Steppin' into the Screen | Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell
“I never knew a human being could be so mad at a dead person” - Voletta Wallace (Biggie’s Mum)
Netflix’ new hip hop documentary, Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell, was released this week but it isn’t exactly what you’re going to expect from the title (I thought perhaps conspiracies would finally unravel, SPOILER ALERT: they don't). The story is told mainly through testimonials from childhood friends and producer pals, which does sound a lot like a big(gie) circle jerk but there is one woman who stands out to me and really holds their own in this and that's Voletta Wallace (Biggie’s mother/documentary producer). I understand some whole-hearted Biggie fanatics will be disappointed by this documentary but I found it to be refreshing in regards to Voletta. Personally, I have all the time in the world to listen to the matriarchal perspective especially in the hip hop world. The viewer now gets to see the single mother's perspective into how Biggie (from now on I will refer to him as Christopher, as Voletta did) came from the quiet Jamaican boy growing up as an immigrant in Bedford Stuyvesant to one of the world’s greatest rappers of all time.
Coming from the mother's perspective you would think it's all roses, puppies and cute baby photos but Voletta recounts many stories about Christopher that would leave a mother in shreds. The tale about Voletta discovering crack in their house told collectively between D-Roc & Voletta is a harrowing one. Originally thinking it to be “dried up mash potatoes” on a plate, Voletta innocently just throws it in the trash. When finally finding out what it actually was, she utters in her testimonial in absolute shock “That bastard! I never knew a human being could be so mad at a dead person”. Her brutal honesty is what makes this film refreshing, it’s not all about the glory when Voletta shares her version.
Contrary to the heavy stories there is still a mother and son relationship there. When he came out with Things Done Changed, the whole world would find out that he was (naturally) hurt because Voletta had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She tells us how she didn't want to burden him because she "wanted him to get on with his life, because [I] am going to be OK" she states in her own stoic way.
“Shit, my mama got cancer in her breast
Don't ask me why I'm motherfucking stressed,
things done changed” – Biggie on Things Done Changed
It’s odd, in a world where women were often forgotten or purely there for ornamental pleasure, that here we find Christopher sharing how he did care for his mum and his daughter. Coming from selling crack on the streets to survive, Christopher was determined to create a comfortable life for his family, even having Voletta feature in the Juicy videoclip (check 3.04 minutes in):
"Thinkin' back on my one-room shack
Now my mom pimps a Ac' with minks on her back
And she loves to show me off of course
Smiles every time my face is up in The Source"
It's not all sad stories though, there are sweet moments like Voletta buying him his first stereo back in 1984, Christopher starting his collection with Fat Boys, Run DMC and his hero Big Daddy Kane. We also hear about Voletta’s first listening session of Ready to Die. Stunned by the unbelievable amount of “profanities'' she calls her son in disbelief, Christopher responds “Ma, what are you doing listening to my music?! You’re not supposed to be listening to my music. It’s for nobody over 35 years old!” and from then on she stayed “the hell away from his music”. I assure you, it was a cute moment in my eyes.
I want to keep this article pretty short and sweet because 1. I'm a white woman commenting on the hip-hop scene and 2. I know there’s going to be a lot more critique on this one than not. This story is getting a VG+ rating (see the condition board), for someone who grew up listening to Party & Bullshit (his first single) on repeat in my best-friends-bf's-dad’s shack smoking blunts (it was a daily routine) and thinking I was the [bull] 'Shit’.
WARNING: It moved me, taught me a lot more about Biggie and I just loved hearing from Voletta (believe me it’s a honest step up from 2009’s Notorious biopic) but for the die-hard Biggie and particularly Tupac fans this will not be enough for you.