‘Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell’: How Notorious B.I.G. became a star and took loved ones along for the ride

Written by Andrea Domanick, produced by Rosalie Atkinson

(L-R) Christopher Wallace (Biggie Smalls) with 50 Grand in “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell.” Photo by George DuBose.

Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G.) was a young man making music in Brooklyn while dealing drugs — until producer Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs scouted him. Biggie, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, then achieved meteoric success. He brought his friends and family along to enjoy his newfound riches. Then when he was 24 years old, on March 9, 1997, he was shot at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue when leaving a party at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

The story of Biggie’s life is retold and expanded upon by his inner circle in a new documentary called “Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell.” Director Emmett Malloy uses never-before-seen footage from Biggie’s close friend Damion “D-Roc” Butler.

“We shared the same sense of humor and love to laugh,” Butler tells KCRW of summers spent on Brooklyn apartment stoops growing up with Biggie. “He's always been a visionary. He was always planning something or looking five steps ahead. Just really a good friend.”

When those dreams turned into the real-world success of Biggie’s rap career, taking the pair from “around-the-way” to around the world, Butler brought his camera along, filming Biggie’s ascent and their behind-the-scenes antics as a kind of visual diary. 

“I never really was filming thinking that it would be for something like [this documentary],” he says. “It was just our personal stuff. We’d rewind at the end of the day, laugh and joke, look at the performances and stuff like that. There was no rhyme or reason for it.”

After Biggie’s murder, the tapes became a bittersweet reminder of the past. Butler would occasionally pull them out, watching on anniversaries or with friends, but his extensive collection of footage remained largely confined to his basement, despite interest from outside parties over the years. 

“I wasn't looking at them like that,” Butler says. “It was like a visual diary. And for me, you don't pass nobody a diary."

That changed when Malloy was brought in to direct a new project, helmed by Biggie’s mother Voletta Wallace, that sought to focus on the rapper’s life rather than his death. 


Voletta Wallace, Christopher “Biggie” Wallace's mother, helmed a new project that sought to focus on the rapper’s life rather than his death. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021


Christopher “Biggie” Wallace as a child. Courtesy of Christopher Wallace Estate

“I heard all these beautiful stories of how he was raised, and going to Jamaica every summer with his mom,” Malloy says of their initial conversations. “That stuff changed my interpretation and humanized it all. It felt like a great fit to tell the story, once I started to learn it could be that type of story.”

Through a combination of Butler’s archival footage and new interviews shot in Brooklyn and Jamaica, Malloy and Butler pull back the curtain on Biggie’s upbringing and influences. The story highlights Biggie’s life before his more widely-known story as a drug dealer, delving into his private school education under the watchful eye of his mother; summers listening to music in her native Jamaica; and his relationship with the jazz musician Donald Harrison.  

“You sit Miss Wallace down, and you hear these dreams of a young girl just wanting to get out of this small island and to go live the American dream, and then she lands in Brooklyn and has a kid with a guy that turned out to be married, and he ditched right out,” Malloy explains. “All those things were such an incredible place to begin this journey.”

Butler says Malloy’s more nuanced, holistic approach to revisiting his friend’s story helped change his mind about bringing his private archive into the public eye. 

“That was one of the reasons why I actually clicked with Emmett. It's integrity from the gate. This was focusing on knowing Christopher. You met the artist before you met the rapper,” he says. 


Damion “DRoc” Butler says filmmaker Emmett Malloy’s more nuanced, holistic approach to revisiting his friend Christopher “Biggie” Wallace’s story helped change his mind about bringing his private archive into the public eye. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

“I Got a Story to Tell” takes the same approach to portraying the rapper’s untimely death, spending time on the heartbroken, but ultimately celebratory, funeral procession that took place in Biggie’s Brooklyn neighborhood. 

“It was like ‘Wow, one of us actually made it out in a major way,’” Butler recalls. “Not just one of us got a job and became a fireman and moved out of the neighborhood. He actually changed the world.”

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