On Friday, the Observer’s Ryan Steadman wondered, “is Biggie Smalls becoming New York’s street art saint?” That question has a two-part answer: Biggie was canonized long ago, and he’s moved from icon into exhausted cliche. The city’s newest Biggie mural is on a roll-down gate at the Musket Room, a restaurant in Nolita. The mural, painted by Fumero, joins a slew of other tributes to the rapper, including Fumero’s Biggie mural in Bushwick, Owen Dippie’s in Bed-Stuy, Danielle Mastrion’s in Bushwick, Comandante Biggie in Fort Greene, Col Wallnuts, Ski, 2ease & Boxer Juntaro’s collaboration in Bed-Stuy, and Mastrion’s upcoming mural at the Brooklyn Key Foods where Biggie allegedly worked as a kid.
No disrespect to the Musket Room — a restaurant I have never eaten at but seems lovely, and whose chef-owner Matt Lambert gets props for giving Fumero free reign to paint whatever he wants on his property — but A) this mural isn’t good, and B) there are so many Biggie murals that adding another one pushes past genre into self-parody, especially one that has nothing to do with Biggie as an artist or an icon. The Musket Room is a Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant in Manhattan that opened in 2013 that specializes in the cuisine of New Zealand. It has no apparent thematic, geographic, or ideological relation to the man who rapped “I’ve been robbing motherfuckers since the slave ships.” I asked Fumero if he sees Biggie as connected to the Musket Room somehow, because his presence on the gate seems arbitrary. He told me that he and Lambert are both fans of Biggie. That seems to be as far as the connection goes, as Fumero wouldn’t give me a straight answer.
Biggie Smalls and street murals are symbols of Old New York grit and ghetto life. Memorial murals are ever-present in rough neighborhoods like Biggie’s Bed-Stuy used to be (and still is for some) and neighborhoods like Brownsville still are. A Biggie mural signifies “being down with the streets,” of being “from Real Brooklyn.” I don’t believe that the Musket Room is intentionally trying to claim that kind of street cred, because the values of “realness” so important to street culture are so different from the values of fine dining that they’re almost foreign to each other. But that lack of intentionality is part of the problem. There’s no reason for this mural to exist. It’s senseless appropriation.
On a plainly surface level, there are so many Biggie murals that another one is just boring. This is Fumero’s third Biggie mural, and this one, bearing only a passing resemblance to its subject and somewhat slapdash construction, is his weakest.
Danielle Mastrion’s forthcoming mural on the Key Foods in Brooklyn sounds like it will be the right way to execute a Biggie mural in 2015: highly relevant (Biggie used to work there) and less about the rapper himself and more about the neighborhood. Mastrion said that she may not even directly depict Biggie. She seems to get that the Biggie mural genre is played out. Let hers be the last one, and then we can put them to bed until 2017, when there will inevitably be more murals commemorating the 20th anniversary of his death.
(Photo: Aymann Ismail/ANIMAL New York)