Chris Rock, was a comedian who was raised in Brooklyn and grew up not too far from my old neighborhood, Breevort Houses in Bed-Stuy. Back in the day, his brother, Tony Rock, even came over to Breevort to play basketball on our courts. Chris represented someone who found his own lane into the entertainment industry. It wasn’t a basketball or hip-hop lane; he created his own success story on his journey to becoming a comedian. Our neighborhood was a hard place to grow up, so we were all proud that he made it. We watched his career develop over time, starting with smaller comedic roles in feature films to becoming an actor with leading roles and eventually performing on “Saturday Night Live.” He even created a sitcom that took place in BK that portrayed his upbringing and the events that molded him into being the comedian and actor he is today. We saw his grind and hard work as his career developed, which is why Chris Rock is someone I will always admire.
Mike Tyson‘s claim to fame was through the sport of boxing. Like myself, he represented a hard Brooklyn neighborhood — Brownsville; which some can argue was an even tougher place than my old neighborhood, Bed-Stuy. As a child and a teenager, he was in the streets. But it was his ability to channel his aggression into boxing that helped mold him into becoming a professional fighter. A lot of Mike’s fuel to be the heavy weight champion of the world was created in Brooklyn. We saw him dominate boxing in the ’90s. As a Brooklynite, I was always proud because he was a great representative for us. One of my favorite memories was when Michael Buffer would introduce Tyson and say, “All the way from Brooooooooooooooooklyn, New York!” Mike made us proud and we will always love him for that because we will always root for our fellow Brooklynites.
Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace
Chris Wallace was also born and raised in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Similar to a lot of Black men, he came from a single-parent home. His survival story, of growing up in the streets to eventually becoming one of the top emcees in hip-hop history, is one that is inspirational. He was another representation of hard work and dedication. Like a lot of kids in Brooklyn, he was living the street life, but at the same time picked up a love for hip-hop. He developed his craft without education or degrees and became one of the best at his skill. His ability to tell stories through his lyrics and connect to people using his way with words was remarkable. One of the most amazing things was that he always shouted-out and represented Brooklyn. He carried the Brooklyn spirit no matter where he went, which is why he inspires me.
Spike Lee was a movie director who put Brooklyn on the big screen. He was someone I always ran into in Brooklyn. People usually move out and venture into the city, but during the time Spike was making huge movies, he was still living in Brooklyn. I remember him having a merchandise store for his company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. The store was located in Brooklyn and sold paraphernalia from all his films. In 1990, when he released Mo’ Better Blues, I remembered the store had hats and T-shirts themed from the movie. Same when he released Malcolm X in 1992. He would have posters from the movie available for purchase. It was great to see that he not only directed and acted in his movies, but he controlled another division of sales by creating limited edition merchandise. It showed that he genuinely wanted to support our community by giving people the option to be a part of the experience. He wasn’t looked at as just someone famous, but rather someone from the neighborhood who was successful and made something of himself and stayed around to see it through.
Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown
Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are two women who embodied Brooklyn. As female rappers, they were able to create a voice and name for themselves in a male dominated hip-hop industry. Both ladies were born and raised in Brooklyn. Kim is from Bed-Stuy and Foxy Brown is from Park Slope. They grew up to be tough and they applied those skills to the hip-hop game. That integrity and drive that they both possess came from them being females from BK. They were both in their respective male-dominated crews and had to fight to stand out there as well. The amazing thing is that they were still able to preserve being feminine enough to appeal to both females and males. They recreated what the female emcee should look while also striving to be strong bosses and independent straightforward females. Throughout their journey, they inspired women and men. They created their own lane and their influence can still be seen in Brooklynites and female rappers today.