Chances are that you don’t remember The Rappin’ Duke, but you probably recall the 1994 track Juicy, The Notorious B.I.G,’s reminiscence of his rise from drug dealer to world famous rapper. Every so often this track catches me at just the right time and I actually tear up a little. Its really fucking good, maybe one of the best rap songs ever recorded.
Early 80′ s hip-hop references pepper Juicy; Mr. Magic and DJ Marley Mal (first hip-hop radio show hosts), Word Up Magazine, and Funkmaster Flex (DJ on NYC’s Hot 97, the station where Lil’ Kim’s entourage would be shot up 12 years later. )
But who is the Rappin’ Duke? This self-titled (real name Shawn Brown) novelty hip-hop track took #73 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts in 1985. The song is a bizarre John Wayne parody that lampoons everything the Duke holds dear; 6-shooters, western braggadocio (“what I do on your grave won’t pass for flowers”), Ronald Reagan, the Ponderosa Ranch and Wayne’s own distinctive laugh repeated throughout the song as a deadpan “Dah-haa, Dah-haa.”
It’s hard not to see it from Biggie’s perspective. In just 10 years rap and hip-hop had gone from obscure send-ups of uber-white cow folk to serious business. The Rappin’ Duke might only be a footnote to music history, but an important one to Biggie.