There has certainly been no shortage of films and documentaries exploring the life of Christopher Wallace, who rose to the top of the hip-hop hierarchy before he was tragically gunned down in Los Angeles when he was only 24 years old.
However, A&E has still opted to add to the expansive landscape with their recently-aired, three-part special, Biggie, The Life of Notorious B.I.G, which is the first biography to be authorized by his estate and features anecdotes and unshared personal recollections from people close to him like Voletta Wallace, Faith Evans, Junior M.A.F.I.A, Sean Combs, JAY-Z and more.
Although much of the film/series comprises previously-seen archival clips — like the infamous rap battle when he was still a teenager — there is still quite a bit of new information that might be enlightening for even the most informed Biggie fan.
Here are the five biggest takeaways.
His unexpected connection to jazz music
While growing up in Brooklyn, one of the first people to cultivate Christopher Wallace’s burgeoning rap fascination was his neighbor Donald Harrison, a jazz saxophonist, who saw similarities between the genre of music that he played, and the upstart, spoken word qualities of the art form that first emerged in 1973 in the South Bronx.
“The first time I spoke with Chris, the Notorious BIG, he was on the stoop,” Harrison recalled.
Harrison’s music tutelage found him giving Biggie homework, which included not only listening to the stylings of a jazz legend like Cannonball Adderley, but also teaching him to scat along side the saxophone melody.
“You have to slow things down really slow and take the time to phrase each note,” Harrison explained. “We worked on various tonguing and speed and agility.”
Many believe that Biggie’s dexterous flow is a result of his understanding of jazz timing and how to improvise.
The drug story
Biggie’s teenage years revealed a period where he had the desire to pursue music, but the allure of the money he could make from selling drugs outweighed the thought of trading in birds for bars.
In one notable instance, Biggie’s mother, Voletta, was cleaning his room. When she came across a plate on his bed littered what she determined to be old, dried up mashed potatoes, she promptly tossed it into the garbage.
When Biggie returned, he frantically asked his mother if she had been in his room. When she admitted that she had tidied up his “mess,” he began scooping the white substance out of the garbage much to the utter confusion of his mother.
It wouldn’t be until he died that she would come to learn that the substance wasn’t mashed potatoes; it was crack.
Tupac and ‘Party & Bullshit’
First appearing on the soundtrack for Who’s the Man before being included on his debut album Ready to Die, “Party & Bullshit” confirmed Biggie as a lyricist who could both entertain and paint a strong picture for listeners.
It also captured the intention of Tupac Shakur, who had already gained notoriety in the industry and who reportedly listened to the song nonstop.
Thus, when he was in New York City shooting Juice, he sought out Biggie and members of Junior Mafia and invited them to his show at The Ritz — cementing what at the time was a friendship built around mutual admiration and humor.
The importance of the Country House Diner
The Country House Diner on the corner of Fulton Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in Bed-Stuy held a special place in the heart of Biggie Smalls while he was still alive.
In addition to it being a place where he and members of Junior Mafia could eat — paying on credit because the owners knew they were good for it — it was also where he and his future wife, Faith Evans, nurtured their growing love for one other.
In his song “Big Poppa,” he references many a meal he had there, rapping, “A T-bone steak, cheese, eggs and Welch’s grape.”
The death theory
Many people continue to tune into various documentaries about Biggie in hopes of finally having an understanding about who was responsible for his death on the night of the Soul Train Awards where he and Diddy attended an after-party at the Petersen Museum and he was fatally wounded.
While Suge Knight has long since been rumored to have been involved — due to the simmering beef between Death Row Records and Bad Boy — a former LAPD detective with extensive knowledge doubles down on the theory.
Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G. airs on A&E.
- Featured/Main Image: A&E