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August 29, 2006

U.N.I.T.Y.


When I was far, far too young to go to a bar or legitimate nightclub, I was lucky enough to be born and raised in L.A. and privy to some on-the-under information known only to a certain circumference of individuals. By the grace of God and the brainchild of "Bigga B" (R.I.P.), I saw some of the greatest Hip Hop concerts to ever take place in ANY city, right here in the City of Angels...all before I even turned eighteen. You never knew what amazing lineup would happen next (A Tribe Called Quest and Souls of Mischief is the last one I remember) or what fantastic/obscure/unusual venue would host it (the ATCQ/SOM show was upstairs in an empty suite in a mini-mall in Hollywood - one of the great loves of my life was going up one escalator, I was going down another, we met a few years later..the rest was history). It was Unity, it was bigger than life, it was a chance to dance and during that golden age when Hip Hop met love and romance. And there was always this big man standing at the door. He never loomed, like other men of his stature. You knew he was in charge, but he never lorded that over you. He was nice, but firm; there were no handouts, on the principle that if one went in for free, everyone would have to go in for free.

It's crazy 'cause I never got to work with Bigga B personally, and I never got to know him personally. Then he passed away. Even more painful and shocking, in many ways, to me than the death of my own cousin Scout, because no drugs were involved. Bigga B's heart simply gave out, at a very young age. But his influence has been felt ever since. In degrees of seperation, in business and in friendship, having worked with Bigga or having known him - or even having attended his UNITY events - is the mark of a true denizen of the Los Angeles Hip Hop community and the music biz in general.

Outside of L.A., some of you may be saying, yeah, yeah, yeah. But please believe, without this man, you'd never have heard Wu-Tang or the Alkaholiks or Xzibit - or at the very least you'd have heard of them a day late, and they'd have come up a dollar short.

So I'll leave you with Hannibal Tabu's eulogy to Bigga B, courtesy of Damage Control. And I'll leave you with one word.

UNITY

hannibal tabu's damage control

at the speed of life

Bill Operin was a big guy. At least six and a half feet tall, posessed of girth that’d make a pro wrestler think twice. Bill could shout from the back of a club, music blasting, and be heard backstage. He practically invented living large, apologies to Heavy D.

In 1994, Bill, or “Bigga B” as he was more popularly known, walked into this hip hop spot Project Blowed, at 43rd Place and Leimert in LA. Now, as your average hip hop head was maybe 5’7” and possibly 160lbs, this guy comes in like the ocean parting for Leviathan. I worked the door at the time, and as a rule had a “fuck everybody” rule -- I asked Bushwick Bill and Chuck D to pay, as I figgered they could afford it. Bill spoke to me in a calm voice, promising reciprocity at his door as he just wanted to trade off love and work together. He and promoter Orlando ran Unity, the longest running underground concert series I ever heard of, so it sounded cool. I am so glad I didn’t trip.

Over the next few years, Bigga hit us up almost weekly. A promoter for Loud, he was always hustlin’ -- brought Wu Tang to LA for $10 a ticket, and we got to see Method stagedive into hard floor in a display too funny to recreate. Bigga and I would chat on the phone, him asking me which underground heads I knew, should he include on his guest lists. We never got personal or no shit, but we had a great working relationship and he was an honest sword who wouldn’t bullshit. Back when nobody took me seriously as a journalist, he did, and gave me some of my first wristbands, first little industry love. I saw a ton of great shows, and the two of us continued the underground work that people who don’t wanna be MCs do.

Bigga was a true underground evangelist, to borrow a page from the Artifacts. He was the A&R who brought the world Xzibit, one of my personal favorite lyricists, the resurrection of Likwidation. He gave love to all kinds of acts -- Heltah Skeltah, OC, Dilated People, Gravediggas, Blak Forest, Visionaries or a host of other people, put into jam packed rooms fulla heads lovin’ them. No radio commercials. No web sites. Just fliers and energy and hard work. That was Bill.

It seems that Sunday, May 2, 1999, while in Arizona working with Bad Azz, Bigga B left the mortal coil, a victim of a heart attack. 33 years old. Okay, he was this huge frickin’ guy, but by no means did he deserve to die. Hip hop lost a great deal when he left us.

At his West Angeles COGIC funeral, hardcore fools in suits and sneakers or heads in stocking caps and black jeans cried like schoolgirls. The Poetess, the Alkoholiks, and a host of other luminaries were on hand to say goodbye. Dammit, Bill, you wasn’t supposed to die.


In that I’ve already taken a vacation from journalism in using the word “I,” it just needed to be said. Bill Operin needs to be honored and remembered as an integral part of hip hop. We need to take care of ourselves, but more importantly, appreciate the people around us. I’d been planning to take Bill to lunch for six or seven months. Now I never will. I regret that, even thought he’d have probably ate me into the poorhouse.

R.I.P. Bigga B.

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