Thanks to top quality docs like The Defiant Ones, LA Originals, Who Killed Jam Master Jay? and Hip-Hop Evolution, Netflix has become every hip-hop head’s fave streaming platform. Rapper’s don’t come more legendary than The Notorious B.I.G., so it makes sense that their next film takes an in-depth look at the Brooklyn-born pioneer.
Directed by Emmett Malloy, best known for his work with Jack White on documentaries like 2018’s Kneeling At The Anthem D.C., Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell offers fresh insight into his career. It features never-before-seen footage from the rapper’s teen years right up to the week of his death in March 1997; family photographs; early demo tapes; and stories from those closest to him. Unlike the 2009 biopic Notorious, which was executed well but offered nothing new for die-hard fans, Biggie is a treasure trove of unseen gems.
The 97-minute film is rife with special moments – among them an early recording of Biggie (as MC CWest) rapping over Toto’s ‘Africa’. The storytelling is on-point too. Producer Easy Mo Bee and saxophonist Donald Harrison share some captivating memories about the rapper from different stages in his life, while his mum, Voletta Wallace, commands attention every time she appears on screen.
Malloy isn’t afraid to take risks with his depiction of Biggie, diving into some of the darker moments of the rapper’s life. Detailed accounts of his time as a drug dealer present him as a complex character, and the film does well to acknowledge the harsh realities many in the Black community faced during America’s crack epidemic. This nuanced approach helps to add colour to the rags to riches tale Biggie raps about on 1994 hit ‘Juicy’.
Later, the lack of involvement from Lil’ Kim is disappointing, especially considering she was such a huge part of the rapper’s life both personally and professionally. She appears in some of the archive footage provided by Damion ‘D-Roc’ Butler, one of Biggie’s closest friends, but for the most part is left out of the conversation.
It may be that Kim is still unhappy with Diddy, who executive produced 2009 biopic Notorious. Power actress and former 3LW singer Naturi Naughton portrayed her and she’s repeatedly criticised the casting. Another factor could be that Kim’s relationship with Faith Evans is still strained since her alleged affair with Biggie came to light. Whatever the reason, it dashes the hopes of fans still waiting to see Kim’s Biggie stories on screen. The ‘Lighters Up’ rapper isn’t the film’s only omission – Jay-Z is another figure that you might have expected to see.
The streaming era has brought about many great things, not least the abundance of hip-hop documentaries that might otherwise never have been made. From cult heroes and legendary studios to major labels and global superstars, these movies are crucial to the preservation of the culture. Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell is a worthy addition.
- Director: Emmett Malloy
- Starring: The Notorious B.I.G., Diddy, Voletta Wallace, Faith Evans
- Release Date: March 1 (Netflix)