A touching and insightful documentary gives the story of the Notorious B.I.G. the telling it deserves
If you’re a true hip-hop fan of a certain age who grew up within a 100 mile radius of New York City, it’s damn near impossible not to get the feels watching the excellent new documentary on The Notorious B.I.G. that premiered on Netflix this week.
This 100-minute long film, culled largely from never-before-seen private videotapes of the rap legend and his entourage throughout the mid-90s, goes beyond any other Biggie film that precedes it in showcasing the purity of Christopher Wallace on a human level. This camcorder footage, shot while Biggie was on tour in support of his smash debut LP Ready To Die, brings to reality the full breadth of the man behind the acronym.
Free of all the fanfare and conspiracy theorizing that’s plagued his murder for almost a quarter century, I Got A Story To Tell allows Biggie fans the deepest, most honest look at the young man born Christopher Wallace. The most intriguing stuff in this doc, beautifully directed by Emmett Malloy, transpires in the moments that focus on the rapper’s young youth. As a fan whose music tastes run far deeper than strictly hip-hop, it was a wonder to learn how profound Wallace’s Jamaican heritage informed his artistry, illustrated through the origin story of Biggie’s mom, Violetta Wallace. You also learn how acclaimed jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison, who lived in the same Bed-Stuy apartment building as the Wallaces, served as a father figure to young Christopher, taking him to movies and introducing him to such jazz titans as Max Roach, whose drum patterns were learn helped serve as a template for Biggie’s highly distinctive rhyme flow. Legendary hip-hop producer Easy Mo Bee also proved to have a lasting big brotherly impact on young Christopher Wallace as well, and the film does an excellent job at conveying that to the viewer. Especially when they give us a reminder that the hook to the duo’s first single “Party & Bullshit” from the severely underrated soundtrack to the 1993 comedic flop Who’s The Man originates from the first Last Poets album.
VIDEO: The Last Poets “When The Revolution Comes”
But the pure beauty of I Got A Story To Tell stems from the touching and honest testimonials by people from every aspect of The Notorious B.I.G.’s life. And when you combine these interviews with all the never-before-seen footage of Biggie being Biggie, the joy and laughter and creative energy literally beam through your screen and straight into your heart. Sadly, the same can also be said for the events following his still-unsolved murder, which we are approaching its grim 25th anniversary on this day in 2022. It’s heartbreaking to see how raw the emotions remain amongst his friends and loved ones, and how no amount of documentaries and reissues will be able to fill the void of his massive absence in this world.
You see the way our man Snoop Dogg has been able to segue so smooth from the streets to a seat in your family den as one of the most colorful and enjoyable figures on American television? Biggie Smalls would have easily enjoyed a similar evolution had he survived the events of March 9, 1997, or had they never transpired altogether. I could see him as the loveable, goofy but all-business dad in a hit sitcom on one of the major networks. Movies, merch and of course music. Just imagine Biggie and Jay-Z, Biggie and Eminem for real, Biggie and Run The Jewels. Imagine the Notorious B.I.G. getting down with the Black Pumas or Jack White on some deep blues, or singing the praises of California with Kendrick Lamar and Anderson.Paak.
But we will never see any of those things because of senseless gun violence. And that is why we continue to mourn March 9th as one of the biggest days the music died.
And Malloy nails exactly why many of us feel this way in his film.
VIDEO: I Got A Story To Tell Official Trailer