What If the Notorious B.I.G. Hadn't Dropped Out of High School?
The name "Christopher Wallace" has been in Twitter's top ten trending topics today. That's because it's the 14th anniversary of the Notorious B.I.G.'s unsolved 1997 murder. His superior lyrics and flow still garner him a top spot on virtually every "Greatest Rappers of All Time" list. But, despite his talent with words, the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, native was a high school dropout.
Wallace didn't drop out because he wasn't smart. In fact, he was known throughout his middle school years at the Roman Catholic Queen of All Saints Middle School as a high-achieving, excellent student. No surprise, he was a stand-out in English class and even won several awards. He initially attended a parochial school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial, for high school but later switched to the public George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High. At Westinghouse, Wallace was chronically truant and, in 1989 at the age of 17, he left school to sell drugs.
At the time that Wallace attended Westinghouse, it would have qualified as what the film Waiting for Superman would call a "dropout factory." The class of 2009's graduation rate was only 63 percent. And that's twice what it was in the early 2000's. In the late 1980s when Wallace was a student there, there was no national conversation about teacher accountability or education reform, especially not at schools predominantly attended by low-income children of color like Wallace. I couldn't find a reliable number, but I'm fairly certain the graduation rate was even worse when he was a student.
It's not hard to wonder if the school did everything it could to ensure that Wallace didn't drop out. Were there teachers who attempted to intervene, or did they simply see him as another statistic and give up on him? And, sadly, even if teachers did do their best to keep Wallace on the right path, the reality then and now is that schools are not isolated from their communities and teachers can only do so much. During the late 1980s New York City was ravaged by the crack epidemic, and Wallace's Bed-Stuy neighborhood was no exception. He began selling drugs at the age of 12, well before he set a foot in either Bishop Loughlin or Westinghouse.
We can only imagine what kind of life Wallace would have had if he hadn't dropped out, become a drug dealer, been locked up and then become a rap star who ended up caught up in the now ridiculous East-versus-West rap beef that violently ended his life at the age of 24. If he'd stayed in school and gone on to college, sure, maybe Wallace wouldn't be on those "Greatest Rappers" lists. But his mother might still have her son, and his children would still have their father.