NEW YORK — In a perfect world, the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Big L, Big Pun, Aaliyah, Left Eye, Freaky Tah and Jam Master Jay would have all been with their mothers Tuesday night at the fifth annual B.I.G. Night Out. However, the harsh reality is that all the stars have passed on — most of them by violent means — leaving their families and friends to mourn.
But as the rappers' loved ones and associates who came out to participate in the yearly event put on by the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation filed in to the Metropolitan Pavilion, hardly any somber feelings were expressed. Attendees including Jay-Z, Iron Mike Tyson and the Rev. Al Sharpton came to rejoice. (Click here for photos from the event.)
"When I think about these events, I always say we're celebrating the lives of these artists," the Rev. Run, standing next to DMC, said. "They're not really dead. A little while ago I heard 'Sucker M.C.'s' playing [in the background]."
Every year the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation holds a black-tie dinner to raise funds for children's school equipment and supplies and to honor the memory of the Notorious B.I.G. (For the event, B.I.G., in addition to referencing Biggie's name, stands for Books Instead of Guns.) This year, not only was homage paid to Biggie and his mother, Voletta Wallace, but also to deceased superstars Tupac Shakur, Aaliyah Haughton, Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Lamont "Big L" Coleman, Christopher "Big Pun" Rios, Raymond "Freaky Tah" Rogers and their mothers.
"We don't need to focus on why these people are gone, we need to focus on why we're here and what we can do," Run continued. "To come and honor Jay's mother is a tremendous thing. We rehearsed in Jay's living room. The turntables were at Jay's house. We spent nights at Jay's house. We left from Jay's house to go on tour. We sent buses to Jay's house to pick up all of the Hollis Crew to take them to Madison Square Garden."
"Their strength has helped us as a hip-hop nation to carry on," P. Diddy said in praise of the mothers.
"It's sad to say they've lost a lot of their sons, their daughters, through terrible tragedies," Ms. Wallace said of her fellow mothers in attendance. "Their children have contributed a lot to society but for some reason, those mothers are not being acknowledged and recognized. [Tonight] is just the foundation's way of saying we love them, we're thinking about them, their courage, their strength and [to say], 'Keep up the good work.' "
For some of the parents of the departed icons, keeping up the good work means turning toward the good book.
"I believe we have to leave it in the hands of God to correct us and help us so we can go on and live day by day," Connie Mizell, mother of Jam Master Jay, said about how the mothers should deal with the loss of their children. "If we suffer too long we won't be any good for the rest of the family. We can't fall by the wayside just because [our children] are gone. Jay's always there. There's not a day I don't smile and think about something he said or did. I want the other mothers to know that I'm coping. ... I'm doing more than coping, I'm OK."
While Mrs. Mizell took her time in the spotlight to advise prayer, Big L's mother called to end the brutality. "I've lost two sons to street violence," Gilda Terry said. "It's a little harder for me tonight. There's so much going on in this world, we don't need the street violence, especially from our young people. They don't care about life anymore, it needs to change."
Seemingly, what will never change is the relevance of the artists' music. Even today, their classic material is standing the test of time.
"They spoke for the people, they spoke from the heart, they were revolutionaries of their time," Diddy said of why their music continues to be so popular. "These cats were the last of a dying breed with their words, actions and energy."
"I was just saying it's a trip that music has changed so much in the last six years," Biggie's widow, Faith Evans, said. "And for these people to not be here ... it doesn't seem like they're not here. When you hear their songs it's certainly timeless. It's a proud feeling for myself and certainly all the mothers."
With the exception of Afeni Shakur, all the invited mothers were in attendance and received the B.I.G. Heart Award and proclamations from New York City and New York State.
Hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari and Faith performed, however the highlight onstage was Patti LaBelle, who sang the Lord's Prayer. Before she began singing, the legendary crooner asked audience members, such as Mike Tyson, her "dog" P. Diddy and Foxy Brown, if her wig looked all right.
"Bless your wig," the Rev. Run yelled back to the stage.
"Ameeen," she sang minutes later, garnering a standing ovation.
Shaheem Reid with additional reporting by Sway Calloway