Hip Hop heads and documentary fanatics are in for a treat with Netflix’s Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell from director Emmet Malloy. Following the rapper’s landmark induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and ahead of what would have been his 50th birthday, fans get a fresh look at Biggie Smalls’ legacy. This personal documentary features rare footage filmed by his best friend Damion “D-Roc” Butler and new interviews with his closest friends and family. Revealing a side of Christopher Wallace that the world never knew.
I was eleven years old the first time I heard The Notorious B.I.G.’s bars when he contributed his talent to Mary J Blige’s “Real Love” remix. I still remember feeling instant gravitation towards his wordplay and instantly became a fan. Five years later, on a Sunday in March of 1997, I was watching MTV’s Singled Out when news broke of his murder, and my heart sank. Now at the age of 39 and twenty-four years later, since his passing, The Notorious B.I.G. still holds a place in my personal Top 5 lyricists.
Naturally, since I’m a fan of Big, I was looking forward to the documentary. While there was a 2009 biopic and other documentaries on the slain rapper done in the past, the strength of Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is the new information it revealed. Before he chose his moniker, Christopher Wallace used the stage name of MC Qwest. Additionally, jazz musician Donald Harrison was an early mentor to a young Biggie and wanted him to pursue a jazz music career. The documentary also mentions Biggie’s Uncle Dave, a talented reggae artist in his own right.
Director Emmet Malloy also finds time to interview Biggie’s grandmother. She passionately speaks on his love of visiting Jamaica in the summer. Well-known names such as Faith Evans, Sean Combs, and Mister Cee all make appearances, but they don’t occupy the bulk of the screen time. Instead, his best friend D-Roc is given his just due, as are former childhood associates as well. To my surprise, former girlfriends Lil Kim and Charli Baltimore aren’t interviewed, nor is their romantic relationship even mentioned.
For the most part, I didn’t have any major gripes with Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell. However, there are a few things I wanted to get more in-depth on. On the one hand, I do think the angle that director Emmet Malloy was going for was to humanize the subject, which is fine. Personally, I would’ve loved to hear recollections from some of his former label mates and see footage of the recording of his second album. There’s also not a ton of performance footage, so that may upset some diehard fans.
Nevertheless, director Emmet Malloy has done a commendable job of paying tribute to one of the best lyricists to grace the mic. Running a brief ninety-seven minutes, Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is a decent introduction for novice fans while providing a bit new information for diehards.
Final Grade: B
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is available to stream via Netflix on March 1st.