It has been 20 years since the tragic and untimely death of one of hip-hop's figureheads, the Notorious B.I.G. If hip-hop had a Mount Rushmore, Biggie's face would be one of the first carved into it. Reflecting on his influence on today's hip-hop titans such as Jay Z, and the mainstream culture at large, it's astounding to remember that Biggie died just shy of his 25th birthday.
At this point, Biggie has been gone for almost as long as he was alive, but his musical legacy and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his murder continue to command the public's fascination. To mark this year's somber anniversary, A&E will air the three-hour documentary Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G. as the first program for the network's relaunch of its series Biography. The documentary will include never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with some of Biggie's closest friends and family members, including his mother, Voletta Wallace; and his widow, R&B singer Faith Evans.
Wallace and Evans spoke about the film after its premiere at this weekend's American Black Film Festival in Miami Beach. Evans flashes her megawatt smile whenever she speaks of the love she shared with Biggie, and though his mother can also smile at some of her memories, the pain of losing her son continues to manifest in her furrowed brow and tired eyes.
"It was very emotional, very draining," Wallace says of creating the film. "I think it gives me comfort just to see it. I'm not angry anymore. There are times I'm angry, there are times I'm sad, but it hasn't been escalated. Seeing [the film], I'm happy about it, and I'm also happy that others are going to see it."
Wallace has watched her son's story be told and retold in countless documentaries and biopics (most famously in 2009's Notorious), but Biggie is the first biography authorized by the late rapper's estate. It reveals never-before-seen archival footage and audio interviews that tell the story from Biggie's point of view.
The process was draining not only for Biggie's surviving family but also for director Mark Ford. He spoke about the arduous process of collecting rare footage to uniquely tell a story that has been told dozens of times.
"It was a very long, laborious process," he says. "YouTube is sort of a blessing and curse these days in filmmaking, because you'll find little nuggets of stuff... but then you can't source it back to its owner, so a lot of man hours (and woman hours) go into trying to figure out who owns that footage... A lot of the greatest footage in the doc was stuff that we know no one has seen before or hasn't seen since the mid-'90s."
One of the people who was happily surprised by some of the film's previously unseen footage was Evans.
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"Some of the things that they found I had never heard him say, so it was really refreshing for me," Evans says. "I know how he felt about me, I know how I felt about him, but I've never heard him say certain things until I actually saw this documentary."
Viewing the film brought Big back to life in a way, albeit too briefly. "We were really laughing out loud a lot of the time too, because it's stuff we still joke about anyway in real life," Evans adds. "So it was really refreshing, but it was very emotional. There weren't too many people that weren't wiping their tears."
Voletta Wallace, who's endured dramatizations and mythologizing of her son's story over the past 20 years, is also pleased with the final product. "I'm very comfortable with the film," she says.
"Fans see my son as an artist, an entertainer. They knew he was a husband, they knew he was a father, but they never knew the depth of it. Seeing this film, they're going to really see the man. They're going to see a loving father, a loving son, a loving human being, and many did not know of Christopher like that."