow the law, be guided by the Constitution, and present the truth to the American people. That is why we are here, Mr. Sekulow.”
Jeffries summed it up with the famous refrain.
“And if you don’t know, now you know.”
Some of the senators may have recognized the line from the hip-hop musical Hamilton, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda pays homage to Biggie by having the Thomas Jefferson character speak it to Washington. One difference is that where Biggie added a variant of the n-word as a bit of direct address, Miranda adds, “Mr. President.”
Maybe a couple of senators actually recognized the line as a nod to Biggie. Any sentient senator must have considered it an artful way to punctuate a response.
When Biggie's mother, Violetta Wallace, was asked on Wednesday about the use of his refrain in the Senate, she said she was not interested in discussing how it might figure in the impeachment proceedings.
“I’m not really into politics,” she said. ”It was that song, he talks about this life.”
She suggested the line can be used in any number of situations other than impeachment of a president, including those involving a wife and a husband.
“If you don’t know, darling, now you know,” she said as an example.
She was more interested in her son’s upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The news came last week. The other inductees include Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, and Nine Inch Nails.
“We’re looking forward to going to that,” the mother said.
None of the other artists are expected to figure in the impeachment proceedings, as Biggie has.
The mother reported that Biggie’s daughter, T’yanna, is living happily and has a little dog with just the right name.
“Brooklyn,” the mother said.
Meanwhile, the impeachment proceedings continue, with Jeffries keeping Brooklyn in the house in the Senate.