Hosted by Lil Kim in conjunction with The Alyi V Experience and Culture Creative, the star-studded event celebrated the legacy of the late King of New York with friends like Sway Calloway, Smiff-N-Wesson, Fat Joe, and of course, Junior M.A.F.I.A., hitting the red carpet and sharing personal stories about their relationship with the late rapper. DJ Enuff, Biggie’s DJ, spun on the 1s and 2s during the gala.
When we asked about Big’s influence on pop culture 25 years after his death, journalist and MSNBC host Ari Melber told VIBE, “I think people who inspire will things into being. That’s why Hip-Hop is such an ambitious culture, and people misunderstand that. People ask ‘Why do they [rappers] talk about money, why do they talk about brands?’ Well, if you’re in a place where you’ve never been allowed to have anything, where your marginalization, economically, politically, and otherwise, is baselined, and getting something in itself is breaking a barrier.” He then referenced Biggie’s “Juicy,” where the Brooklyn MC dedicated his debut album to the “teachers who told me I’d never amount to nothing.”
“If you come from a place where your teacher is not trying to tear you down, you might not relate to that,” he added. “And that’s great for people who are in those schools! But we got a lot of people in American schools that felt like he did.”
Ceaser Emanuel of VH1’s Black Ink Crew also discussed Big’s long-lasting impact in New York City. “Big would have been an influence on the whole New York,” he exclusively told VIBE. “He set a bar that we still live by. That we still try to, how can I say, move past, but you ain’t gonna forget a person who laid that type of foundation.”
The night started with journalist and radio personality Sway Calloway remembering his relationship with B.I.G. and introducing the official MCs of the night, Lil Kim and Lil Cease. “The first time I met Big was in the Bay Area,” Calloway recalled about his friendship with Big. In the early ’90s, Calloway started a promotion company called Streetwise which helped record labels expand their reach outside the New York City market. “When B.I.G. first came to the Bay area, we cradled your father, we protected your father, we fed your father a lot of food, CJ,” Calloway jokingly said during the Gala dinner. “And we took him all over Oakland, California… I took him to my grandmother’s house off of High Street. Big came to my grandmother’s house. At this time, he was just coming up… He was one of the most humble, successful people I’ve ever met.”
Lil Kim (in her first of two outfit changes during the night) and Lil Cease thank everyone for coming out and acknowledging Faith Evans and Lil Wayne, who couldn’t make it despite their efforts. “One thing about Lil Kim, she gonna ride for some B.I.G.,” she told the crowd as she remembered her mentor. Kim also thanked journalist and event planner Alyi V for planning the party with such a tight turnaround. The event, sponsored by Pepsi and Lexus, also gave attendees a sneak peek of Lexus’ #LexusxFrankWhite ad starring Lil Cease and CJ Wallace.
Then the musical portion of the night kicked off with a performance of Total’s “Can’t You See” from The Frank White Experience, a Notorious B.I.G. tribute band. Fat Joe performed “Big Poppa” along with Lil Cease.
“I probably listened to ‘Big Poppa’ 75 times in the last 48 hours to prepare for this,” Joe said after the performance. Cease kept the crowd’s energy high throughout the night thanks to his dancing, performing, and jokes (“I love you like a bag of weed, brother,” he jokingly told Sway after being introduced.) Mobb Deep’s surviving member and Biggie’s birthday twin, Havoc, performed “Last Days” and the remix of “Quiet Storm” with Lil Kim.
Throughout the night, Cease, Kim, The Frank White Experience and various loved ones of Big’s gathered on stage to perform classics like “All About The Benjamins,” “Hypnotized,” and more.
With it being Biggie’s 50th birthday and 25 years since the MC’s death, the night was described as bittersweet by many, including his son CJ Wallace, who was just five months old at the time of his father’s passing.
While the focus of the night was celebrating the 50th birthday of the late Frank White, the gala also had another theme, which was uplifting and pouring love into Big’s living legacy, his children, CJ and T’yanna Wallace. They were the king and queen of the evening as everyone that touched the stage and walked passed their table showed love, respect, and admiration for the entrepreneurs. T’yanna, Big’s firstborn, is running a highly successful boutique named Notoriouss Clothing. While CJ, founder of Frank White Co and Think BIG, is using his platform to advocate for equitable cannabis legalization, criminal justice reform, and economic reinvestment into communities most harmed by the “war on drugs.”
The family brought in Biggie’s birthday with Wallace performing his father’s iconic hit “One More Chance,” while a cake topped with a crown graced the stage. After midnight, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and continued partying until 3 am, thanks to the afterparty at Brooklyn Chophouse’s newest location in Time Square, which is owned by music exec. Robert “Don Pooh” Cummins, who actually got his nickname from Biggie.
When we asked CJ what he wanted the history books to say about his father, he told VIBE, “He was an incredible creative that people use to study all types of individuals, not just people in the music industry. He was a different kind of individual. So I really think people can study his mind, the way thought… I’m still trying to understand the decisions that he made. There are so many books that can be written about this man. It’s crazy.”