In the winter of 1999, I was promoted at The Source from Staff Writer to Associate Music Editor.
Honestly, I was less then excited about the new gig. All I wanted to do was write. Not edit. But after changes at the top, I had no choice. There was no longer a budget for a free-spirited thinker to travel the country and write whatever she wanted to. I could still write stories but I’d have to edit and assign some stuff too.
The best part of my promotion? I was moving out of the projects!!
There were two places you could sit at The Source when I got there in the late 90s: in the projects or in the condos. The condos were the five private offices leading to the editor-in-chief’s digs. The projects were six cubicles on opposite walls in the main room on the editorial side of the floor.
We called it the projects because it was so noisy and crowded. And quite, frankly, it was a ghetto, in the literal sense of the word.
You had all these different people, from different backgrounds, listening to various types of music on blaring stereo systems—and we were all crunched into one tiny space.
When I first got there, I had a young kid named Jonathon “Gotti” Bonanno sitting behind me in the projects. We shared a stereo. The main part of the stereo was on my desk. But I put a speaker on his desk and we took turns listening to new music. One week, I had to listen to Wu-Tang on repeat while he wrote a cover story on the group. I wasn’t happy about it. And I’m sure he wasn’t happy living through my Angie Stone phase. (At The Source, an R&B fanatic like me was just barely tolerated).
So I was very happy to move out of the ‘jects and into a deluxe office in the corridor. The office had belonged to Roberto “Riggs” Morales, who was leaving to work with Eminem at his management company. I loved Riggs. He rode a scooter through the office and had an ear for music that was no joke.
Riggs was packing up his office and I popped in, ready to measure for curtains. (I mean that figuratively. There were no windows in that tiny spot.) He told me to come inside and close the door.
“You see this belt?” Riggs said.
He pointed to a belt that was hanging from a hook on the back of the door. The belt was so long that although the buckle was nearly at the top of the door, the end of the belt was halfway to the floor.
“I know that can’t be your belt…” I said.
“No,” said Riggs. “It’s Biggie’s belt.”
I looked closer and shook my head in disbelief.
“Yeah, it is. Look at the notch. That’s where he had to close it.”
I took the belt off the hook. It wrapped around my waist several times and I saw the well-worn notch that had been punched in with a sharp edge. Whoever that belt belonged to was huge.
“This is really B.I.G.’s belt?” I asked Riggs. “How did it get here?”
“He came up here to the office a few years ago,” Riggs explained. “We were clowning him about his raggedy belt and how he had to make a new notch for it to fit. He took it off and left it here as a joke. Told us he’d be back to get it and not to touch it.”
Riggs just looked at me and didn’t have to say anymore. At this point, B.I.G. had been dead for two years. It was obvious that he hadn’t made it back to get his belt. I hung the belt back up.
“That belt doesn't leave this office,” Riggs said.
“Not under any circumstances. It stays right there. Right on that hook. Unless Big comes here to get it, it doesn’t move.”
“I got it.”
“And don’t tell people about it either. The more people who know, the more likely someone’s gonna steal it.”
“If you move offices or if you leave The Source: the belt stays here. You can tell the next person who moves in here.”
Riggs was always laughing and grinning about something. He was a jovial type. But on that afternoon, he was cold and serious. I assured him that I’d keep Biggie’s belt safe, honored to be a small part of hip-hop history.
I stayed in that office for close to two years. I didn’t tell anyone about the belt. (Okay, I did tell a few people. But only people I really trusted!) And I never removed it. I touched it absentmindedly from time to time. But didn’t give it much thought.
And then, it was time for me to move on from The Source. My boss was Carlito Rodriguez. My nickname for him was Mr. C. He called me ASKing.
I walked in Mr. C’s office one morning and sat down across from him. He looked up and saw me and just started shaking his head.
“ASKing,” he said, “What do I need to do to get you to stay?”
But there was nothing he could do. I was done. I was ready to freelance full time. I wanted to write. Not edit.
Carlito gave me a contract to write for the magazine every month to jumpstart my freelance career. (Love him to this DAY for that.) And that was it, I was moving on.
It took me a week to pack everything. And in between sending boxes to my house and letting people know my plans, I was sniffing out a replacement.
I wasn’t going to be able to hire someone, that job would go to the Music Editor. But I did want to make some suggestions.
I wanted Jermaine Hall in my seat. Jermaine often wrote freelance stories for me and his copy was always quick and clean. I loved that I could call him up on a Friday at three and have him on a plane by five for a story I was two weeks late on assigning.
I brought Jermaine in and asked him if he was interested in the gig. He was. I gave him a primer on what they were looking for and how he should handle the interview. He went in there and did what he had to do and got the job.
After I found out he was hired, I asked him to come back to see me one more time.
“Riggs had this office before me,” I told Jermaine.
“Yeah. And I’m taking everything out of here. Except that belt hanging on the hook behind the door.”
Jermaine turned around and looked at the door. Then his eyes widened.
“Whose belt is that?” he asked.
And I passed down the story of the Biggie Belt to Jermaine.
“You can’t take that belt down,” I told Jermaine. “Ever.”
“And if you leave, the belt stays here.”
Jermaine nodded again.
That was my last day at The Source. And I never went inside my old office again.
Although I stayed in touch with Jermaine and continued to write for the magazine, I didn’t ask about the belt and eventually forgot about all it.
And then, a few years later, when I got an email that Jermaine was leaving The Source, I remembered the belt and wondered what had become of it. At that point, it had been years. And The Source’s offices had moved more than once.
And I didn’t know where the Biggie’s belt was.
Back in 2009, I called Jermaine up to ask about the belt and he swore he told no one and gave the instructions to the next person in that office, Johnathon “Gotti” Bonanno.
I decided to see if I could figure out what happened to the Biggie Belt.
It turns out that the Biggie Belt was properly cared for by every single person who occupied that office from the moment Big put the belt on the hook in 1995.
I could not believe how many people I talked to who said the same exact thing: The person before me told me about the belt and told me not to move it or tell anyone about it. I told the next person the same thing when I left.
I wanted to find out who had the belt so badly. And I kind of felt stupid for wanting to find it. It’s just a belt. Right?
Well, this small piece of hip-hop history changed hands so many times, through people who never met, while all having a shared connection to a place with so many secrets and drama. If you’ve ever worked at The Source, you belong to a very special fraternity. And Big’s belt was one item that passed down from the OGs like Riggs Morales, all the way to folks whose names I didn’t know until I started the search.
I think part of the reason why I was drawn to the story of the Biggie Belt is because like many Black folks, there is so little I know about my own history. I don’t have much passed down to me from earlier generations. I have a photo taken with my maternal great-grandmother holding me. She died soon after I was born. I don’t even know her maiden name or where she was from. I wear my maternal grandmother’s wedding band as my own. But that’s it.
I can’t trace my roots back any further than three generations. There is no family Bible, scribbled with details from a hundred years ago.
I don’t even know why my last name is King.
On some level, the belt represented being a part of something that should last and be passed down forever.
And the few times I whispered the secret of the Biggie Belt to someone, I remember how eyes would widen. They would cover their mouths with their hands. And they’d reach out and touch it. Wanting to be close to Big. Even though by then, he was far away from all of us.
I gave up looking for the belt seven years ago today.
I asked some of the Keepers Of The Belt to meet me in front of 215 Park Avenue South, where the Biggie Belt lived for many years. We met up on March 9, 2009, the anniversary of Big’s death. We took a flick together and disbanded. I was pretty bummed. I’d had hope that we’d all be able to take a picture together with the belt. But that wasn't gonna happen. I wrote about it on my blog and that was that.
And then. A few days later.
I was sitting at my dining room table, half checking Facebook, half watching television. I got an email with the subject heading: I know where the belt is.
It was from Boo Rosario, who worked in the music department at The Source back in the day. He had the belt. And it was safe.
I called Boo immediately. Here’s the story:
When The Source was preparing to move, Boo was packing up his stuff and other random files that needed to be moved. Then it dawned on him that no one had vouched for the belt.
“I went to the office where the belt has always been. And I saw [NAME REDACTED] rolling the belt up in his hands. I said, Yo, what are you doing? He said, oh come on Boo, I’ll split the money with you. I’m putting this up on eBay.”
Boo yoked up the guy-who-shall-remain-nameless and pinned him to the wall.
“I said, Yo what’s wrong with you? This is history! This ain’t going on no eBay.”
Boo took the belt from guy-who-shall-remain-nameless and packed it away in his stuff.
The belt did make the move to the Source’s new offices. And it was there for quite a while, under Boo’s protection.
After some time, things got tense for Boo at The Source. There was an argument over the phone with the infamous Ray Benzino.
“We were yelling back and forth,” says Boo. “And I knew it was about to get crazy. I wasn’t fired. But I knew the end was coming soon.”
That night, after the argument with Benzino, Boo took the belt home with him. He didn’t take anything else. Just the belt.
“I don’t know why,” Boo told me. “All my other stuff was still in the office. And I knew I was coming to work the next day. But for some reason, I took the belt home. Just a feeling.”
The next day, Boo came to work. He was locked out. All codes to the office had been changed. He wasn’t allowed to go into his office. And he never went back to The Source again.
All he had was Big’s belt.
He didn’t even know he’d never be able to get the rest of his stuff. Boo left The Source with NOTHING but Big’s belt.
And he’s had the belt ever since.
“I’m holding it right now,” Boo said to me back in 2009. “It’s a size 52. Damn. I never look at the belt. But I just went into the fire safe box to check on it while I’m on the phone with you. And I just got a chill. I’ve always taken care of the belt. But I’m just realizing. Damn, this is really Big’s belt!”
What should become of Big’s belt? I don’t know. Maybe it’s not notable enough to go into a museum or get passed down to one of his children. It’s just a belt, right?
Well, it’s notable to me. And today, on the anniversary of Big’s death, I’m happy that this tiny part of hip-hop history is safe and sound.