I stood about ten feet from Biggie Smalls (aka The Notorious BIG), videotaping him as he signed autographs and posed for pictures with a group of Howard University coeds. Less than two years later the rap legend was dead. He would be fatally shot in Los Angeles - a murder that remains unsolved. He was only 24 years old.
That Howard Homecoming day in 1995 was a much more innocent time in hip-hop. Nobody was on molly, very few people had cell phones, and World Star Hip-Hop wasn't invented yet. It was just Biggie and Diddy (then known as Puff Daddy) hanging out in front of the Blackburn Center.
Biggie had a special relationship with DC. He would perform here regularly during his abbreviated career, and he frequently made reference to DC in his lyrics. In fact, except for his beloved Brooklyn-NYC, he probably mentioned the nation's capitol in his lyrics more than any other city.
"In the Benz wagon, ragging sipping DP, on my way to DC" (Big Poppa Remix).
"A lime to a lemon, my DC women" (You Can't Stop the Reign).
Even when his commentary wasn't completely positive - it was still accurate and socially relevant.
"You knew about me, the fake ID, cases in Virginia, bodies in DC" (Get Money).
That line poignantly describes the drug culture and soaring homicide rate that defined DC in the early to mid 1990s.
And with one verse, Biggie took Howard University from HBCU mecca to hip-hop mecca.
"See me in DC at Howard Homecoming, with my man Capone dumbin" (Kick In The Door).
Of course, the HU Homecoming has always been a major HBCU affair, and an important date on the African-American social calendar, but Biggie elevated it to the industry phenomenon it has become today.
Biggie Smalls, who many hip-hop junkies believe was the greatest rapper of all time, died 17 years ago.