Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell
Comprehensive docu has lots of language, drug use.
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Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is a 2021 documentary that celebrates the life and music of one of the true icons of hip-hop music. Expect a lot of profanity throughout, including "f--k," "motherf---er," and the "N" word. Much of the movie is taken from old home videos, and show The Notorious B.I.G., neé Chris Wallace, and friends smoking marijuana and drinking. Various tracks from Biggie's career are played throughout the movie, including songs that talk about gun violence, and one song in which Biggie raps about how his problems are driving him to consider suicide. Talk of crack cocaine dealing. Archival news footage shows coverage of homicides and drug-related violence in and around where Biggie grew up in Brooklyn. Archival news footage covers the killings of Biggie and Tupac Shakur. In home video footage, an enthusiastic fan of Wallace's shouts from outside the limo that she wants to "f--k" him. While not a positive role model in the traditional sense of the term, Chris Wallace, with the help of a local jazz musician who acted as his mentor, found a way, through hard work, to go beyond the tough streets where he grew up and developed a unique rap style and spoke honestly of the problems he faced in his life, inspiring millions.
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What's the Story?
BIGGIE: I GOT A STORY TO TELL is a documentary on the life and times of the iconic hip-hop artist. It features considerable home camera footage taken by his friend and collaborator Damion "D-Roc" Butler, showing Biggie and members of the Junior M.A.F.I.A. playing shows and hanging out in hotels on their rise to international stardom. Interspersed with this footage, we meet a young Christopher Wallace before he became Biggie Smalls/The Notorious B.I.G., and how trips to visit his mother's family in Jamaica inspired his art, as well as a jazz musician mentor who lived down the street and exposed him to the work of jazz drummer Max Roach. These influences helped to create Biggie's innovative game-changing style. The documentary also shows how Wallace and his friends learned to hustle on the mean streets near their Brooklyn neighborhood, selling crack and making money in the face of danger from the police and the gun violence around them. Against this backdrop, Wallace, who had been rapping since he was a tween, begins to learn the game, takes on rivals in other neighborhoods in epic rap battles, begins recording his own music, and starts to find success. Hit singles lead to multimillion-selling albums before his life was tragically cut short by unknown assailants who murdered him in Los Angeles in 1997, presumably in retaliation for the murder of Biggie's former friend and then rival Tupac Shakur.
Is It Any Good?
It's refreshing to see a music documentary on The Notorious B.I.G. that doesn't spend so much time on his demise. Instead, with Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell, the viewer sees a celebration of his life and art, one that seeks to find the truth behind the legends of this iconic and innovative hip-hop artist. Bookended by footage of his funeral, as thousands turned out in the streets of Brooklyn to celebrate his life and music, Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell intersperses home camera footage from friend and collaborator Damion "D-Roc" Butler and interviews with Biggie's (neé Chris Wallace's) mother, longtime friends, and musical collaborators. The portrait that emerges is of a gifted and charismatic young man who could've easily gone in the wrong direction through hustling crack cocaine on the rough streets around his neighborhood, but found through hip-hop music a way to express what he experienced, inspiring millions.
You don't have to be the biggest Notorious B.I.G., or even the biggest hip-hop, fan to enjoy this documentary. It's a fascinating story that seems to seamlessly weave Wallace's childhood, tween, and teen years with the home movie footage, interviews, and archival news footage from the late 1980s and early 1990s. And while time must be spent on the East Coast/West Coast rivalry and the events that transpired that lead to Wallace's untimely death, the movie often feels more like an unsentimental tribute and celebration of his life and music. Indeed, it's a documentary of an artist who found inspiration from his neighborhood, but also in visiting his mother's family in Jamaica and learning about Pablo Picasso and Max Roach from a jazz musician mentor who lived down the street. For fans and nonfans alike, it's one of the better music documentaries out there.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about music documentaries such as Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell. How does this compare to other music documentaries you've seen?
What are some of the ways the documentary shows that Christopher Wallace was as a positive role model in his own right?
Often, when discussing the career of The Notorious B.I.G., too much time is devoted to the rivalry that developed between him and Tupac Shakur and their murders. How does this movie take a different approach, and why do you think it's important to look at the rest of Biggie's life and career?
- On DVD or streaming: March 1, 2021
- Cast: Christopher Wallace, Sean P. Diddy Combs
- Director: Emmett Malloy
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Friendship, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive language and drug content.
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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