To the world, the Notorious B.I.G. is a rap giant who continues to be a mythical figure in the world of hip-hop. To his childhood friend, Damion “D-Roc” Butler and former manager Wayne Barrow, he was Christopher Wallace, a man who “never deviated.”
“B.I.G. wasn’t a celebrity… I think it’s important for people to understand that B.I.G. never looked at himself as a celebrity,” Barrow told USA TODAY. “He never changed.”
It’s the man who’s the focus of Emmett Malloy’s “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” (streaming on Netflix). With the help of Biggie’s estate, the doc explores the Brooklyn, New York, rapper’s rise to fame, legacy in the music industry and his untimely death more than 20 years ago. It features never-before-seen footage filmed by Butler and touching interviews with the rapper’s mom Voletta Wallace and grandmother Gwendolyn Wallace.
Gaining access to and building trust within Biggie’s inner circle wasn’t easy for the filmmaker.
“My focus from the beginning and my simple pitch to Ms. Wallace and Wayne was, ‘I want to make a film that celebrates his life and doesn’t focus so much on the beef and the death’,” Malloy said.
After Wallace’s mom and former manager came aboard, Malloy worked on building a relationship with Butler, who’d known the “Life After Death” rapper since childhood. Butler had a trove of unseen footage from his time with Wallace and said he kept them as a “visual diary”. He explained to USA TODAY he kept the footage stored away and felt “selfish” at times for not sharing it with the rapper’s fans.
Butler said it was Malloy’s “integrity” that made him let down his guard.
“The fact that he really wanted to know who Chris was – he wanted to know who the artist before the rapper was,” Butler said. “He was interested in everything that I cared about, that Wayne cared about, our team cared about, so that’s why I trusted to give him what he needed to pull this off.”
Butler’s home videos show Wallace annihilating in street rap battles, performing for a sea of people and his intimate interactions with friends while riding in cars or in hotel rooms.
“I feel that there’s a difference between the nostalgia of Notorious B.I.G. and the reality and life of Christopher Wallace,” Barrow said.
The home videos changed director Malloy’s perspective on the legendary rapper as well, who said the one thing that stuck out to him while combing through the footage is that “he was a funny (expletive).”
“Suddenly, I got to know this lovable, amazing, hilarious guy and that was a total eye-opener for me,” said Malloy, contrasting that image of Biggie against “a darker, more, you know, intimidating figure, that got caught up in a beef.”