Reviewed by Notorious Skinny.
Netflix’s ‘I Got A Story To Tell’ – The Imperfect Story.
“I Got a Story To Tell.” What a burden to name a documentary on one of the most mythical rap figures after one of the most iconic storytelling songs from his catalog, heck from rap’s history.
In the wake of the 24th anniversary of the Notorious B.I.G. passing, Netflix released a new documentary about the King of New-York. The film depicts the man behind the MC, focusing on Christopher Wallace’s upbringing in Brooklyn. The film is filled with archives and home movies serving the purpose of crafting a very intimate portrayal of Christopher Wallace. The intimate atmosphere is further highlighted by mostly interviewing childhood friends and family members who were close to him rather than heavily relying on stars.
As B.I.G. never lost an occasion to rep Brooklyn whether it was in his lyrics or when receiving awards, Brooklyn had to be at the center of the documentary. Rest assured, the viewer is immediately immersed in the streets that harbored the rapper. From the church he attended, to the famous jazz player he started hanging out with or the streets he roamed with his Junior M.A.F.I.A. clique. The viewer is immersed via on-screen maps in the Bedstuy and Clinton Hill blocks B.I.G. walked on.
However, the documentary quickly turns into a litany of life events failing to form a cohesive storyline.
The story of Christopher Wallace is one of many black kids who grew up with a single Mom during the crack epidemic, which ravaged the 80’s. The doc exhibits how B.I.G. came from a quiet kid going to church to being drawn to the allure of street life. However, this part simply depicts the hustler’s life he aspired to with glitters and gold without further painting the surrounding social conditions leading him and many others to long for that street life. The film fails to make a compelling link between the social conditions of growing up in such deprived conditions and the fascination for a street life promising you money, power and a new-found sex appeal.
Worse, there’s a complete omission of his prison bid. I mean, daaaamn. Have you ever listened to the intro of “Ready to Die”? It is clearly a parallel to Biggie’s life. The intro sees Biggie impersonating a hustler being released after a stint in jail. This is one of the few elements where the documentary and its producers show a deliberate intent to show B.I.G. in the best light possible. But he was human. Therefore, he had a complex life. You cannot only show how much money he made while slinging drugs without showing how he got punished for it.
The documentary also attempts at showing the duality between the man and the rapper when it comes to music. His lyrics are well used to show how his personal life fueled some of his most notable lines, whether addressing his Mom breast cancer or his unwillingness to leave the street life behind him. However, it lacks a deeper analysis of how he crafted his debut album, “Ready to Die”. There are a couple of mentions to the overarching mindstate he was in but not a thorough display of Christopher Wallace morphing into B.I.G. in the studio. Moreover, if you know his career, you know how much Diddy was involved in the artistic choices behind some of Biggie’s greatest songs but we never really get to have a greater insight into the dynamic duo they formed. Diddy’s contribution almost seems expandable. He just heralds the late rapper as a deity who was destined to greatness from the start. And of course, he spotted that in him.
The 90’s were also the stage of a coastal war within hip-hop, namely between Bad Boy represented by Biggie and Death Row represented by 2pac. We’re talking about a war on wax, which changed the course of rap history. So one would think it may be one of the biggest topics addressed. Well, you are sadly mistaken. While it is quickly summarized, the viewer is left wondering how Christopher Wallace experienced the feud and what truly sparked it.
The same goes regarding his relationship with Faith Evans. It is so briefly touched upon that it resembles an afterthought.
But despite its glaring shortcomings, this documentary is a celebration of life. It celebrates the life of a man who bettered the conditions of his entourage, who remained loyal to his closest and longtime friends. It also shows a shy and introvert Christopher Wallace contrasting with the flashy and bravado of the Notorious B.I.G. It is an imperfect film which still forces us to revisit one of the greatest rap catalog in history and will ensure that his legacy lives on.
“Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way”