Notorious B.I.G.’s son CJ Wallace (Christopher Wallace Jr.) is keeping his father’s legacy alive with his Think B.I.G. initiative. Launched with friend Willie Mack in March 2018, the company embraces a social movement that includes fighting for global cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform. Originally born out of CJ’s passion for cannabis as a tool for health and wellness, it was his younger brother Ryder, who was born with autism, that sparked the idea. The boys’ mother, the singer Faith Evans, disdained pharmaceuticals such as Ritalin, and Think B.I.G. wanted to be able to sell products to those in need — like Ryder and CJ’s grandmother, who battled breast cancer. (Wallace was raised by Evans and his stepfather Todd Russaw.)
Earlier this year, the two went to Albany, New York to meet with Governor Cuomo’s office, the Hispanic caucus, the Black caucus, the Latino caucus, various lobbyists and Congressmen. Says CJ: “It was crazy, they announced us on the assembly floor. We’re blown away because they were open to hear what we had to say. That was eye-opening for me, obviously the Wallace name can get me into doors like the Congress.” The goal for Think B.I.G. is to legalize cannabis globally by 2030.
In addition to CJ’s passion for cannabis, he also recently released his new single, a house mix of Biggie’s classic 1994 hit “Big Poppa,” which won a Grammy for best rap solo performance. Creating music under the moniker Frank White, CJ reeled in Think B.I.G.’s Willie Mack, Jonathan Hay, and R.U.S.H. Music, to reimagine the music of his father in a brand new light — this after CJ played B.I.G. as a boy in the 2009 film “Notorious.” “Ready To Dance” is a collection of house and dance music inspired by CJ, preserving the bridge between hip-hop and house music since its fruition in the 1970s. A portion of sales from the music will directly support Think B.I.G.’s ongoing fight for cannabis legalization and social justice reform.
Christopher Wallace, the late New York rapper — best known for hit singles “Juicy,” “Hypnotize,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “Sky’s The Limit” — was murdered on March 9, 1997. On Saturday, Notorious B.I.G. will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Variety spoke with CJ at the Kandypens house in the Hollywood Hills about his love for dance music, taking on his father’s nickname Frank White, his favorite MCs and Biggie’s crown selling for $600,000 at auction.
When did you get the idea to create music under Biggie’s nickname, Frank White?
The original idea wasn’t to create music. I always wanted to do music, but I wanted to stay away from my dad’s music at the same time, because you don’t want to mess up anything great. Me especially, it always seemed expected to immediately go in and try to recreate or make a new Biggie album. I always wanted to stay away from it unless it’s something creative and out of the ordinary. We met with Jonathan and Sarah from R.U.S.H. Music. Last year, Jonathan had done Eric B. and Rakim’s album “Follow the Leader” reimagined as jazz. We listened and loved it. They came to us with the idea of recreating Biggie’s music as house and techno. We gave it more life, real legs. Told them if we’re part of it, it could really be something bigger than what we could imagine. I always wanted to be part of my dad’s music somehow; this seemed the right way. My love for house has grown in the past few years.
I wanted to ask where that love for dance music came from; you wouldn’t expect that.
Exactly. Hip-hop and R&B is in our blood, in our family. But appreciating other genres — my brother’s a DJ, we both do music and write together and go crazy listening to Disclosure — we love everything, it was a creative idea we always wanted to do. We’ve made different types of house-style records, but the only time I’ve heard Biggie’s songs remixed were Miley Cyrus “Party In The USA” remixed with “Party & Bulls—.” One of the dopest tracks; nobody gives it the credit it deserves. [Laughs] That made me realize, okay, he could live in a whole other genre. It doesn’t have to be hip-hop or the raw s—, it can be whatever we want it to be.
“Big Poppa” (House Mix) is out now. Why this year to finally drop music?
COVID, really. A lot of people we’re potentially working on collaborating with, their manufacturing facilities slowed down. Distribution slowed down as soon as COVID hit. Music’s the one thing we could be in control of creatively. Jonathan was in his studio in Kentucky, we’re in our studio in Silver Lake on FaceTime with him, up late nights, going over the tracks. It’s something you can do at home, it made the most sense. We all needed to release and dance, get away from all the madness. It felt like the perfect time, even though it’s not the perfect time. We want to be out in the clubs. We want to be at Coachella, the festivals. In due time, we’re staying patient.
What’s your relationship with Willie Mack? What did you both add to the record?
This guy’s a piece of s—. (Laughs) Joking. He definitely keeps me motivated creatively. We met in May 2018, that whole summer we went into a rabbit hole of me trying to understand what I wanted to build a career around — other than the things we’ve already established: acting, music, other personal stuff. … Cannabis has always been that one thing, building the advocacy side and making sure Think B.I.G. was focused on the medicinal side as well as the recreational. When it came to the music, it was click click. Me and my brother, we’ve been making music since we’re 8. To have a grown man who we met in the past couple years totally understand how we work, how we flow, gives you that creative freedom. We’re all producers with this project.
That sounds fun!
It was really a fun project to be a part of, and not have any barriers we had to work through. Obviously not using his voice; that’s the main barrier we had to play with. Other than that, it was totally free and clear which was really cool.
What inspires you to give back?
My youngest brother Ryder was the main inspiration, as well as my grandma battling breast cancer. My dad was very vocal about all these things. He talked about her having breast cancer. He talked about mental health, suicidal thoughts, all these dark topics that get brushed under the rug [and] Black families don’t really talk about. In high school growing up, wanting to ask my parents certain questions but being scared because it was frowned upon. Everything was so hush-hush. I always felt more comfortable around my friends’ parents because they’d let them drink in the house, smoke around them.
As a Black community, we should be more open. The birds and the bees talk should be as important as the alcohol and cannabis conversations. All the people still in jail: 40,000-plus currently in jail for nonviolent cannabis offenses — we’ve been working with Steve DeAngelo and the Last Prisoner Project to really amplify that. People aren’t talking about it. We have enough CBD bath [products], all these things using the cannabis plant but we’re not talking about the people locked up. If they were out, they could help the industry, support the industry. We’re missing money, it’s a lose-lose if you think about it.
Are you making music too?
I’m still writing. I don’t have a passion for putting out a project right now but when I feel the urge to write, I’ll write creatively. I love to sing. I’ll probably end up doing an R&B album before I do a rap album, being honest.
When do you find yourself thinking of B.I.G.?
Whenever I’m at my grandma’s house for sure. My sister calls it the Biggie museum because there’s so many pictures of him everywhere. Whenever I’m in Jamaica with my family, with his friends, my Uncle G, Uncle Cease. He’s also a founder in our company — an inspiration and one of the founding fathers. I can’t go a day without thinking about him.
Given his stature and legacy, did you feel pressure to go his direction?
Definitely. Up until two or three years ago, I was really thinking about being an artist. I never wanted to be a solo act though; it’s always me and [Willie] being in a group or something with another female artist potentially — like the Fugees or Lucy Pearl.
It’s not like I felt pressure, but [I’m] almost running out of time. The age my dad was when he came out, he was 24 when he passed, and now I’m approaching that age. I’m thinking way deeper than music. He wanted to get into film, owning and doing a bunch of different things other than music. So I had an epiphany: I need to do things other than music — really build my lane that way because music will always be there. I’ve always tried to think that way, as opposed to just following.
Did it surprise you that B.I.G.’s crown was auctioned off for $600,000?
Hell yes! It was at $300, I’m like there’s no way it’s going to go higher than this. I was filming the whole thing. To think [that] a plastic crown would go for $600,000? That’s ridiculous. I could’ve got a compound in Jamaica. It shows his value and affect on the culture.
Where does that money go to?
Some of it went to the Christopher Wallace estate, some went to some charitable donations that Sotheby’s set up. Some went to Barron, the original photographer. It’s insane, I was so shocked. It was the highest one, the most expensive piece out of the whole auction. That Wallace name carries weight. … I was trippin’ out.
You were five months old when your dad was killed. At what point were you able to understand the magnitude of what he meant to hip-hop?
Probably after “Notorious,” that showed me this s—’s nuts. Being in Brooklyn filming and seeing the crowds of people there watching the film was crazy. It looked like the funeral, literally people looking out their windows, on the roofs watching. The premiere was crazy. That was a lot to take in. I was 13, the first time I had ever acted, and it was a lot of pressure, but I was excited. I was at an age where I was interested in understanding who he was, so it was my opening into really learning more and doing my own research and asking questions. They’re doing a movie about him and I’m playing him? OK, this is wild.
How does it feel to have Biggie inducted into the Hall of Fame in November?
Crazy. He should’ve been inducted the same year as Pac, it would’ve been crazy at the same time. This is a great class: him, Whitney [Houston]. … It cements his place, not just in hip-hop, but in music culture as a poet, as an artist, as a writer, visionary, creative. It’s f—ing dope. It’s about time.
You’ve been in spotlight since you were a kid. As you grow older and as Biggie continues to be celebrated, what’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself?
Our similarities. We think similarly. It’s weird. Especially because I’m approaching his age, now I’m starting to think about business moves and equity; getting a house or other land. Jamaica, escape routes. During this time, it’s been a serious thought: what’s plan B? What’s the other move? In conversations I’ve had with my grandma, they talked a lot his last six months. She told me they’re talking the most they’ve ever talked, on the phone every day for hours.
It’s weird because me and her were having moments like that where we’d be on the phone for a long time. Even when I’d go out to see her, before COVID, obviously, because she doesn’t want me coming over no more. She’s like, “Stay over there, don’t even come over.” She’s hilarious. She doesn’t want to risk anything; she’s battling with her own stuff so she can’t take any risks right now. She’s always telling me how much I’d remind her of him in the way I’d talk and the questions I’d ask her. A lot of the simple conversations we’d have, asking her recipe questions. Those are the real sweet moments for me.