By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
The mammoth bus, with a painting of dearly departed rapper the Notorious B.I.G. on each side, seems to swallow the parking lot of the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Out from it steps Voletta Wallace, a tiny, gentle woman with a beaming grin, wearing a suit, scarf and glasses. As she enters the building, the place is taken over by whispers: "Biggie's mom's in tha house!"
Wallace is here to talk about her son -- whom millions knew as Biggie Smalls -- and her recently published memoir, Biggie: Voletta Wallace Remembers Her Son, Christopher Wallace, AKA Notorious B.I.G. The tome is about her life, and the legacy and mystery of her son's life and death. As a track plays from the upcoming Biggie CD, Duets The Final Chapter -- which features the late rapper with such stars as Diddy, Jay-Z, Snoop and Eminem -- the Jamaican-born Wallace, who although nearly 60 is the spitting image of her son, chats with the audience.
"Christopher was eight pounds and 22 inches when he was born. When he was 14, he was very tall -- not fat -- and was already telling people he was 18," she says with a laugh. "He made you laugh, he was very, very gentle," she adds. She recalls a phone call when Biggie, in the slammer on a minor charge, wouldn't hang up until she said she loved him "with sugar." (The call took three hours.) She's still working on the investigation into his death, which has recently taken a turn thanks to new evidence. And though Biggie was gunned down on March 9, 1997, she's still dealing with the emotions. "For a good two years, I hated everyone," she says. "I used to look at people and think, 'Did you have something to do with my son's death?' I trusted no one. I'm still angry; I don't show it much."
But she's got nothing but love for us. To would-be rappers, she advises: "Make sure you know your art and have a damn good lawyer." And she says our love for Biggie is what keeps her going. "I carry that with me," she says, "and I thank you from the bottom of my heart." She signs some books, and before leaving says that she's overseeing a movie on Biggie that will be released next year. Then she hops on her bus bound for Dallas, leaving us amazed at the Wallace family. Yeah, Biggie was a real badass. And now I see where he got it.