It seems crazy to think Christopher Wallace died at 24 years old. A lot was done in 24 years. More so, he was not mainstream until 20ish. Crazy. Crazier, Tupac Shakur died at the same age of 24. While I feel the East Coast/West Coast feud spanned several years; in actuality, it was months, and very much overblown. We lost two giants just 7 months apart.
Netflix recently released a documentary summarizing, and at times, detailing the life of Christopher Wallace, or as we had come to know him, The Notorious B.I.G. A young charismatic and talented writer, artist, musician, hustler, go-getter, husband, son, and father. It is important to note them all because he was them all. As the documentary so eloquently captures these moments. Certainly, many moments were left out, but it is clear – along with the party, there was some element of responsibility, and a heavy element of pressure, struggle, depression, fear, and support. B.I.G. had plenty of support, and a camp dedicated to his success.
A tale as old as time is a band of characters hanging on to “The One.” This feels different. Much different. In the little I can decipher with this new behind-the-scenes footage, is that people genuinely cared about Biggie and his success. The sense was if B.I.G. makes it, we all make it. And for a time, they did. Also, the absence of Lil Kim is painfully noticeable. They must have spent a lot of time editing the doc, removing her from the footage. I wonder why? I suppose it does not matter.
The interviews with his mother, Voletta Wallace are tough, as she is seemingly still confused of what life B.I.G. was in. He was not confused. The music spoke clearly. He knew he was in danger, and one must wonder why he went to California in the midst of a heated rivalry, not long after Tupac’s murder. Hanging out an enemy territory seems strange. Was he asking for trouble? He was trying to make amends it seems, even though it is very unlikely he had anything to do with the death of 2 Pac. Yet he still wanted the fans on the west coast to understand that. Not to push albums. He did not need any help selling records. He just wanted them to know.
Christopher Wallace was not a tough guy. He was a fun-loving guy, that enjoyed good times and good company. He was hurt deeply by the passing of those close to him and hustled out of necessity. Many things he was involved in were questionable at best, but this is not uncommon when you grow in a poverty-stricken area. The options are at their smallest. While necessity may not mean survival, the drive to have things wanted and needed were enough to dabble in various forms of mischief, including selling drugs. My interpretation was a constant yearning for improvement pushed his pace. Just be better. I assume this was his motivation. Point is, I do not think he was bad guy. I thought a real nice guy, with raw talent, wanting to improve things for his mom, friends, and close confidants.
Sadly, we never saw much of him as a father or husband. His marriage to Faith Evans and the birth of his daughter coincided with his rise to stardom and becoming “The King of New York,” which found him on the road more than not. He was definitely a Mama’s boy, so much so, that he put his mom in the music video, Juicy. He spoke highly of his mother, even though at times, she was very critical of his activities. The way the documentary tells the story, Volleta Wallace was a bit clueless on Christopher’s dealings and what the day-to-day looked like. There are several mentions of this in the documentary, including Ms. Wallace mistaking crack rocks for old mashed potatoes, and her shock upon finding out he cursed on his records.
Enter Sean Combs… To say that Puffy saved Biggie’s life isn’t a stretch, for however brief that time may have been. The sheer determination to be something is what the two had most in common. Puff was visible at many events and shows, but rarely partying. He was too focused on growing the brand. From 1994 – 1997 the brand was The Notorious BIG. all other acts took a backseat. Puff showed B.I.G. he could make the same, and more money, legally. The risk was high with either, but the penalty for failure in the rap game didn’t carry the same consequences as the dope game. Once Biggie lost his best friend, Roland “Olie” Young, things started to go dark. he found himself hustling more and took a trip to North Carolina to move crack, citing a better ROI. Per the documentary, Combs called B.I.G. and told him he had to pick one. He chose to make music. The engines revved.
Once Biggie began to flood radio stations and sell albums, it seemed the sky was the limit – coincidently a song titled just that, appears on the album, Life After Death. The album would be released just 16 days after his death. Stranger, the album carried this title well before his murder. B.I.G. started recording Life After Death in September of 1995. It is considered to be one of the greatest Hip Hop albums ever made.
The beef with Death Row Records, Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur started to shape after Tupac was shot at a recording studio in New York. B.I.G. and his team were in the building, apparently for something unrelated. VIBE Magazine wrote a chilling article of the shooting in April of 1995, detailing the incident. Although it appears the story is told from Tupac’s account. This isn’t to say it’s inaccurate, however, it’s not possible for Tupac to know what Biggie was doing at the time. We know he was not the trigger man, nor do we know if he had any involvement at all.
After the shooting, Tupac was open about who he thought shot him – Bad Boy Records. As the face of Bad Boy, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Christopher “Notorious BIG” Wallace wore the blame. Speculation combined with Tupac’s adamant claims led to the greatest rap beef in history, which would ultimately end up fatal for both. The extreme tension at the 1995 Source Awards catapulted the rivalry. In June of 1996, Tupac released “Hit Em Up,” a diss track which of no secret, was aimed at the Bad Boy team. Four months later, Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas. Many assumed Bad Boy was behind the slaying. We now know that is unlikely.
This rare look at behind-the-scenes footage of B.I.G. is compelling, but more interesting are the first-person accounts of his team and close friends. There is a definite fondness when they discuss his life and what he meant to them. Not much time is spent on his death, and even less time is spent on his music. However, the impact of his music is covered brilliantly from start to finish.
You leave the documentary feeling like he was more than a rapper, and more so an icon. The darkness, grit, and realness of The Notorious B.I.G. are only confirmed throughout “BIGGIE: I Got a Story to Tell.” It is well done and worth watching.