Noah Hogan | Staff Writer
The thought of death weighed heavy on the mind of Christopher Wallace up until the day he died at age 24.
Wallace fell victim to gun violence on March 9, 1997, yet has left an unimaginable impact on the genre of hip-hop and music itself.
Hailing from the epicenter of New York, the Notorious B.I.G.’s legacy will forever be echoed in rap conversations across the world.
“Biggie is one of those names that is held in such high regard, but unfortunately I was born after he had already passed, so I am not so familiar with his work other than his major hits,” said Calyx Stover, a Hampton University journalism major from Boiling Springs, South Carolina.
Netflix’s Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell, which debuted on the streaming service March 1, serves as one of the many pieces of posthumous content released by the Wallace estate in recent years. The documentary spans various forms of media, including his sophomore album, Life After Death, a 2009 biopic, Notorious, and various books and documentaries.
Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell finds its uniqueness as it is constructed using previously unseen footage provided by Biggie’s lifelong friend, Damion Butler. With executive production from the MC’s mother, Voletta Wallace, and lifelong friend, Sean “Puffy” Combs, the authenticity is felt throughout the film by incorporating interviews from friends and family who knew and understood Christopher Wallace best.
I Got A Story To Tell takes the opportunity to fully flesh out and explain Wallace’s relationship with his mother. Tracing the Wallaces’ roots back to Trelanny, Jamaica, Ms. Wallace details her difficult decision of chasing the American Dream or staying in Jamaica.
“I always daydreamed of being a filthy rich lady, a lady of means with three children,” Voletta Wallace said in the documentary. “I did not see that in the country for me. That was not my life.”
Raising her son in Brooklyn as a first-generation American, Wallace found it instrumental to send Christopher to Jamaica every summer, where he would come back and share new music and dialect from his Uncle Joe.
In an attempt to build on his natural talent of art, a local saxophonist, Donald Harrison, exposed Wallace to various forms of jazz artist such as Max Roach, who would later inspire some of Wallace’s rhyme schemes.
“He was already writing,” childhood friend Hubert Sam said in the documentary. “He had different rhyme books, and we’d all link up and start doing routines.”
Although he attended a Catholic school from an early age, Wallace soon fell victim to the chaotic environment around him and began selling drugs on Fulton Street, an area notoriously known for hustlers and addicts.
Over the course of the 97-minute runtime, I Got a A Story To Tell depicts the ebbs and flows of Wallace’s double life. On one hand, he is depicted as a man who did what he felt he must do to provide for his family and those in his support system. On the other hand, he was a man who dedicated himself to a life of crime out of fear of his financial woes.
“I think this documentary was much-needed for the perception of Biggie,” Stover said. “Other hip-hop legends that have passed like Tupac have a good amount of interviews and other footage so that people could get a feel for who they were. On the contrary, besides the songs, Biggie is a complete mystery.”
In an attempt to connect the Christopher Wallace story to a younger audience, director Emmett Malloy made it his mission telling the side of Biggie that fans don’t know. Instead of focusing on the infamous East Coast vs. West Coast conflict, he makes better use of the narrative by honing in on the circumstances and relationships that made Christopher Wallace.
I Got a A Story To Tell does its best to fill in the gaps of Christopher Wallace’s story of growth through trials and tribulation. Scene after scene, viewers get an idea of the type of character that Biggie was through the use of home video clips of day-to-day activities. The same individuals from the artist’s childhood would reappear again in new roles as Wallace’s companions at his performances and live appearances.
Twenty-four years after his death, I Got a Story To Tell leaves fans with the burning question: Why was a man so talented slain so young? In an attempt to rationalize and humanize Wallace, fans are left with the cold reality of what could have been.
“Christopher Wallace certainly had a great ear,” said Faith Evans, Wallace’s wife, in the documentary. “He was super intelligent with his way of words, and he probably would have set them all up with gold and platinum albums, if they showed that that was what they wanted to do.”