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Thousands line New York streets to mourn rapper

Laid out in a double-breasted white suit and matching hat, the Notorious B.I.G. made his last trip Tuesday through the grimy Brooklyn streets where he went from crack dealer to gangsta rap star.

The rapper's body was driven from a service on Manhattan's well-to-do Upper East Side to his Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, where thousands lined the streets to watch the procession of black limousines and salute the man born Christopher Wallace.

Wallace, 24, was killed March 9 in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles as he left a party celebrating the Soul Train Music Awards.

Wallace, whose 380-pound, 6-foot frame earned him the nickname Biggie Smalls, had told of selling crack on the streets before releasing his debut album, Ready to Die.

The crowd cheered wildly as the funeral cortege passed. It was led by a hearse bearing the rapper _ a father of two _ and two black Cadillacs filled with flowers. "To Daddy," read the yellow ribbon around one arrangement.

Riders following in more than a dozen stretch limousines held pictures of Wallace out the windows.

Once the motorcade passed, there were several skirmishes between police and the crowd, and pepper spray was used to disperse the group. Seven people, including a reporter for the New York Times, were arrested on disorderly conduct charges, and a half-dozen officers suffered minor injuries, police said.

Some of rap's best-known artists attended Wallace's funeral, including Dr. Dre, Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, Treach of Naughty by Nature, Spinderella and Pepa of Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah and R&B diva Mary J. Blige, who left the service weeping and supported by other mourners.

No one has been charged in Wallace's slaying. Some reports have suggested it was part of an East Coast-West Coast rapper rivalry, but the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that a gang member in a financial dispute with Wallace had emerged as the prime suspect.

The Los Angeles Times also said there was no connection found to the slaying of rival rapper Tupac Shakur in a drive-by shooting Sept. 7 in Las Vegas. No one has been arrested in that killing, either.

Wallace's estranged wife, Faith Evans, sang at the funeral service, and Sean "Puffy" Combs _ the head of Wallace's record company, Bad Boy Entertainment _ delivered a eulogy.

"It was a peaceful event," said mourner Juanita Preudhomme, an old family friend. "It wasn't all sorrow. Everybody was hugging and kissing, just like Biggie would have wanted."

Old friends were among those mourning in Brooklyn as well, as the procession wound past graffiti and boarded-up buildings, including one with posters promoting the rapper's latest album, due out next week.

Fans lined the block where Wallace once lived, leaving candles, pictures, empty malt liquor bottles and a copy of Ready to Die at a makeshift shrine.

"He never changed," said neighbor Cynthia Haynes, whose daughter once dated Wallace. "I saw him a year ago and told him I was so proud of him."

On top of a parked car, three children held a sign. "We love you B.I.G.," it read. "Stop the violence. From future stars of tomorrow."