Watch the Throne [Feature From the March 2012 Issue]
“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.
Since C.J. took your song, do you have another one, T’yanna?
T’yanna: I have a lot. But lately I’ve been falling more in love with “Big Poppa.” I don’t know why. “Warning” has always been one of my favorite songs. Oh, my gosh, any song on Life After Death. I play that album beginning to end in my car.
The albums your dad made when he was alive, Ready to Die and Life After Death, are both classics. Do you guys have a favorite between the two?
T’yanna: Life After Death.
C.J.: That’s a tough one... I’d have to say Life After Death, I think, because he showed a lot of progression, and a lot of my favorite songs are from that album, also.
What artists do you see who have been influenced by your dad?
T’yanna: Any rapper that does punch lines, because he did that a lot. Rappers who do lyrical comparisons—he did that, too. Honestly, I think it’s a lot of them. You have to listen, but it’s a lot.
C.J.: A lot of rappers...will kinda talk what he said and will take [his lyrics]. That lets you know they were listening and took that note.
What did you think when Puff was working heavy with Rick Ross and a lot of people started comparing Ross with Big?
T’yanna: I’m a fan of Rick Ross already. I thought it was like he was kinda trying to have that persona. Versace shades and whatnot, trying to bring it back. Not so much trying to copy it, almost to, like, revamp it and make it 2011. I didn’t take it like he was copying. It was more like he was trying to have that swagger.
C.J.: I’m a fan of Rick Ross also. I guess he’s trying to show respect, also. Yeah. That’s cool.
Who else do you guys listen to? T’yanna, I heard you’re a Tyga fan.
T’yanna: Yeah, I’m a Tyga fan. C.J. actually got me to listen to Tyga, because he’s L.A.
C.J.: Yup, yup, yup! [Laughs]
T’yanna: I like Kanye. Kanye—
C.J.: Kanye! Thank you. Thank you!
T’yanna: I’ve always been a loyal Drake fan. Loyal Big Sean fan. Kanye is my all-time favorite rapper, ever, ever, ever!
C.J.: Kanye! Exactly. Exactly!
T’yanna: I just went to the Watch the Throne concert, and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
C.J.: You went?! I’m so mad.
T’yanna: It was amazing! Kanye’s lyrics, I’ve been a fan since the first album. If you listen to The College Dropout and then listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, you can see his growth. Oh, my God! It’s amazing. I’m just in love with him, because the stuff he said, only a genius would come up with that. At this point, he’s at the top of the list.
So when a tour like Watch the Throne comes around— Jay-Z was one of your pop’s close friends—can you just hit Jay-Z and say, “Jay, I need some tickets”?
T’yanna: If I really wanted to, I could. But I wanted to go and support, so I bought my tickets. I went and supported and enjoyed the show just as anyone else would.
What about you, C.J.?
C.J.: I try to go to shows. Usually, [my other sister] Chyna encourages me to go with her. But, I mean, we’re always looking for a deal. We’re in a recession. [Smiles] But I’m a loyal fan. I’ll pretty much support anybody that I like. I’ll buy my ticket.
C.J., do you have any aspirations of getting on the stage yourself one day? I remember, several years ago, Faith telling me you were rapping.
C.J.: I don’t think I want to be a rapper. [Long pause] I don’t want to, actually. I think I’m pretty sure of that. I just want to make my own path, really. I really want to be a movie director. Study film. Get into that lane. Get into acting, as well. I’ve been reading for a lot of stuff lately. I can definitely see myself being an actor. But I really like [being] behind the camera, as well. I can do them both. I really want to apply and hopefully get into USC. Their film department is great. NYU, also. I just don’t want to move so far. I love L.A. I don’t want to move. I love the East, but I don’t want to be far away from L.A. USC is the main one. I have to look into more of them.
Well, whatever you guys do, I know it will be successful. It’s in your blood. Do you guys have any last words or feelings about your father’s legacy?
T’yanna: Basically, you can clearly listen to his music and get a feel as to where his mind was at. You can feel the hunger, the struggle, the want to make it. I think that, by his passion, other rappers should follow that. Have passion in your music. You’re gonna go far.
C.J.: Just have the passion. You really can’t be successful as a rapper if you don’t strive for it. I can tell my dad wanted it. He really just wanted it to provide for his family. All these other guys have to get on that.