Christopher Wallace, more commonly known as The Notorious B.I.G., is brought back to life in the documentary “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell,” which travels backward in time, highlighting the major turns in the star’s life that led him to fame and tragedy.
“Biggie” intertwines behind-the-scenes footage from tours and the streets of New York City, taken by Wallace’s close friend Damien Butler, with current interviews featuring Wallace’s friends and family. From a caring son to a street hustler to a genius musician, Biggie is portrayed in a number of ways. These different layers create a cohesive portrait of Wallace, and it’s one that deserves to be appreciated and memorialized.
Instead of building toward the tragic ending most viewers anticipate, the film celebrates Biggie’s life in a unique way, beginning with footage from the day his casket was driven through the streets of his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. But the footage isn’t mournful. Rather, it shows thousands of New Yorkers parading in the streets, ready to give their idol the attention and respect he deserves. The decision to begin with this footage helps put aside the sad ending we all know is coming, instead giving viewers the opportunity to fully appreciate the rapper’s life from a new angle. As P. Diddy says in the beginning of the documentary, “This story doesn’t have to have a tragic ending.”
The portrayal of Biggie’s relationship with his mother, Voletta Wallace, contributes to this celebration. As Biggie became more serious about his career as a rapper, he told his mother not to listen to his music due to the swearing and inappropriate content. And she listened to him, not wanting to change her feelings about her son because of his music. In a past interview shown in the documentary, Wallace says, “I’m not Biggie. I’m her son.”
Showing this footage, along with current interviews with his mother, establishes the type of relationship they had and allows viewers to relate to Biggie as a son instead of just a celebrity. Only after her son’s death did Voletta listen to his music with one purpose in mind: to understand how he touched the lives of so many people. Her journey of coming to this understanding showcases the influence art has on us as human beings, even when we don’t personally know the creator.
The documentary doesn’t only highlight the proudest moments of Biggie’s life. The documentary also touches upon the days he spent on the streets of New York City. Interviews with his friends reveal Biggie’s past as a drug dealer and street hustler, but not through a shameful lens. If his lows were left out, this wouldn’t be a true testament to his life.
Because his friends relied on his success, the documentary raises the stakes of Biggie’s career while simultaneously showing how seriously Biggie believed in friendship. When he caught his big break, he made a place for all of his friends in his success. The interviews featuring his closest friends all revolve around Biggie’s selflessness and talent, elevating the film from a traditional documentary to an emotional remembrance. Biggie’s successes are about more than himself, which makes the peaks in his career catalysts for transforming the lives around him.
From family to friends to musical talent, “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” hits on all aspects of the famous rapper’s life. The documentary shows us the big heart Biggie had through his actions and relationships. The continuous obstacles Biggie faced from the beginning to the end of his life only make his successes that much more meaningful. Against all odds, a young man with limited resources became the King of New York. And that’s definitely a story worth celebrating.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.