There are different kinds of biographies.
Some attempt to tell the subject’s story objectively, recounting what happened and placing it in context, but without editorializing or offering opinion. Others are planned as hit pieces, hatchet jobs with a clear intent to damage the person. Still others come from a place of admiration, presenting the individual in a glowing light at every turn.
It’s difficult to tell what It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World that Made Him by Justin Tinsley was originally aiming to be, but the final product certainly falls into that last category.
The Notorious B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace) died twenty-five years ago, meaning that he has been dead longer than he was alive, which makes his lasting impact even more impressive. Despite his early demise, his music, influence, and legacy certainly endure, as the man known as Biggie Smalls is still included in many fans’ top five lists, even those that weren’t even born when he took his final breath in 1997.
Tinsley, a senior writer and reporter for ESPN’s Andscape [formerly The Undefeated] does more than recount Big’s life; he also places him – and his career – within the larger context of the culture and the country. The book’s subtitle includes the phrase “the world that made him” for a reason: Tinsley presents Big’s life and upbringing within political and socioeconomic factors that affected him and the world he inhabited – the crack era; pre-gentrified Brooklyn; the fallout from Reaganomics; and more.
While it does an adequate job recounting the early years of the life of Christopher Wallace, It Was All a Dream really hits its stride when Tinsley examines Big’s blossoming career, featuring new interviews with those who were there when his demo tape first made an impact and fully fleshing out his relationship with Tupac Shakur, from the carefree beginning to the violent end. In fact, one of the strongest aspects of the book is Tinley’s thoroughness in going beyond the gossip and the headlines to get the full story that has rarely been told.
Though it is an easy read, full of interesting factoids and anecdotes, it too often veers into all out hagiography. Tinsley often goes out of his way to defend, or at least explain, some of Big’s lesser qualities and actions rather than letting them exist on their own. When writing about his years of slinging crack and living the street life while still living under his mother’s roof, he repeatedly hammers home the point that despite it all, mother and son still loved each other and he only wanted to make her happy. Or when exploring how terrible of a husband he was to Faith Evans – often leaving her alone and cheating on her seemingly nonstop, even keeping multiple mistresses, including Lil’ Kim and Charli Baltimore – Tinsley does occasionally hold Big accountable, but too often tries to equivocate by writing that Big and Evans “put each other through hell,” though the hell-putting was, by all accounts, pretty one-sided. He even includes a quote from Big himself in which he said, “I ain’t never do anything wrong to Faith, nothing wrong to Kim, nothing wrong to nobody,” so Big was either lying to the world or just himself – or both – but that underlying sentiment is present throughout most of the book.
Despite the attempts to rationalize or defend the indefensible, for those of us that were old enough to remember when The Notorious B.I.G. first burst onto the scene and prefer the type of hip-hop that he perfected, It Was All a Dream serves not only as a nostalgic trip down memory lane and a reminder of Christopher Wallace’s verbal genius, but also forces to reader wonder what if and what could have been.
IT WAS ALL A DREAM will be released on May 10, 2022
I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.