It was Summer of 1996. I say that because I know for sure these events happened.
B.I.G’s Ready To Die was in heavy rotation
2 Pac’s Hit Em Up was out and setting rap on Fire
Junior Mafia’s Album was out and Corey, Antoine and I were dying to see Lil Kim in person.
Rockford, IL at the Metro Centre in 1996, I had no idea I would enter a violent yet historic hip-hop moment. That moment was seeing Notorious B.I.G. performing live. It was my first rap concert ever and as a teenager, I was not prepared for what I would see.
Riding from Freeport to Rockford myself, my cousin Corey and my guy Antoine [Who people in our town called Tupac] were too hyped anticipating seeing one of the biggest rappers in the world! It’s wild because Rockford IL is not seen on many major tour schedules, yet Biggie was coming through, with Junior Mafia and they had several hit records on the charts. The added bonus for me is The Lost Boyz were coming too! They had “Jeeps, Lex Coupes, Beamers and Benz” at the time along with “Lifestyles of The Rich and Shameless.” Jeeps was my joint so this was a good added bonus.
To speed up my nostalgia, we enter the Metro Center and hundreds of people had arrived pretty early like we did. We didn’t see anyone from the town, at least nobody I remember, but sometimes that’s best. We went to see where our seats were and chill.
I tell my fam “Hey, I’m about to go get a pretzel” and walk to the concessions. As I’m walking to the stand a dude looks at me and says “What up big man?” I say what up back and then he picks up the garbage can and slams it on a dude 5 ft away right in front of me! Then he starts beating up dude IN THE GARBAGE CAN! I’m in the concession line baffled! I never seen a person that calm and polite before a violent rage that stopped the entire area before.
I go back to my seat and tell the fam and they start tripping on the story. We had a good laugh and decide to walk through the Metro. We end up being down by the floor seats. We actually made plans to sit down there for a minute, but plans changed. I think it was Corey that said, let’s go back up in the stands.
His timing was impeccable because as soon as we get back to the stands at our original seats we look back to the floor and no exaggeration in the slightest, 100 PEOPLE at minimum, rushed each other from opposite sides in what had to be the biggest gang fight I’ve ever seen in my entire life! They fought for minutes! It was like security didn’t even exist! It was at that moment where we all looked and said, “Man! I’m staying my ass up here!” I promise, it was something out of a movie or a battle field story. If World Star would have existed then, that fight would have been up there with the Cleveland Bus Driver and the dude getting knocked out over peanuts. It was fist, legs and bodies flying. Girls was fighting too! UNREAL!
Those weren’t the only two fights that happened but those were the two fights I remember vividly. It seemed like hours had went by and fights were going on every 10 minutes. Finally the DJ speaks to the crowd and the Lost Boyz hit the stage. They put on a great show for a crew who at that time had 1 breakaway hit. Cheeks was spitting, him and Freaky Tah were doing the LB Fam Dance and they were trying to get the crowd going on some hip-hop ish and keep it peaceful. Problem is hundreds of people just got thrown out because of the Civil War that happened before they took the stage so the crowd was extremely light. We enjoyed the Lost Boyz. Antoine said “Man, they rocking it! I might have to check out they album.” I was so impressed by their performance that I looked for Legal Drug Money in the Columbia House book the next day!
Now the time was coming for Biggie to hit the stage. Of course more fights broke out in the intermission. No, I can’t tell you why that many fights that were obviously gang related happened throughout the night and why the show wasn’t shut down. I also can’t tell you how some of those ghetto gladiators made it back into the show. So let’s move on.
To be honest, I don’t remember what song Biggie came out to. I kind of went numb at the moment he hit the stage. This was my favorite rapper on the mic on a stage less than an hour from my house! I marked out! I know he did “Get Money” “Players Anthem” and “Warning” for sure, but everything around the performance stuck out to me.
As far as I know; Biggie started the “Put your middle finger up at the left side and say f**k the left side” and vice versa. Antoine, who showed up to the Biggie concert with the fresh baldy and the bandana around his head said “I think he was directing that towards me.” I laughed because in my mind, we removed ourselves so far from the violence, I don’t even think Biggie’s good or bad eye made our direction.
No Lil Kim. We were crushed! After learning more about the back story, I honestly wonder if she wasn’t there because she was getting an abortion. Lil Cease was there and I believe Bristol was there and we just didn’t know who he was. Can’t say I remember the DJ at all, so if it was Enuff or Mister Cee, it totally went over my head. No Puff Daddy either. It was honestly a stripped down show, but getting older and learning how the games goes, it makes perfect sense.
Big’s set ended short, because another huge fight with dozens of people broke out while he was on stage. Now we see the police, the house lights come on and pepper spray filled the Metro Centre. I’m literally gagging and then we were like, Yo, we need to get the f**k up out of here! So we trying to leave out and forget where the car is. We attempt to go back up the stairs outside of the Metro Center and see a mob of people running towards us. It’s not a myth, when black folks see other black folks running, EVERYBODY STARTS RUNNING! No questions asked we boated back the way we came. Now, fear is setting in. Then my cousin finds the car we all hop in and speed race back to highway 20. I’m in the backseat gasping, coughing and choking and I couldn’t get the smell or the taste of that pepper spray out of my system for what seemed like a week.
With that being my first concert experience, I wasn’t sure if I would ever go to another one again. I couldn’t tell my mom what happened. She tried to stop me from listening to Big, Kim and Junior Mafia because of what they were rapping about. So although somewhat traumatized, I told her we had a good time.
Even in that moment at that concert, we didn’t think Pac would die a short time later. We didn’t know Biggie wouldn’t be alive a year removed from that show date. We just thought Rap Concerts brought the gangsta’s out and although we loved the album, we weren’t Ready To Die, but Biggie was the man because he still put on a dope show in spite of the chaos of that night.
The performance was nothing like you seen on BET or on “The Show” and wasn’t as chill as what you seen on the episode of Martin, but it’s a piece of hip-hop history. Corey, Antoine and myself are literally in a relatively small group of people in time that got to see the Notorious B.I.G Perform live. For more reasons than one, I’ll never forget that.