By Emily Mullen
The new Netflix documentary documents Christopher Wallace’s origins and the meteoric rise of Notorious BIG. As told by his family, friends, mentors, and allies, the people who decades on miss him most.
What’s the gist: Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is a heartfelt biopic about how Christopher Wallace became Notorious BIG. It’s a worts and all documentary, which charts his motivations, his intellect, his vulnerabilities, and gives an unabashed view of what drove him. With a touch of social commentary and a dollop of rap history, you get to know Biggie through the people who knew him best. At its core, it’s very much a “Netflix” Netflix documentary. The flow of the narrative, the use of footage, and the hint towards ambiguity at the end, all feel like the familiar Netflix formula. In terms of material, it’s a mix of old hand recorded performances, titbits from Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s antics, old interviews (with a heavy reliance on his final interview), photos from his family archives alongside recent interviews with his friends and family- some shot in unusual locations like resource centers and stores- other’s in on sight locations.
Where can you watch it: Netflix
Where and when is it set: Mostly set in Brooklyn, with an obvious focus given to Bed-Stuy’s Fulton Street. The birthplace of his mother and the home of his uncle and grandmother in Jamaica features. His doomed trip to California is also briefly covered. It tracks Wallace’s childhood in the 1980s, through to his fame as Notorious BIG in the 1990s right up to modern-day with interviews with his nearest and dearest.
Who worked on it: Filmmaker Emmett Malloy partnered with Biggie’s estate manager Wayne Barrow and his mother Voletta Wallace on the film.
Who’s involved: Probably one of the most intimate pictures of Biggie that you are likely to get, Molloy’s partnership with Voletta gave the production unrivaled access to the people closest to the rapper. His closest family were interviewed, including Voletta herself, Biggie’s grandmother, his uncle, and his wife. His oldest friends, mentor saxophonist Donald Harrison, members of Junior M.A.F.I.A., his manager, and several people who worked indirectly or directly with him in the music business, were all interviewed.
Why should we watch it: It would be hard to find a more personalized account of Biggie’s life. We are all familiar with the rough origin story of BIG but this documentary holds some nuggets that even seasoned fans wouldn’t have seen or heard.
Highlights are: Biggie’s mother Voletta’s one-liners and the range of emotions she still feels about her son. Her account of throwing what she thought were “hard” mashed potatoes that were drying in her Fulton Street home into the bin- and her reaction when she heard they were actually crack- was particularly poignant and darkly funny.
Elsewhere on District: 9 empowering female characters that changed our TV screens