Interview: Brian “B.Dot” Miller
Photo: Chenoa Maxwell
Two years before Christopher Wallace’s death in 1997, he played himself. That’s right, in season four of the hit ‘90s sitcom Martin, he made a special guest appearance as the Notorious B.I.G. who was in Detroit in search of a new background singer. Although this wasn’t Biggie’s first crack at acting, this hilarious episode was unquestionably his most memorable. RapRadar recently caught up with former cast member and Everybody Hates Chris star Tichina Arnold who reveals how the legendary rapper stuck to the script.
What was the casts’ reaction to Biggie appearing on the show?
With Biggie coming the whole aura on the set was, “Biggie’s coming, Biggie’s coming!” Martin Lawrence is like famous and he was more excited that Biggie was coming than all of us. We were just elated that Biggie was coming because that’s what I listened to. Before I even started listening to rap, I was listening to Biggie [Laughs].
When he got there, it was like the king is on set! Like, Elvis came. Just the nicest guy. Real cool, laid back. Didn’t have no big ol’ entourage, just chilling. He kept laughing at us all day, like, “You wild girl, you crazy girl. You funny as hell, man.” He never got excited, he was just chilling. I think that’s when he hurt his leg, so he had a cane.
Right, Lil’ Cease crippled him in the car crash.
I kept teasing him about using the cane. I was like, “You an old man!” It was just something we always remembered and we always cherished. Just to have him on the set and just meeting him and see how cool he was and you know, it was like having Elvis.
He really didn’t have a hard job. Biggie played himself. He came, got his lines and was cool in rehearsal. Just came, hit it, and quit it. I remember them setting up the script for Biggie so that he could rely upon us. So basically, he would just respond to what we were doing. He was adlibbing a little bit and was like “Yo, yo, yo” [but] he was just himself. Sometimes we’d go off the cuff and when we got in front of the audience, they went crazy. We were all just excited. He couldn’t have done any wrong.
The final scene when you and Tisha Campbell-Martin had the sing off, you could see Biggie trying not to laugh. Was that part scripted?
Yeah, we learned the song [but] we improvised that. Most of the stuff we improvised.
Did you keep in contact with Biggie after the show wrapped?
Nah, Biggie was a busy man. Everybody wanted him. I would’ve loved to. Actually, I was with Faith the other night. I haven’t seen her in so long and it was so great seeing her. I’m just so happy to have great memories and good training and meet so many great people. But we never knew the value of what we were doing until it was done.
When you heard about Biggie’s passing, how did it affect you?
I was devastated. Like God, another senseless—let me tell you, you know a person is an icon when you can remember where you were when they passed. Everyone remembers exactly what happened when Biggie died.
To the Vibe magazine party?
Yes, it was the Vibe party. Biggie had just left the Vibe party. Me, Keenen, and a bunch of us was standing in line going to the Vibe party. The party was cracking. I never ever, ever, stand in lines, but it was at capacity and by the time, it was too much confusion. I was like, “Ah hell no, I’m good,” so I left.
What happened after that?
I can’t remember who I was with, but I was like, “Yo, let’s go to Jerry’s Deli” cause that’s what everyone did when it’s late. As I’m coming out, Carl Payne from Martin [is] going to Jerry’s Deli, like, “Yo, did you just hear what happened?!” I’m like “What?!” he’s like, “Yo, they shot Biggie, man, they shot Biggie.” The ambulance just passed us. They were going to the site. Cedars-Sinai is right there. We heard the ambulance and everything. I was like, “Wow, there’s a lot of commotion going on.” I was like “Damn.” We sat out there [and] talked for a minute. [Then], you turned on the radio and you heard it. I always say these young people that we lost— just amazing talents, we lost so senselessly. Honestly, it really serves its purpose.
Really, how so?
How it serves its purpose is that it woke a lot of people up. Biggie’s death shut everybody down. It changed the game and showed young Black performers anything can happen. You’re not all that. Biggie’s death saved a lot of lives.