NEW YORK – It is hard to know what would come as the bigger surprise to the rapper Christopher Wallace, better known as the Notorious B.I.G., or Biggie Smalls, or Big Poppa.
Surely, he could not have imagined that brownstones on the once rough streets of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn – where he was raised and which was the inspiration for much of his music – would now sell for upward of $4 million.
Or that about 16 years after he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in 1997 at age 24, there would be an effort to have a corner in that neighborhood named in his honor by the city.
Or that the effort is being blocked by local residents who, among other objections, say that Wallace was too corpulent to be held up as a role model.
Although a petition to have the corner of Fulton Street and St. James Place named "Christopher Wallace Way" has 4,000 signatures, some opponents have objected to his "physical appearance," charged that his lyrics are misogynistic and argued that his life, including arrests for drugs and assault, is not worthy of official praise.
"He started selling drugs at 12, he was a school dropout at 17, he was arrested for drugs and weapons charge, he was arrested for parole violations, he was arrested in North Carolina for crack cocaine, in 1996 he was again arrested for assault, he had a violent death and physically the man is not exactly a role model for youth," Lucy Koteen told community board members at a meeting on Tuesday, according to DNAInfo.com, which first reported on the controversy.
"I don’t see how this guy was a role model and frankly it offends me," she said.
However, Wallace would not be the first person of dubious distinction to have a street named in his honor.
Over the years, for nearly as long as streets have been named, national heroes and local leaders have been honored alongside slave owners and beer barons.
Since 2002 alone, 1,219 streets in the city have been renamed – many for police, fire and military officers who died in the line of duty or on Sept. 11. Others included entertainers and celebrities like news anchor Peter Jennings, actor Jerry Orbach and rap group Run DMC.
So many streets have been renamed, in fact, some now carry more than one honorific.
Most of the time, a new street sign is installed with little controversy. But not always.
As far back as 1903, a city councilman told The that a proposal to rename the Bowery failed because it might cause confusion for the sailors arriving in the city looking for what was at the time one of the city’s most notorious night life zones.
"The efficiency of the Army and Navy will be impaired," the councilman said. "Change the flag of the country, but don’t change the name of the Bowery."
More recently, an attempt to honor comedian George Carlin was met with a similar line of dissent as the one facing Wallace.
Carlin gained acclaim for his often acerbic routines that took aim at the establishment and challenged convention. Supporters said his comedy opened minds, an argument critics did not buy.
"I don’t think we have to open their minds to the debasement of the English language and attacks on religion," said the Rev. Raymond Rafferty, the pastor at Corpus Christi Church, whose school and church Carlin attended through eighth grade. "His early comedy made mockery of Corpus Christi parish and its priests."
In the end, Carlin got his street.
But when the City Council rejected renaming a street in Bedford-Stuyvesant for black activist Sonny Carson in 2007, the vote exposed a deep racial rift among the politicians.
Ultimately, Councilwoman Letitia James, who is expected to win next month’s election for public advocate, will have to write a letter of support before the matter can be decided by the Council, which must approve all street names.
She declined to comment on the matter Friday.
The case for Wallace, whose murder remains unsolved, is being promoted by Leroy McCarthy, a Brooklyn resident who wrote the online petition.
"Coming from modest beginnings the story of Christopher Wallace tells the story of a boy to a man accomplishing greatness, using words as his tools," he wrote.