Biggie's mom, Voletta Wallace, shares how country music and reggae influenced his rap career
"When he was a little boy and was growing up, I always had the radio on and tuned in to the country music station," Ms. Wallace says.
The new documentary Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell, now streaming on Netflix, dives into Christopher Wallace's origin story as the Notorious B.I.G. through those who knew him best: his mother, Voletta Wallace; childhood friend, Damion "D-Roc" Butler; and Wayne Barrow, friend and executor of Wallace's estate. The film also provides insight into the elements that molded an ordinary kid from Brooklyn into one of the most influential lyricists of all time.
"Everyone has a story to tell, and as his mother, I wanted to tell my story," Ms. Wallace tells EW. "There are things about me that accentuate him that nobody knows. So in this documentary, they let me yap a little bit. [Laughs] I hope what I'm sharing is of interest to people watching, and maybe there will even be some people that can relate to me."
It is through Ms. Wallace's memories that fans learn more about the two's shared love of country music, the genre she believes played a role in shaping her son's love of storytelling.
"Ever since I was a little girl I liked stories," she says. "So when I first heard country music, what I liked was how it told a story through music — they were touching and heart-wrenching. That was it for me; I'm a country girl at heart. I became very attached to the beautiful voices and the stories they were telling. When he was a little boy and was growing up, I always had the radio on and tuned in to the country music station. I love my Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings. He listened to it all with me because he had no other choice. [Laughs]"
I Got a Story to Tell also introduces fans to Ms. Wallace's brothers, Dave and Lou, and the impact they had on her son during frequent visits to her native Jamaica.
"When Christopher was little, he was fascinated by my brothers Dave and Lou because they are musicians," she recalls. "I remember Lou trying to teach him how to play guitar while Dave would be the singer. At the time, I didn't know anything about rap and I doubt Christopher did either. When they were together, they were always playing their reggae music. He really got a kick out of that and looked forward to those moments. I wasn't part of that ritual, but I would see them sitting out on the veranda or outside on the rock listening and playing music. As he got older, Dave would take him to a little club in the district where they played and he enjoyed this so much."
The documentary also includes Wallace's early connection to jazz. His neighbor, saxophonist Donald Harrison, would teach the future rap star about greats like Cannonball Adderley and Ella Fitzgerald.
"Donald saw something in Christopher that I didn't," Ms. Wallace says. "Evidently, Donald heard him and they were later introduced to one another. I think he wanted Christopher to be a jazz musician. Meanwhile, that whole time I thought he wanted to be a graphic artist. But Donald was molding him to become a jazz musician, and he taught him about its origins. Christopher had a lot of respect for Donald. I remember the first time I heard about him, I told my son I needed to meet this man. He told me he was a nice man and that he taught him a lot."
Butler remembers his longtime friend's evolution from avid music fan to a rapper with a story to tell.
"When Big was young, he was shy. He would get mad if we told anyone he knew how to rap," says Butler, whose home video footage is used throughout the documentary. "We grew up together, so it was hard to look at him and view him like the rappers of our time. But one day, I took a good look at him and said, 'You know, you're really kinda good at this. I think you should give it a shot.' He always had a knack for it, it came naturally to him. A lot of people don't know he was a very educated guy, and so creative. I'm not surprised at all at what he was able to achieve."
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