For someone who only lived 24 years, the rapper known as Biggie Smalls (or The Notorious B.I.G) lived one hell of a life – and now he’s the centre of a new Netflix documentary laying it all out.
Coming in at just 90 minutes long, Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell attempts to break down the life and career of the man known to his mother as Christopher Wallace, through the eyes of those there to witness his rise to fame.
Collecting videos, tape recordings and photos from his family and friends, with in-depth interviews from those who loved him, the film promises to show a side of the Hypnotize icon that we’ve never seen.
It succeeds in some ways – not so much in others. The problem is that, even before his untimely death in 1997, Biggie’s life has been always been somewhat of an open book.
There’s been numerous documentaries, biopics, podcasts and series dedicated to recounting his life and death in the 24 years since he was shot and killed – and after a while they tend to all feel the same.
In this film, Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, Lil’ Cease, Damian ‘D Roc’ Butler, his wife Faith Evans and his mother Voletta Wallace are the central storytellers of the piece – which is pretty genius as it shows every aspect of who he was.
Biggie’s life, loves and career are laid out in the documentary (Picture: ITV)
There was the businessman and musician Diddy knew him as, the schoolboy from the streets done good in the eyes of Cease, the lover and husband that Faith saw, and then the son that was snapped away ahead of his time from Voletta.
But his history as a drug dealer? Knew it. His rise to fame with just one, absolutely stunning, album? Covered. The east coast/west coast rivalry that shattered his relationship with Tupac Shakur? Legendary.
I can’t pretend to be the biggest Biggie fan, but even I knew a lot of the information shown in the movie’s duration. Most of it is in his lyrics.
The Biggie documentary offers little new information for fans of the star (Picture: Netflix)
So for that, we call D-Roc the true star of the show, releasing videos for the first time after filming anything and everything – from Biggie’s time in the studio to trying and failing to shave in a hotel room. This is the side of him we’ve truly never seen before.
Without this, there really wouldn’t be anything new to bring to the table. It’s clear that Biggie’s estate has had somewhat of a hand in this storytelling – smoothing over the cracks of his criminal convictions and issues for the shiny rap God taken too soon.
He really was – noone is denying that. But to pretend his convictions or problems didn’t exist dehumanises him.
The film aims to track how the catholic schoolboy became the Notorious B.I.G (Picture: Netflix)
Starting his life from the ground-up, neighbours talk about getting him into jazz, Voletta reminisces about the childhood trips she took him on to their native Jamaica. His actual career is actually only a tiny portion of the film. His death, somewhat thankfully, even less so.
It’s a shame these more in-depth stories didn’t take more of a centre stage, framing the true origins, instead of jumping through to hide the uglier bits.
This film is ultimately a tribute from his loved ones – it’s not a documentary on a life. So while it’s an easy and enjoyable watch, it doesn’t bring much to the table.
Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell unfortunately doesn’t give us much new information in terms of the star’s life – but the never-before seen footage at least makes it worth a watch.
At only 90mins long, it’s a good introduction point for people who don’t know his story, but longtime fans of The Notorious B.I.G may feel a little short-changed as it treads territory we’ve already heard time and again in other ways.
As is normally the trouble with an authorised documentary, the story tends to carry a little too much gloss – brushing over more troubling elements of the Biggie’s history to remember him in a positive light at all costs, even as a crack dealer, even during gang warfare.
It’s understandable to know why – but ultimately don’t look for an accurate portrayal of his life and career. Just take it for what it is, a tribute from those that knew and loved him.
Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell is available now.