American rapper and songwriter The Notorious B.I.G’s short but sensational career completely eclipsed the 90’s rap scene. It’s a feat his Jamaican mother, Voletta Wallace, attributes to his love of reggae music among other musical styles in the new Netflix documentary Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell. The 97-minute reel, released on March 1, paints a more personal, pre-success portrait of the slain star, focusing on his childhood and culture as an axis for his unmatched musical prowess.
It was important to film-maker Emmett Malloy that the film maintain a chronological montage to play up the Hypnotize rapper’s earliest influences. The documentary begins in Jamaica, and we learn a lot from his mother who not only approved of the film, but was given license to “yap a little bit” beyond the Tupac Shakur beef and gritty lifestyle that has marred previous memoirs.
B.I.G.’s background included frequent visits to his mother’s hometown, where he would link up with her musician brothers, Dave and Lou. Explaining their impact on her son’s incredible adult aesthetic, the former pre-school teacher told Entertainment Weekly, “I remember Lou trying to teach him how to play guitar while Dave would be the singer. At the time, I didn’t know anything about rap and I doubt Christopher did either.”
Though the film also delves into his penchant for jazz taught by a keen neighbour, Ms. Wallace said exploring Reggae with his uncles was a joyous pastime for the clever youngster. “When they were together, they were always playing their reggae music. He really got a kick out of that and looked forward to those moments,” she said.
We also learn a great deal about the love for country music Ms. Wallace imparted to her only son. Rife with tales of human error, emotion and heartbreak, she believes the genre’s nuances fueled B.I.G.’s unparalleled knack for storytelling. Even the documentary takes its title from one of the icon’s most layered cuts, an audacious account of his exploits with another man’s wife.
“Before my eyes could blink, she screams out “Honey bring me up somethin’ to drink”/ It came to me like a song I wrote/ Told the b—, “Gimme your scarf, pillowcase and rope”/ Got dressed quick, tied the scarf around my face/ Roped the b— up, gagged her mouth with the pillowcase/ Play the cut, n— coming off some love potion shit/ Flash the heat on ’em, he stood motionless,” he spits in the twisted track.
He would flaunt his heritage almost as much as his lyrical finesse throughout his meteoric rap rise. Whether it was dubbing himself the “rap phenomenon Don dada” on Kick in the Door, or the famous last line — “Yes, it’s Bad Boy, hard to the core/Lawwwwwddddd! Me cyan tek it no more” on Dancehall legend Super Cat’s 1993 Dolly My Baby (Hip-Hop Remix), the Brooklyn star factored in his roots.
Though his art touched on themes like suicide and inner-city struggle, he was also heard repping the world-revered brand of yardie recreation on classics like Party and Bull—t: “I think I might just hit her with a little Biggie 101/ How to tote a gun and have fun with Jamaican rum”, as well as on 1994’s MSG Freestyle: “That’s how I got the weed spot: I shot dread in the head, took the bread and the Lambs Bread”, (a sativa strain endemic to Jamaica).
Wallace’s murder remains unsolved but his potent approach honed through many mingling influences bears incalculable significance on hip hop culture. “BIG had a gift and talent that saved a lot of people’s lives.. but his”, said Lil Cease in the biography, B.I.G’s cousin and Junior M.A.F.I.A protégé.