Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell pays homage to one of the greatest MCs of all time, The Notorious B.I.G. In the words of those who love him most, the documentary immerses us into the world of Christopher Wallace and how he became “The King of New York”. Compiled with interviews of Biggie’s closest friends and family, vintage camcorder footage of New York during the Hip-hop “golden era” and exclusive clips of Biggie during his prime, the documentary offers a fresh retrospective on Biggie’s admirable journey from rags to riches.
The highly anticipated documentary was released March 1st and has been at the top of the trending list on Netflix since. Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, and P Diddy, close friend and mentor to the late MC, partnered together as executive producers for this documentary. Both Voletta and P Diddy, alongside Biggie’s childhood friends and associate musicians, appear as interviewees in the documentary as they lovingly reflect on his life and long lasting influence. As a documentary produced and spearheaded by Biggie’s nearest and dearest, Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell intimately celebrates the man behind the hip-hop classics ‘Big Poppa’, ‘Juicy’, ‘Hypnotize’ and ‘Party and Bullsh*t’.
The first part of Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell explores the musical influences that helped shape The Notorious’ sonic sound. Born into the vibrant and magnetic culture of New York City, Biggie was exposed to a plethora of sounds during his upbringing. Donald Harrison, renowned jazz musician and fellow New Yorker, features in the documentary and describes how his friendship with “little Christopher Wallace” was built on his fascination with the saxophone. Harrison dotingly describes their friendship as “a perfect match” of two passionate musicians, sharing that he became an advisor to Wallace and helped infuse his flow with a bepop jazz rhythm. Harrison explains how he gave Wallace two pieces of advice; advice that would later become an essential part of the Notorious B.I.G’s intricately curated sound. Harrison encouraged Wallace to enunciate his words and to “put accents like a drummer, a jazz drummer”. The second piece of Harrison’s advice was to “tell stories where you could visualize the scenes”; a method of emotive storytelling that can be seen in a number of Biggie’s hits. As well as this, the documentary explores the wider field of Biggie’s musical influences, such as reggae and country, to further describe the dynamic, multi-genre fluidity of the MCs authentic sound.
Despite how the first part of the documentary seems to tip a metaphorical hat to New York and the bustling music scene that thrived within it, the rest of Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell changes into a critical social commentary on the unforgiving environment that birthed the Notorious B.I.G. Born into the concrete of Brooklyn, the epicentre of the late 80’s/early 90’s “crack era” of New York, Christopher Wallace was victimised by a culture of violence, murder and drug-related crime. As a young black man living in a low-income area with his single mum, Wallace emblemises the injustices inflicted on minority groups by the capitalist American society. The documentary delicately and empathetically explains how the politics of surviving within the harsh environment of the Brooklyn streets caused Wallace to follow the path of crimeg. At just 16, Biggie was already hustling the streets of Brooklyn and selling crack as a way to make ends meet. But Biggie had an undeniable talent that caught the attention of those around him, and this talent would soon become his golden ticket out of the deprived streets of Brooklyn and into the glory of hiphop royalty. Looking back on his younger day, dripped in a glistening chain and velour Coogi sweatshirt, Biggie would comment “from selling drugs on the corner, to this? I like it. I like it all”.
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell further unmasks the cruel reality of the gun-wielding American society by how it revisits the famously turbulent relationship between The Notorious B.I.G and hip-hop rival, Tupac Shakur. Described by P Diddy as “the theatrics of hip-hop”, the East Coast-West coast rivalry of the two titans in the early/mid 90’s became a focal point within popular culture. The documentary sheds light on the friendship that existed between Biggie and Tupac before their enthralling rivalry and how their “beef” became cemented into the very fabric of the hip-hop genre. However, things took a tragic turn when Tupac was murdered in 1996, causing damaging rumours to emerge around Biggie being the mastermind behind the attack. The documentary takes a strong stand against these allegations, supported by an interview of Wallace’s wife, Faith Evans, as she reveals that the only time she saw her husband cry was when he spoke about Tupac.
The final chapter of the documentary emotionally reflects on March 9th, 1997: the day the great Notorious B.I.G was murdered in a drive-by shooting. Powerfully compiled with aerial footage of Biggie’s funeral and camcorder footage that captures the outpouring of love from the mourning Brooklyn community, Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is bookended by the faces of those he touched by not only his music, but by his remarkable story.
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is a melancholic salute to, in the words of those closest to him, the man who “gave birth to hip-hop”. As a leading pioneer of his genre, Biggie warped the conventions and represented a raw, authentic form of hip-hop that differentiated itself from the “pretty” hip-hop popular at the time. His experimental flow, impeccable rhymes and honest lyrics make Biggie a quintessential icon for not only his community, but his generation. The documentary closes with the iconic image of The Notorious wearing his well-deserved crown, leaving us with a sweet taste of the legacy he leaves behind. If you don’t know, now you know.
Words: Hazel Thayre