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I Got A Story To Tell

Dr. Van Jackson is a Senior Editor at War on the Rocks and host of the Pacific Pundit podcast series, available on your favorite podcast app. He is also an Associate Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. He previously held positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as a Storyteller and Performance Artist, in the U.S. Air Force as an Operator, and research fellowships at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for a New American Security. The views expressed are his own. Find him on Twitter at @WonkVJ.

I Got a Story to Tell

Maybe it was Mason in "I Got A Story To Tell." Maybe it was another Knick who will one day be named -- or remain anonymous forever. Maybe Biggie based the story on something kind of similar -- or just fabricated the whole thing.

In Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell, streaming now on Netflix, the world gets to see for the first time ever the origin story of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. The King of New York. We're once again honored to work with Biggie's team to produce a set of official prints commemorating another achievement of one of the most iconic musicians in history.

Also in 1993, Biggie made a more memorable appearance on the Supercat remix of Dolly My Baby, which features Puffy in a Shaq jersey delivering one of the worst verses in hip-hop history. Thankfully, Biggie made us forget about it by delivering his first classic verse.

For years, everybody assumed the 6-foot-5 Knicks player mentioned in the song had to be John Starks, but Starks has said on record that it isn't about him. He did confirm the story is true, but said he's only 6-2 so it can't be about him. During his playing days, Starks was listed at 6-3, so unless Biggie was embellishing about the height to further add drama to the story, that part of Starks' claim checks out. Hubert Davis was listed at 6'5" but hasn't been fingered as the player in this story other than some casual rumor-mongering.

The story to tell on the song was that during a "romantic" evening between Biggie and this lovely lady, her boyfriend on the Knicks came home earlier than expected. As the player was headed upstairs to see his lovely belle, she screamed to get her a drink. This was a stalling tactic to buy more time, but Biggie was ready for the confrontation.

Biggie says that he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the player. The player then offered up cash as long as he didn't get shot. Biggie took the money, took the keys to a car, and got out of there. He then called up his friends to join him in a retelling of the story.

On ESPN's Highly Questionable with Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones, rapper Fat Joe was on as a guest. And he was asked if he knew who this infamous story just might be about. While making sure he didn't want to speak ill of the dead and that he wanted to be respectful in revealing the identity of the player, Fat Joe said the late Anthony Mason, who passed away last year, was the player in the story.

You don't have to be the biggest Notorious B.I.G., or even the biggest hip-hop, fan to enjoy this documentary. It's a fascinating story that seems to seamlessly weave Wallace's childhood, tween, and teen years with the home movie footage, interviews, and archival news footage from the late 1980s and early 1990s. And while time must be spent on the East Coast/West Coast rivalry and the events that transpired that lead to Wallace's untimely death, the movie often feels more like an unsentimental tribute and celebration of his life and music. Indeed, it's a documentary of an artist who found inspiration from his neighborhood, but also in visiting his mother's family in Jamaica and learning about Pablo Picasso and Max Roach from a jazz musician mentor who lived down the street. For fans and nonfans alike, it's one of the better music documentaries out there.

While the film does a decent job of chronicling the fallen rapper's life, it is very underwhelming. The director, Emmett Malloy, only shows a one-sided view of the rapper's life. That's largely due to the majority of the story being told by his lifelong friend Sean "Puffy" Combs, and his mother, Voletta Wallace, who served as executive producers.

Because Combs played such a large part in telling Biggie's story in the documentary, it frames the rapper as a rap demigod. Don't get me wrong, the rapper should be hailed as such, especially because his approach to rap was far different from anything the music industry had heard at the time. Biggie was (and still is) largely hailed as one of the greatest to ever get behind a microphone, and changed the sound of New York City.

But I truly believe a documentary in its entirety should show all sides, even the ugly ones. For Biggie, the violence in his life didn't have to be glorified, but it is a part of his story, and that's okay. Combs seems to refrain from saying anything personal that would add a blemish to the fallen rapper's legacy.

At the middle of the song something very unusual happens. The second half of the song repeats the same story, this time as natural field audio, a casual conversation with friends which includes all the details of the same account, starting from the moment they leave the club to the moment he escapes. Rap (like most art) tends to be extremely difficult to understand for people outside of the culture, due to its speed and the complexity of the language. Presenting the song in this way is (whether intentional or not) a generous gift that invites us all and helps everyone understand it.

The history of west coast rap label Death Row Records and its superstar artists, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog, is juxtaposed with that of such iconic New York rappers like The Notorious B.I.G., Method Man, Raekwon, Craig Mack, and others.

Jay-Z is often praised as the single-most successful rap mogul in hip-hop history. Before he rose to such untouchable prominence, Fade to Black chronicled his legacy while making his purported last album.

Named after the group's 1996 album, the doc traces the two-decade history of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad as they cultivated their own countercultural sound that promoted positive vibes. Everyone from The Beastie Boys and Questlove to Ludacris, Mary J Blige, De La Soul, Too $hort, Souls of Mischief, and more speak to the staying power A Tribe Called Quest continues to have in hip-hop culture. 041b061a72

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