Forever Notorious: Review of ‘Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell’

There was no one else like him. But, if you asked me a decade ago if I imagined myself someday writing a piece praising the Notorious B.I.G., I would have considered you crazy. I’ve been a Tupac fan since I was a young teen, seeing so much of him in myself. And I believed that I couldn’t love both, as my loyalty was to Pac. So, I missed out on Big’s greatness. I missed out on the smoothness of his flow, the complexity of his storytelling, and learning about another human whom I could have just as equally identified with. Biggie’s story, the recent Netflix documentary about his life and career, was as captivating as his rhymes, the saga of a man who could have been any of us.

I still think of myself as a nerd, despite the fact that I’m so far removed from that kid. Like Biggie, I had oversized glasses and a lazy eye, with an overprotective mother to top it all off. And like Big, I found my way to the streets. Like my mom, Big’s mom tried her best to shield him, but couldn’t see that he needed his peers, for better or worse. And like Pac, Big possessed a relentless need to prove himself to them. The documentary chronicled his various relationships and professional journey, exhibiting a man who loved where he came from and those who depended on him. In setting out to prove his value and gain notoriety, he created a unique sound, which came to define hip-hop. Biggie was special.

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Diddy said, “He was like an R&B singer; that’s why you get the melodies. It was rare that he would be rapping; he would always be singing.” We often think of ‘genius’ as the ability to create something from nothing, but, in reality, it’s the ability to blend too different forms in a new and beautiful way. And that’s what Big did. But genius only exists via necessity. Through poverty and childhood bullying, Biggie developed ambition; he choose to become better. Frequently, after a period of mistreatment, boys tend to become narcissistic. They keep to themselves and perceive others as enemies. And Biggie’s ambition could have easily turned toxic. Instead, throughout the documentary, we witnessed his heart. The most impressive aspect of his character was his love for his people. In climbing up, Biggie needed certainty that others went with him. He likely saw much of himself in Junior Mafia, and, like a good therapist or father, wanted to keep them away from what he endured.

The interviews from others were as powerful as his because you sensed how much love he produced and created. You sensed the despair in his lyrics and his pervasive hopelessness. And you knew how much he longed for affection. At a young age, Big knew that he had to adapt; realizing that he didn’t fit the physical ideal, he developed a personality that touched each person he met. In essence, Big’s story was a tale of psychological triumph.

He picked himself up and took others with him. He chose to share his success rather than weaponize it. This documentary provides its audience with a glimpse into Big’s heart and mind, presenting archival footage indicating that fortune and fame aren’t effective barriers to fear and sorrow. Unquestionably, Biggie was a genius, but he was also just like us. He constantly worried about his mother, who struggled with breast cancer. Although largely unsuccessful, he had to find ways to push back against temptation. And he held the responsibility of lifting up a community that had few options to grasp. Biggie was a leader, innovator, musician, poet, dealer, and human. His life was just as complex as his lyrics. But, he overcame. A big kid from Brooklyn, with a lazy eye and big glasses, overcame. And, in a way, he took the rest of us with him.

So much of his life just made me feel sad. I wish that he didn’t have to suffer as much as he did. And, it made me wish that I didn’t have to suffer as much as I did. I wish that he and Pac could have made up. And, I wish that his children grew up with their dad. But with all of that, there was also his voice, which will live on for eternity. In the end, Biggie lived because he belongs to each one of us. History, it seems, is less cruel than we think.


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