“Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” directed by Emmett Mallory and released on Netflix on March 1, 2021. Around 2021’s Grammy season, Netflix’s provides audiences with a documentary about the short life and career of New York rapper Notorious B.I.G, real name Christopher Wallace. The documentary provides solid insight of Wallace’s influence on a booming period of both American society and rap music.
Wallace was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, living with Jamacian immigrant single-mother Voletta Wallace. In his time in both New York and Jamaica, Wallace gained deep appreciation for music, as music was ingrained into both cultures. Through mutual love of rap music, Wallace became close with many friends and relatives, promising them he would end up being a famous rapper one day. The documentary then follows the lows and highs of Wallace’s musical journey, heavily featuring interviews from his past friends and relatives.
I went into the documentary knowing little about Wallace’s career and discography. As a musician and fan of many genres of music. I wanted to learn about an individual who many consider the greatest rapper of all time. Overall, the documentary fulfils its purpose of educating audiences in an entertaining way.
The interviews conducted for the film were easily the film’s strongsuite. Main sources include Voletta Wallace, producer Sean “Diddy” Combs, uncle Dave Wallace, and lifelong friend of Wallace, Damion “D. Roc” Butler. Butler himself also provided plenty of personal camcorder footage taken while Wallace was performing and living his life. The interviews from those close to Wallace and Butler’s recordings add a high level of authenticity to the documentary.
When a documentary is centered around one person, the film makers must present the person to be of high importance. The filmmakers do succeed, as Wallace is presented as a massively charismatic and talented figure. There are great moments in the film where Wallace’s entire neighborhood celebrates his musical success during all stages of his career. One moment near the end featuring neighborhood footage acts as a satisfying climax to Wallace’s life story.
This is not to say Wallace was presented as a saint. Wallace’s low points in life are captured by brutal honesty from those who were closest to him. Wallace’s mother’s emotional and frank interview moments made me even more invested in Wallace’s story.
Interviews of Wallace before his passing were also featured throughout. While these excerpts display Wallace’s mentality very well, I was not a fan of how they were presented. It was a bit confusing when modern day interviews were edited along past interviews, especially when the interviews were not labeled with a date.
Editing was strange, particularly in the film’s beginning. The beginning portion of the film shows footage when Wallace was performing without explaining how his career started. Then the film goes back to Wallace’s childhood and remains chronological for the rest of the film. I understand moving between periods can show significance. In this case, however, I was confused on why the footage was shown without proper context.
The visual presentation was rather weak. With how soulfully the music is presented throughout the film, I wish there was more to the added visuals than the same few fonts and bland visuals.
I also found the film’s score really underwhelming. It is strange that a documentary featuring rap and jazz uses generic string music during interviews.
Fortunately, other elements of the film do honor the musicality of Wallace’s discography. A prominent example is when Wallace’s neighbor Donald Harrison discusses Wallace’s previous appreciation for jazz music. The editors then feature an excerpt of Wallace’s rapping aligning with jazz music’s focus on emphasizing certain notes. I would love a separate mini-documentary focusing more on how Wallace’s personal music tastes influenced his music.
Overall, I give the film an 8 out of 10. The story and its characters are all exceptional enough to nearly void the documentary’s questionable design decisions. The documentary is a great introduction to Wallace’s music and life, while featuring moments for any music enthusiast to appreciate. “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” is definitely worth a viewing for fans and onlookers alike.