Table of Contents
NUMB with grief, Voletta Wallace looked out at the crowds lining the streets of Brooklyn to pay their respects to her son, Christopher – but didn’t shed a tear.
The single mother had just buried her only child – known to the world as the Notorious B.I.G – after his tragic death at the age of 24.
The Notorious B.I.G was shot dead in LA in 1997Credit: Netflix
But, as she reveals in the new Netflix documentary Biggie: I Have A Story To Tell, it was not until she heard his album, prophetically named Life After Death, that she was able to cry.
“Coming from that funeral I felt I was in a dream,” she says. “I wasn’t crying. That day it was just too heavy. I never shed a tear. I didn’t have any.
“I saw the crowd. And thought ‘Oh my God, this kid was well loved. That’s when I saw the love.’
“It only really hit me when I listened [to his album]. I only listened to his album once, I didn’t want to listen twice. Then the tears came.”
With exclusive access to family and childhood friends, the documentary looks at the life of B.I.G, before he was shot dead in LA in 1997.
It also shows his last ever interview, appealing for fans to put the East Coast-West Coast rivalry which claimed the life of fellow artist Tupac Shakur behind them.
As the documentary drops on Netflix, we chart the rapper’s rise from the corner of New York’s Fulton Street, where he began dealing drugs at the age of 13, to a platinum-selling artist hailed as the ‘King of New York’.
Crowds lines the streets of Brooklyn on the day of the rapper’s funeralCredit: AFP or licensors
The motorcade carrying floral tributes drove through his childhood neighbourhoodCredit: EPA
Drug stash mistaken for old mash potato
When the teenage B.I.G left a plate of crack in his bedroom to dry, Voletta thought it was mashed potato and scraped it into the bin.
“When we came back she was at the door screaming ‘why you leave all these hard mashed potatoes on a plate,’” recalls long-term pal Damian Roc, known as D-Roc.
A strict single mother, who brought up her only child in the deprived borough of Brooklyn, Voletta admits to being furious over the story – 24 years after his tragic death.
The retired teacher, who scolded her son over the profanity in his lyrics, even lets out a rare swear word.
“That b*****d,” she says. “I never knew. I don’t know if a human being can be so mad at a dead person.
“That’s a big shocker. That means he brought it into my house. He disrespected my house. That’s not the son I wanted.”
Biggie on a family holiday in Jamaica, where Voletta was raisedCredit: ©2021 Netflix, Inc.
Voletta tried to bring Christopher up to do the right thingCredit: ©2021 Netflix, Inc.
Dealing crack at 13
Voletta, who emigrated to the US from Jamaica in her teens, says she was working as a secretary and studying to be a nurse when she met Chistopher’s dad, Selwyn.
“We went to see The Harder They Come, then we had a beautiful boat ride, a lot of happy fun memories,” she says.
“The next thing I know, I was pregnant. I told my friend and she said ‘Did he tell you he was married?’ that kills me.”
Selwyn ‘faded away’ after she had the baby and had nothing to do with his son, while Voletta retrained as a teacher.
School friends recall Voletta keeping a close eye on her son, when he met pals on the street but her job meant he had ‘from 9 to 5 to do wrong.’
Seduced by the money he saw dealers earning on the street, D-Roc and B.I.G began selling crack on the city’s notorious Fulton Street – a magnet for addicts and criminals alike.
“For a young back man, it was easy to get lured into the street,” says pal Suif Jackson.
“We saw the hustlers. He saw a dude that was getting Jeeps, jewellery, Gucci, Versace.”
D-Roc claims the teenagers were soon earning up to £1300 a week but Voletta says she was totally unaware of her son’s dealing until he began to reveal his past in interviews.
“He told me he was working,” she says. “I believed him.”
B.I.G grew up in a tough neighbourhood and was lured in to crimeCredit: Christopher Wallace Estate
Best pal shot down by uncle
Biggie’s break came in 1992, when a street rap battle with rapper Supreme led to local star Fifty Grand inviting him to make a demo tape.
When the tape was praised in hip hop magazine The Source, P. Diddy was bowled over and became his mentor, signing him up to his record label, Uptown.
“I heard it and I was like ‘Thank you, God. This is one of the greatest MCs I ever heard’,” he says.
“This was the era of LL Cool J, everyone looking pretty, lips moisturised. BIG’s lips were cracked, like he’d been out in the street hustling.”
As his debut single, Party and Bullsh**, began to get him noticed, however, the tragic death of his best friend Roland Young – known as Olie – affected him deeply.
Olie was shot dead by his uncle, a notorious gang boss known as I-God, who was also killed in a subsequent shoot out.
“I was supposed to be with him,” says B.I.G. in an interview.
“When I got the call that Olie was killed, it shook me up. Fulton Street right now is bad luck avenue. You might start off prosperous, it might look good for a long time but believe me, something will happen wrong.”
With his friend’s death hanging over him, his mother suffering from breast cancer and his ex-girlfriend Jan Jackson expecting his baby, Biggie recorded his debut album, Ready To Die.
But money was still tight and, after baby T’yanna was born in August, 1993, it looked as if he was going off the rails again.
“I looked at this little baby and I cried,” says Voletta. “I said, ‘What do you have to offer this little girl?’.”
Biggie’s son CJ with Voletta at a party to name a street after B.I,G in 2019Credit: Getty Images – Getty
Biggie and D-Roc started selling crack in North Carolina, where prices were four times higher than what they made in New York.
P. Diddy reveals he tried to stage an intervention.
“I picked up the phone and said, ‘I had a personal tragedy, my father was on the streets and he also dealt drugs and hustled and he was killed when I was two.
“I said ‘There’s only one path for you as far as selling drugs and that’s in jail or dead.’”
“When he started to really devote his life to the music, everything changed.”
With his next single, Juicy, hitting the charts he began to travel the world and Voletta says she finally felt he was on track.
“I was happy that he was making something of his life,” she said. “I wasn’t worried about him anymore.”
Biggie’s daughter T’yanna, born 1993, and son CJ, born 1996
Rap Rivalry and double death
The documentary skirts over Biggie’s arrests for weapon possession, drug possession and threatening to kill autograph hunters outside a club.
It also avoids digging too deeply into the rivalry between the East Coast rappers and their LA rivals on the West Coast, which saw Biggie blamed for the death of Tupac Shakur.
The former friends became deadly rivals after Tupac was shot in a robbery, in 1994, and claimed B.I.G and P.Diddy were behind the hit.
In return, he wrote two songs suggesting he had slept with Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans, while the couple were estranged.
The bitter feud meant many blamed Biggie when Tupac was shot dead, in 1996 – with one paper claiming he had paid for the gun.
But Faith Evans, mother to Biggie’s son CJ, said her husband was innocent and told the documentary Biggie had cried when he heard about Tupac’s death.
“The night [Tupac was shot] I remember Big calling me and crying. I know for a fact he was in Jersey. He called me crying because he was in shock,” she says.
“I think it’s fair to say he was afraid, given everything that was going on at that time and all the hype that was put on this so-called beef that he didn’t really have in his heart against anyone.”
Tupac Shakur was shot dead in September 1996Credit: Getty – Contributor
The rapper was close friends with Tupac before the beef
After finishing the album Life After Death, the Notorious B.I.G sought to tackle the rumours head on, by flying to LA and playing down the feud.
“I remember the last thing I said to him was ‘just be careful out there’,” says Voletta.
Just days later, in the early hours of March 9, 1997, B.I.G. was travelling home from a post-awards party when he stopped at a red light and a black Chevy pulled alongside.
The driver, an unidentified man dressed in a blue suit and bow tie, rolled down his window, drew a 9 mm pistol, and fired into the car, hitting B.I.G four times and killing him instantly.
In a heartbreaking clip, grandmother Gwendolyn Wallace, 96, recalls: “One Sunday morning, I saw on the television the Notorious B.I.G was gunned down in Los Angeles last night.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. I can’t understand why they had to take away his life like that.”
Biggie’s car was shot at when he stopped at lights and he was killed instantlyCredit: AP:Associated Press
Grandmother Gwendolyn (right) heard about the death on the newsCredit: Emmett Malloy
The rapper’s Life After Death album was released posthumously and was a huge hit, taking the total number of his sales to over 30million.
“He had a life that had just had such a profound effect, he really gave birth to the future of hip hop,” says P. Diddy.
“It wasn’t all for nothing and he will live on forever through his music.”