With today being the eleventh anniversary of Biggie’s untimely death, I thought I’d post up this interview I did with his mother at the end of 2005 to coincide with the release of Bad Boy’s “Duets – The Final Chapter” album.
What do you say to someone who has lost a close loved one? It’s a delicate situation that so many of us are familiar with. Even though it’s been nine years since Voletta Wallace lost her son The Notorious B.I.G. in a tragic Los Angeles drive-by shooting, it’s still a question I ask myself as I wait to be connected via transatlantic phone-line to the mother of arguably the greatest rapper of all-time. To us, the listeners, Biggie Smalls was the cocky-yet-likeable Brooklyn hustler who put East Coast rap back on the map with the lyrical genius and cinematic scope of his classic 1994 debut album, “Ready To Die”. But to Mrs. Wallace, there was simply Christopher, her only child. A young man who played music too loud in his bedroom and kept her up worrying late at night when he didn’t come home, but who ultimately made her proud with his success in the music industry.
There’s a genuine warmth in Mrs. Wallace’s voice when she speaks, but also a sense of purpose that clearly indicates you’re talking to a strong and determined woman. She’s had to be. While the dramatic soap opera of events surrounding the death of Biggie has inspired endless debates between journalists, gossips and fans alike (the East Coast / West Coast rivalry, Biggie’s feud with former friend 2Pac, Bad Boy’s alleged links with LA street gangs), Mrs. Wallace has had to deal with the loss of her son in the unforgiving glare of the public spotlight, while also working hard to bring those responsible to justice. Last summer a U.S. District Court judge ruled that individuals within the Los Angeles police department had covered-up evidence during the initial investigation into the rapper’s murder. That breakthrough decision now allows Mrs. Wallace and her legal team to go back into court with a more robust and informed case that could very well produce the verdict she’s been hoping for all these years.
But in the meantime Voletta Wallace has been busy alongside P. Diddy and a slew of big-name artists and producers, piecing together the last episode of her son’s musical legacy, “The Notorious B.I.G. : Duets – The Final Chapter”. A star-studded collection featuring the likes of Eminem, Fat Joe and The Game, “Duets” succeeds where its predecessor, 1999’s “Born Again”, largely failed, managing for the most part to marry old Biggie verses with contemporary production and guests that compliment the Black Frank White’s artistic greatness. But if, in Puffy’s words, “Duets” finds us “at the end of the road in terms of original releases for a great, great man”, perhaps 2006 will also be the year that sees Mrs. Wallace at the end of her own struggle to bring closure to the death of her much-loved son.
Was there a particular moment when you first realised that Biggie was pursuing a career as a rap artist?
I first really became aware of it when I heard his voice on the radio. But it wasn’t until I heard “Juicy” in its entirety that I realised he was going to become an artist and be good at what he did. I was privileged to be at the video shoot for that single and when I heard the words to the song I knew right then my son was going to be a successful talent. Before that when my son was at home in his room all I ever thought he was doing was just playing noise (laughs). I didn’t really understand the language and all I could hear was a beat banging. But when “Juicy” went gold I saw in Christopher’s eyes how happy he was so I knew that was an achievement for him. But me? I had my life and his life was his life. His profession was his and I never made it a part of my life because I wasn’t really educated in the field of rap. I really didn’t understand it. I just saw that it made Christopher happy but I didn’t feel it was my prerogative to be a big part of what he was doing at the time and I don’t feel guilty about that either.
When you started to become more involved in Biggie’s music after he passed away, did it surprise you how much of an impact your son had made on the world?
It sure did. Just recently we were on tour to support this new Biggie album and just the love that was being shown for my son and also to me was amazing. People were thanking me for my son and for what he’d contributed to their lives through his music. It’s in situations like that when I truly see the impact my son had on the world. It’s eerie though because he’s not here to receive all those accolades. But although I might not have known back when he started-out exactly how much he was appreciated by fans, I definitely know now.
Aside from his music, I think what also endeared Biggie to so many people was the fact that whenever you heard or saw him in interview he always came across as a humble, down to earth individual who was extremely grateful for the position he found himself in.
That is absolutely right and what you’ve just said there to me sums up Christopher. That is exactly how he was. When he went onstage he was the artist, The Notorious B.I.G., but when it came down to dealing with people he was Christopher Wallace. He had such a beautiful heart. When people talked to him they didn’t feel like they were talking to a star, they felt like they were talking to a friend because my son gave love and showed respect. That’s the person I knew.
I read in a previous interview that there were certain artists you personally wanted involved in the “Duets” project such as Jay-Z and 2Pac. Why was it so important to have those artists on the album?
Well firstly, Jay-Z was one of my son’s very best friends. They hung out and did a lot of things together. They were like brothers. Unfortunately Jay-Z couldn’t be on the last album (“Born Again”) because it was a little bit too emotional for him. So he promised me that when the next project was ready to begin he would be a part of it. As for 2Pac, his mother Afeni and I have had a relationship for some time. She asked me for Christopher’s work (during the recording of 2Pac’s “Resurrection” project) and I said, ‘Okay, we’ll swap. You do for me and I’ll do for you.’ We have a lot in common with each other.
And Bob Marley?
Even when my son was alive I wanted him to do something with Bob Marley’s music but unfortunately it didn’t happen. But I wanted to do it for the new album because I feel that my son is to rap what Bob Marley is to reggae and to hear them on the same song is so special, not just for me but also for Caribbean culture and for those who grew up with that as a part of their lives. Obviously Faith had to be on the record and also R. Kelly, whom my son had a wonderful relationship with. They’re all people that I wanted involved in the project and thankfully they graced us with a lot of love. I didn’t want this to be an album that was just thrown together purely for dollars and cents. I wanted to be involved in it and to do things that both my son would have wanted and that the people wanted to hear. I really wanted the album to be something great that had a real sense of energy to it.
After reading and hearing what so many other people have had to say about your son in the years since his death it must have been quite a therapeutic experience for you to write your own book recently?
See, no-one really knew Christopher Wallace. I knew Christopher Wallace. There are so many books and documentaries out there and such a misconception about rappers and where they come from and what they’re out there doing. I needed to tell the world about Voletta Wallace and my son Christopher Wallace, not The Notorious B.I.G.. That’s really what my book is about.
Do you find it difficult to deal with some of the less savoury comments the media have made about your son?
Well when I see and read certain things believe it or not I do cry and also I often cringe because the person they’re writing about is not the person I knew. I never knew that person and I mean that from my heart. Sometimes when I read what people have written it’s like they want me to hate my son, but I’m not going to because in my heart I know who Christopher was and my love will always be there for him and my memory of him will always be a happy one. So yes, it hurts sometimes but I just focus on the good memories I have. I don’t blame the media though because they’re just doing their job, but at the same time they should know that there was another side to my son and as his mother only I can really tell people about that side.
Are you optimistic that the new trial will bring the guilty verdict you’ve been hoping for and why do you think it’s taken so long for the case to reach this point?
I’m very optimistic based on what information came out of the last trial. Justice will be served, I’ll have my day in court and the murderer, plus those behind the murderer, will be exposed and I hope suitably punished for what they did. It’s taken so long to get to this point because there’s been a big conspiracy and a big cover-up. I’m sure the powers-that-be saw me as just a simple little mother and school teacher who didn’t know much about the law and there I am going up against the whole Los Angeles police department. So they’re going to hide things and think that I’m naive enough to just walk away. But my son and best friend was murdered so I can’t walk away. There were hidden facts surrounding the case that certain people didn’t want exposed, but now they will be. They tried their very best to portray what happened to my son as something other than what it was. If they could portray it as being part of a rap war between the East Coast and the West Coast then everyone would point the finger of blame elsewhere. But some of the truth is now out and the rest will come.
Initially when you decided to pursue legal action did you find the immensity of the situation a daunting prospect?
No because when it comes to right and wrong the size of a situation doesn’t come into it. When I took on the case I didn’t really see it as me taking on a whole institution. I just knew that something had gone wrong and I needed to expose it. I didn’t look at it any other way. When you’re a murderer, you’re a murderer. Death doesn’t come in size. This is just something that had to be done. In a situation like this you have to stay strong, never look behind you and just know that you’re doing the right thing.
Given that the Hip-Hop media are always very keen to pay tribute to those who’ve been lost in tragic and violent circumstances, such as Biggie, 2Pac and Jam Master Jay, does it frustrate you when you then see magazines sensationalising rivalries and beefs between rap artists?
The murders of the young men you just mentioned have nothing to with Hip-Hop. It comes down to humans killing humans. A rapper is not killing another rapper. What I do see blighting Hip-Hop though is the fact that many of the young men involved in making this music are focusing less on the culture as a whole and more on their own egos. There’s a self-centred, selfish feeling running through Hip-Hop right now with artists being more interested in the size of their homes and cars than their lives and what is going on around them. The music industry is feeding this and it’s taking away from the beauty of Hip-Hop culture which is very sad.
Biggie still has a huge presence within the Hip-Hop world today. What would you like younger listeners to take away from his life, career and music?
I would like younger artists listening to my son’s music to understand how much he enjoyed his work and that he did it because he loved it and that he also viewed rhyming as an artform. Young listeners today need to know that whatever career they might venture into they have to love their work because that’s how they’ll become great at it. That’s how my son became a legend.
The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy” (Bad Boy / 1994)
1996 Jay-Z / Biggie Performance In NYC
1997 Wake-Up Show Freestyle