If you get lost on your way to Biggie Smalls’ childhood home, just walk toward the many wall-sized murals of the rapper painted on the block where he was born. Or you can follow the many mommies in jumpsuits heading down Fulton Street, an iced coffee in one hand and a Bugaboo stroller in the other.
Either option will lead you to the front door of 226 Saint James Place, a local landmark in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill. That's where Christopher George Latore Wallace (aka The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie, or Biggie Smalls), lived for the first 20 years of his life.
Though he would later decamp for the affluent northern New Jersey suburb of Teaneck, he never forgot the community that raised him. Twenty-two years after his unsolved murder, Clinton Hill still remembers Biggie, too.
A shop window on the corner of Saint James Place—recently renamed Biggie Smalls Way—houses a fake green Brooklyn Bridge street sign that lists off his many nicknames. On a building column directly across the street is a black-and-white portrait of the artist in his trademark Versace shades, Coogi sweater, and Kangol Wool flat cap.
Down the block are the Christopher “Biggie” Wallace Courts, named in 2017 after a somewhat fraught, very square City Council debate over whether Brooklyn should celebrate a man who rapped about smoking blunts and dealing crack. (One community board member, Lucy Koteen, objected to renaming Saint James Place because of Big Poppa's weight. “Physically, the man is not exactly a role model for youth,” Koteen said at the time.)
226 Saint James Place, #3L, made the rounds in local New York news this week, after the residence—which Biggie famously described in “Juicy” as a “one room shack”—hit the rental market. The asking price is a very juicy $4,000 per month.
“The neighborhood is all hipsters and millennials,” Kathleen Perkins, a Douglas Elliman broker, helpfully told the New York Post. “People in finance and tech people” now litter the gentrified streets.
If Biggie’s Jamaican immigrant mother, Violetta Wallace, was looking for a place to live in 2019, she would not be able to afford the apartment that currently touts her son’s name as a selling point. So if you don’t know, now you know—nothing is cool anymore.
Compass held an open house for the property last Thursday evening. Though the sweltering July temperature had peaked earlier in the day, the humid air was still so heavy that the thought of walking up three flights felt vaguely torturous.
Inside the building’s entryway were three discarded, neon-colored children’s scooters, with matching helmets hanging off of each one. Just outside on the stoop, a young father fumbled with his stroller, reaching over to open the door. I held it open for him and his toddling daughter. She wore a pair of beige linen overalls that would not look unfashionable on an adult woman.
The walkup’s tight, brown carpeted staircase was not wide enough for all of us to pass together; the father let me hop in front of him.
On my way up, a Jack Dorsey lookalike—beard and all—came down the stairs. He almost ran me over. Maybe it was the Twitter co-founder, hangry after a long day of intermittent fasting, and that’s why he bulldozed by. So much for spreading love the Brooklyn way, as Biggie put it.
When I reached the apartment, I was greeted by its broker, Fabienne Lécole. She wore a Compass v-neck, black leggings, and a bouncy Amal Clooney blowout.
As we headed toward the living room, Lécole told me that she helped sell the property in 2013. Back then, according to Lécole, “100 people” waited in line to get a peek inside Biggie’s bedroom during showings. It is a claim I was unable to fact-check. In any case, I was the only person there for around 15 minutes on Thursday night.
Other than that anecdote, Lécole seemed uninterested in talking about the hologram in the room, Biggie. The quick-to-smile realtor has a charming, thick French accent, and I wanted to goad her into mentioning the rapper by name, because I’m sure it would have sounded something like, “Zee Notorious B. I. Geeeee.” Unfortunately, she just ushered me into the master bedroom.
Maybe Biggie’s “one room shack” commentary isn’t entirely truthful. By New York’s pitiful standards, this counts as a three bedroom. Only one of them has enough room for more than just a mattress and box spring. On the plus side, this apartment comes furnished.
The dining room is an airy space that is bright enough to keep a large pot of sun-loving jade plants alive. While we walked through the space, Lécole noted that some of the molding on the walls was “original.”
The simple detailing isn't all that decorative—you would never notice it unless it was pointed out—but if you chose to view meaningless feature as a holdout of authenticity, go for it.
The kitchen exists to fulfill any tile-lover's fantasy. It has a diamond checkered floor, and a baby blue backsplash. Push past it, and you will come to Biggie's bedroom.
Or so Cheo Hodari Coker put it in his 2003 biography, Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of Notorious B.I.G. “The [room] opposite the kitchen on the far end of the hall was Christopher's,” Coker wrote.
I read this tidbit after visiting the apartment, so during my tour I had no idea Biggie had slept there. When I stood in the chamber, with windows facing straight into the next apartment building, I felt nothing except minor claustrophobia.
Only later did I realize that I had found myself in the room immortalized in “Juicy's” lyrics. That's where a teenage Biggie read Word Up! magazine. That's where he smoked his blunts and listened to hip-hop tapes on repeat. That's where he retreated after a day at school, where teachers told him that he would “never amount to nothin.”
It was outside of that room in 1997 that a stretch limousine carrying his coffin drove by.
Now, shiny baby toys are strewn on the floor of Biggie's old room. Until July 15, when an unknown, new tenant will take over, a child still calls this room home.
Fifty years after Biggie's birth, that kid may be growing up in a very different Brooklyn with much higher rents, but one thing has not changed: it's still a good place to grow up.