Netflix documentary film “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell”, which was released a few weeks ago, is a mildly engaging tribute to the Notorious B.I.G., who was one of the legendary rap artists in the 1990s. As a guy who does not know that much about the Notorious B.I.G. and his works, I initially observed the documentary with some interest and fascination, but, despite its best intentions, it is rather underwhelming and unfocused while not going further than my basic knowledge on the Notorious B.I.G.
After the opening part which shows how suddenly the life and career of the Notorious B.I.G. was ended on March 9th, 1997, the first half of the documentary focuses on his early life in a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City during the 1980s. Born as Christopher Wallace on May 21st, 1972, he grew up under his schoolteacher mother Voletta Wallace, and his mother and several childhood friend of his tell us a bit about how dangerous their neighborhood was during Wallace’s childhood years. His mother tried her best in raising her young son despite being busy with her study as well as her schoolwork, but their residence was not so far from a seedy street full of drug dealers and addicts, and young Wallace soon got himself involved with local drug business along with his close friends when he was only 14.
Meanwhile, young Wallace also came to develop considerable musical talent, and we hear about how much he was influenced by several different music genres ranging from jazz to country. Every summer, his mother used to take young Wallace to her hometown in Jamaica, and his musician uncle Dave Wallace gladly tells us how much young Wallace was impressed when he saw his uncle performing in front of others. In addition, there was a jazz musician guy in young Wallace’s neighborhood, and the documentary shows us the considerable influence of jazz performance on Wallace’s rapping style.
Once he made quite an impression on many people with his natural music talent during one public rap battle, young Wallace quickly rose as a fresh new talent to watch, and he happened to be at the right place and time. Around that time, the hip hop industry in New York City really needed someone to shake up the ground and then compete with the growing counterpart in LA mainly represented by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and young Wallace, who eventually dropped his original stage name and then became the Notorious B.I.G., was the right talented guy to accomplish that. Thanks to the supports from several others including Sean “Diddy” Combs, he became a big star rapper within a few several years, and he was catapulted to stardom around the time when his first studio album “Ready to Die” came out in 1994.
However, this rapid career advance of his did not come to him easily at all, and several interviewees in the documentary give us frank testimonies on how Wallace was often unsure about whether he would really succeed in the hip hop industry. Before “Ready to Die” came out, he was still conflicted about whether he really should quit his ongoing drug dealing for pursuing his hip hop career more, and, fortunately, he was subsequently persuaded to keep going for music by Combs.
Via a series of archival video clips shot by Wallace’s close friend Damion “D-Roc” Butler, the documentary shows us how popular Wallace really was as the Notorious B.I.G. Even before he entered the stage, the audiences were quite eager to see his performance, and he did not disappoint his fans at all with the forceful delivery of his electrifying raps. To be frank with you, I wish the documentary could have more time for these archival video clips of Wallace’s performance, which still feels quite galvanizing despite low video and audio qualities.
I was also disappointed that the documentary does not delve that deep into what might have led to Wallace’s unfortunate demise. As he rose up and up, Wallace was often compared with Tupac “2Pac” Shakur in LA, and they actually became close friends in the beginning, but then they were somehow pushed into a conflict beyond their control. Without going much into details, the documentary just shows us a very little of what was going on between Wallace and Shakur during that time, though it emphasizes that Wallace was really devastated by Shakur’s tragic death on September 13th, 1996.
Not long after this sad incident, Wallace went to LA, and it is poignant to see the video clips of his last interview which was done a few days before his sudden death. Like Shakur, he also got killed because of an unfortunate shooting incident, and that certainly shocked everyone in the American hip hop industry again. Although they died too early (Wallace was only 24 while Shakur was merely 25, by the way), both of Wallace and Shakur became larger-than-life legends during next 25 years, and they were also recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Directed by Emmett Malloy, “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” does not present much besides what I already knew about Wallace, and it also stumbles from time to time as losing its narrative focus due to covering a little too many things within its 97-minute running time. I would rather recommend you to watch Oscar-nominated documentary “Tupac: Resurrection” (2003) instead because it is a more insightful and entertaining rap artist documentary, but I think “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” will probably make a nice double feature show along with that documentary, so I let you make a choice for yourself.