“Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’. To all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of that called the police on me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughter. And all the niggas in the struggle, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s all good, baby, bay-beh.”
—Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, “Juicy”
T’yanna Dream Wallace was only a year old when her father put those famous words to tape, back in 1994. Since then, she and her brother, Christopher Jordan Wallace, born three years later, have been walking through life on a path made by some very big footsteps. Now 18, T’yanna is a freshman at Penn State University, studying fashion in the hopes of helping her late father’s Brooklyn Mint clothing line blow up like he thought it would. (“Call the crib, same number, same hood.”) Baby bro C.J., on the other hand, lives out in Hollywood, where he is an actor with big roles in two major motion pictures already under his belt: the 2009 Biggie biopic Notorious and Will Ferrell’s 2010 dark comedy Everything Must Go.
Still, despite their lineage and the opportunities it might present, the young Wallaces come off like a couple of regular teenagers. They both love to get on Facebook and Twitter, hang out with their friends (three of whom happen to be the children of B.I.G.’s Bad Boy CEO, Diddy) and listen to their favorite rapper, Kanye West. Here, leading up to the [16th] anniversary of their father’s tragic death, T’yanna and C.J. talk to XXL about how they want to forge their own trails, their dad’s music and how today’s artists might learn from his legacy.—Shaheem Reid (@shaheemreid)
XXL: T’yanna, you go to Penn State. There’s been a lot of controversy there in the past few months, surrounding the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal. What’s the atmosphere there like now?
T’yanna: Well, I don’t go to the main campus, where it actually happened. I go to a different campus. But I do actually go to Penn State, so there were, like, news cameras and stuff. It was a lot of drama. People from my campus were going to the main campus to riot. I was like, Oh, my gosh! I’m staying in my house and not getting involved with this. It was pretty crazy the first week that it happened, but it’s dying down now, though.
Your boyfriend plays football. Did it have a big effect on him?
T’yanna: He loves Penn State. But he played football in high school, so it wasn’t really affecting him.
A while ago, Lil’ Cease told me that J.U.N.I.O.R. Mafia has to come meet your boyfriend and see if they approve.
T’yanna: Well, Cease met him in, like, July. Some other members of J.U.N.I.O.R. Mafia, like Nino, met him. There were some members there at this basketball tournament my mom did. I was so scared. I was like, Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God. I really don’t want this to happen right now! But they were really nice.
Are they overprotective, like the big-brother types?
T’yanna: I mean, literally all of them looked so mean when they met him. I think they were just trying to mess with me. I was like, “Okay, guys. We’re all going to be nice, right?” So I think they’re protective in a way. As long as he’s a good guy, they’re all right with it.
When it comes to you and C.J., who is the more protective of the other one? Is it you being the big sister, or is it the brother being more protective of his sister?
T’yanna: Oh, no. I’m the more overprotective one.
C.J.: She’s definitely more protective.
T’yanna: I’ll see all these girls on his Facebook page, and I’ll be like, “What is this?” I’ll be like, “No, no, no, no and no.”
[Laughs] What do you do when that happens, C.J.?
C.J.: [Smiles] I don’t know. She’s 3,000 miles away. [Laughs] What can I do?
C.J., are you dating, too?
C.J.: Nah. Never.
C.J.: I mean, not right now, at least.
You’re just focused on school?
C.J.: Focused on school. Girls come and go…I guess.
So, as you two know, March 9 is the th anniversary of your dad’s passing. We celebrate him all the time, but what do you guys do on the anniversary every year?
T’yanna: Remember. Listen to music and reflect. I remember reading this article he did. He was like, “In 10 years, no one is going to remember me. ‘B.I.G. who?’ ” By [the year] 2000, he didn’t want to be a rapper. I read that he said that. I’m like, Oh, my gosh. If he could only see now. It’s way past 10 years, and people still listen to his music. It’s crazy to me. I’m about to be 19. I know 13-year-olds that know who he is. That’s really weird to me.
C.J.: Yeah, around the anniversary, I just kind of remember. I was way younger when he passed. I was, like, seven months. I don’t have any memories with him. I don’t remember seeing him at all. I know a lot about him, of course, from my mom and my grandma. But I don’t have memories of me and him. It’s like I’m learning when this time comes around. And I’m learning all the time, but mostly around this time is when I’m learning about him.
Now that you guys are older and able to really grasp his words, what do you think about Big’s music?
C.J.: It’s waaaay ahead of its time, now that I think about it. It was on another level, in terms of lyricism. What he was doing [back then], it kinda should have started now.
T’yanna: That’s how I feel. The older I get, the more I fall in love with his music. Every time. I don’t go and listen to his songs that much, but if some randomly come on my iTunes, I’m like, Oh, my God! He really is an amazing rapper, and I appreciate it more the older I get. To compare it to music today, too, it’s like, Wow!
Do you guys have a favorite song by him?
C.J.: Yup. Mine is “Machine Gun Funk.”
T’yanna: You stole mine!
C.J.: A long time ago, when I barely knew any of my dad’s songs and my mom would just play them, I was like, “This is tight.” Now that I’m older and listen to them and know what they mean, I have a lot of favorites.