The Notorious B.I.G. was one of the most charismatic and talented artists of the 1990s. Born Christopher Wallace and raised in Clinton Hill/Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, Biggie lived an almost archetypal rap life: young trouble, drug dealing, guns, prison, a giant hit record, the wealth and international superstardom that came with it, then an early violent death. Biggie released his first record, Ready to Die, in 1994, when he was only 22. Less than three years later, he was killed just days before the planned release of his second record Life After Death. It Was All a Dream is a fresh telling of the life beyond the legend. It is based on extensive interviews with those who knew and loved Biggie, including neighbors, friends, DJs, party promoters, and journalists. And it places Biggie's life in context, both within the history of rap but also the wider cultural and political forces that shaped him, including Caribbean immigration, the Reagan era disinvestment in public education, street life, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the booming, creative, and influential 1990s music industry. This is the story of where Biggie came from, the forces that shaped him, and the legacy he has left behind.
At its best, Justin Tinsley’s new biography, It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him, pays tribute to that creativity — and to the short life and blinding talent of the rapper who loved it when you called him Big Poppa ... The book excels at big-picture analysis, taking the mission in its subtitle seriously. In lesser moments, it piles up malformed sentences and typos at an alarming clip, but if you can get past those, it serves as a solid and incisive if rarely revelatory summary of a hip-hop legend’s life and art ... Tinsley doesn’t break any new news on the double-barreled tragedy of Biggie and Tupac Shakur ... The author isn’t an investigative reporter, nor does he claim to be, and the subject has been examined about as intensively as any celebrity murder mystery of the past 30 years ... One of the new biography’s problems is that this has all been covered elsewhere, including in other biographies ... Then there’s the error-prone syntax — infelicities in editing and writing that add up quickly ... Sometimes the same phrases are repeated in the space of a single page. In small doses, such errors don’t matter much. Here they appear over and over again, taking the reader’s head out of the story ... The book is stronger on the macro level, filling in the context of Biggie’s life with sharp sketches of the people, events and social currents that accompanied Biggie’s rise ... It Was All a Dream makes a fine starting point for those looking to discover what all the fuss was about and why Biggie still matters.
Author Justin Tinsley takes on the formidable challenge of telling the story of one of the most gifted, legendary and iconic rappers to ever hold a mic ... 'What the hell could I say about the Notorious B.I.G. that hadn’t already been said?' Tinsley recalls asking himself ... Not much, it turns out ... It Was All a Dream could’ve been an opportunity to reflect anew on his brief life and unparalleled talent, or to examine how his music is relevant to our current conversations on race and entertainment. Regrettably, readers looking for new insights or original appraisals will be disappointed ... It Was All a Dream...struggles to distinguish itself from earlier accounts — despite personal interviews with consequential figures from Biggie’s life ... Tinsley leans heavily on existing documentaries, previously published interviews, and biographies ... Tinsley broadens his scope to observe what the country was going through while Biggie was growing up...and how these developments affected Black urban communities, most acutely in New York ... Tinsley deftly notes how the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs became a war on lower-income Black families ... Soft-spoken and diffident, Biggie gets lost within the pages of It Was All a Dream, upstaged by more purpose-driven or brassier peers ... As It Was All a Dream reminds us, even the most massive and most beautiful talents must someday be laid to rest.