Biggie reveals the story of how Ms. Wallace came to America and raised a son who -- in a life cut too short -- grew to be one of the most beloved recording artists of his generation. Ms. Wallace, born and raised in Jamaica, West Indies, immigrated to the United States as a young woman, aspiring to her version of the American Dream. Once here, she fell in love. The relationship didn't work out, but it did result in a beautiful son. The bright and precocious Christopher became the center of her world, and she the foundation of his.
Ms. Wallace settled in Brooklyn, New York, pursued a career in early childhood education, and worked hard at not only keeping her own son on the straight and narrow but lovingly and firmly guiding other people's sons and daughters. Biggie is Voletta Wallace's story and her tribute-in-writing to her beloved son. In a no-holds-barred way, she tells the truth about the night her son was senselessly shot, the terrible aftermath, and what she believes led to his untimely death. She shares her misgivings about the treacherous nature of the entertainment industry and condemns the individuals who posed as friends of her late son while treating her and his memory with little respect. She acknowledges those -- the mothers of other slain hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur and Jason Mizell -- who gave her moral and material support in the dark moments of mourning her son and attending to the business and legal issues, many of which remain unresolved.
Faith Evans, Christopher's widow, the mother of his child -- and a recording star in her own right -- contributed a heartfelt foreword to this book. Evans remains at Voletta Wallace's side as she continues the struggle to keep open the investigation of her son's murder and see that justice is done. She and so many others, in and out of the hip-hop community, continue to work with Ms. Wallace in support of the Christopher Wallace Foundation, an organization dedicated to the well-being and education of inner-city youth.
For more information, visit www.cwmf.org.
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About the Author
Voletta Wallace, a retired teacher, is founder of the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation. She lives in Pennsylvania.
Tremell McKenzie is a writer with credits in the New York Daily News and is currently working on her first novel. She lives in the Bronx, in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
Panic and fear had made time stand still for me. I could no longer hear nor comprehend anything going on around me. All the sounds that I could still hear were coming from inside my own body. I could hear every breath that I took, and then I became aware of my heartbeat and it grew louder and louder in my ears, making it impossible to answer all the questions in my head. Is there life after death? Could I have done more with my life? Are all my affairs in order? What do I have to leave behind to the one I love? And, will he be okay?
They say when you are faced with death, your life flashes before your eyes. I know for me that statement held true. My entire life flashed before eyes, and it started from the very beginning.
I was transported back to Trelawny, Jamaica, and the first house that I can remember living in. It was just one huge room. The room had a table, a bed, and three little chairs. Thinking back on it, the house was not really a house where one could live and enjoy. It was just a place to sleep that provided shelter when the weather was bad. Most of our living took place outside the house and in the yard.
My family was close-knit. My mother believed in and enforced family. She wouldn't tolerate any fighting between my brother, Valen, my sister, Ruby, and me. If she caught a whiff of us fighting, everyone could expect a beating. My grandmother lived nearby in a house that was exactly the same as ours on the inside. The only difference was on the outside, where my grandmother had a big thatched roof made from coconut palm leaves. My older siblings stayed with my grandmother at night because there just wasn't enough room for everyone in our little one-room house; during the day they would be at school.
As the youngest, I often felt like an only child.
My father worked hard as a butcher and a farmer, while my mother stayed at home to take care of us. By the time I was seven years old, my father had saved enough money to buy land and build us a bigger house on a farm with a lot of land. I somehow knew even at age seven that we had been poor and that the farm was a step up for my family. It provided us with everything we needed.
I wish I could say that I had a great relationship with my older siblings, especially my sister, Ruby but I can't. We were worlds apart. Even when I was old enough to interact with my brother and sister regularly, I didn't really want to. I preferred the company of my mother and father instead, and that hasn't changed.
To say there was sibling rivalry between Ruby and me would be an understatement. All of them teased me, calling me "Mama's girl" and "Daddy's girl." But I caught the most grief from my sister, Ruby. In fact, she was responsible for the first ass-whipping that I got from my dad.
From time to time Ruby would have to watch me when my mother was working. My stomach would drop when I knew that my mother would be leaving me alone with Ruby. It would be torture for me. I never knew what kind of mood Ruby would be in not that it was ever a good mood. But sometimes she would hit me for no reason. If she was bored, she would find a reason to yell and scream at me. I was growing real tired of the routine: Boss Voletta around. Hit Voletta. Yell at Voletta. This would go on day in and day out, but I never said anything to my parents. I don't know why. Maybe because she was the oldest and we were raised to respect our elders.
One day when my mother had to go to town and left me with Ruby, she started her usual with me. Then she hauled off and knocked the hell out of me. That was the last straw. While I was much smaller and couldn't beat her physically, I had quite a mouth on me and I finally yelled back, "You stupid bitch!"
Everything went quiet. We both just kind of stared at each other, listening as if what I'd said had come from someone or someplace else. My eyes were wide and my fists were balled and all was quiet except for my own heavy breathing.
Had I won this battle with Ruby? Would she leave me alone from now on? She seemed to be in shock but she wasn't. In fact, she was elated. I didn't realize it yet, but I had made her day. I had sealed the deal and guaranteed myself a serious ass-whipping and she knew it.
She told me, "As soon as Mommy gets home, I'm telling! And you know what? I can't wait!" In my mind Ruby was pure evil.
I wanted to scream, I wanted to hurt her, but she had won.
She was so excited about telling on me that her excitement alone had me scared and made my stomach nervous. I didn't really realize what I had called her. Of course, bitch means a female dog. But in Jamaica dogs are not treated like pets they are the lowest things on the island. It was just a word that I'd heard since I was little, and for me the word was an experiment. I felt good calling her a bitch, but clearly I had not thought of the consequences of using the word.
When my mother came home, Ruby greeted her halfway into the yard.
"You will not believe what your little princess called me," she said with glee. "She called me a bitch!"
Ruby never said what had led up to the name-calling, but at that point it didn't matter. My mother waited patiently for my father to come home. When my father got home, my mother said to my sister, "Ruby, tell Charlie what his daughter did." I didn't wait for her to tell him. I left the house and hid out back. I watched him leave the house to go down to a tree and search the branches for a switch to beat me with. I couldn't even keep looking because I knew what this was leading to.
Then he called for me. I knew I was going to get something when I heard him calling. The next thing I felt and heard was loud swooshes as he caught me right on the leg, and I didn't wait to get another one. I ran and screamed so loud that all the neighbors heard and were looking to see what had happened. My legs were completely numb, but I didn't stop running. I ran straight to my grandmother's house. I don't know how I got there. I don't remember seeing anyone or anything. This happened on a Saturday, and the next morning my grandmother told me that I had to go home. But I wouldn't leave.
She went to church and I followed right behind her in the same dirty little dress that I had had on since my Saturday whipping. After church, she walked me back to my house and told my father that Ruby had been hitting me and that she had provoked the name-calling and deserved to be called whatever she was called. My grandmother told my father not to hit me again. I'm not sure what else she said and I'll never know, but my father never hit me again.
The fights continued between Ruby and me because she continued her bossy nastiness and I continued to retaliate verbally. I don't remember exactly what happened to cause our next big argument, but I called her a "bastard." Needless to say, my mother slapped me so hard I saw stars. The comment had insulted my mother, something I had no intention of doing. She later said to me that she didn't have any illegitimate children and that my sister and I were not cats and dogs so we needed to stop behaving like animals. I decided not to speak to my sister again for a long time. I thought it was best, because if I did, she would eventually have made me say something to her for which I would have gotten killed. So I kept my distance from her until she left home.
She eventually found herself a lover, had a baby, and moved away. Sad to say, Ruby and I never bonded the way we should have. I grew close to all of my other siblings, except for her. Deep down I wish we did have a kiss-and-hug, share-clothes type of relationship the way sisters should have, but we never did. She went her way and I went mine. We never got to really know each other. We were perfect strangers in the same household.
Outside of the tumultuous relationship with my sister, my life in Jamaica was peaceful and filled with long, beautiful days going into the fields with my father. He would always go with a donkey or on his bicycle. I was the one he would take with him to the fields, not to work but for company. I was his little talking pet that he would always carry with him. When we got there, I would sit under a tree watching him work. I would be playing and daydreaming all by myself. When it was time for him to take a break, I would get his lunch ready and we would sit together and eat under a tree until it was time for him to go back to work or for us to go home. If my father didn't get home in time to eat with everyone else, he would call me to come sit with him and we would share dinner, too. No matter what he was eating or how much he had, he would always offer me some. He didn't do that with anyone else. I guess no, I know for a fact that Ruby was right about one thing...I was "Daddy's little girl."
My long days with my father ended way too soon for me, but it was time for me to start school. The Jamaican school system was, and still is, very different from that of the United States. In Jamaica you go to nursery school, then kindergarten, and finally to grade school, which ends at the sixth grade. After the sixth grade, education was no longer free, so at fifteen years old if you had not received a scholarship to continue your education and your parents could not afford to pay high school tuition which was expensive and did not include your books your education ended.
The other option was to travel far away to a community or public school in Kingston, Jamaica. But because of the limited modes of transportation, community school was not an option for the majority. I, however, had family that lived in the suburbs of Kingston, which was mostly farmland, so I felt right at home and was able to continue my education.
So, when I was sixteen years old, I packed up and went to live with a distant "aunt." Technically, she was not my biological aunt but the aunt of one of my cousins. She was wonderful to allow me to stay with her while I went to school. And I was pleased to help her out around her house and with chores, especially during her pregnancy, when she really needed the help. We were a godsend to each other. Her husband wasn't around much because he worked hard.
I also had a busy schedule. I would go into the city to attend school and I worked part-time at a travel agency. My job was the first place I got a glimpse that there was a world outside of Jamaica. There were so many brochures and magazines about traveling the world, and I would spend hours just daydreaming about my fancy life outside Jamaica. One country in particular stuck out for me the United States. And little did I know that my exodus to America might come quicker than planned.
On the night that my aunt went into labor, I had already gone to bed and she had a friend take her to the hospital. I had to stay behind to watch her small son, who slept in the room with me. Her husband was still at work.
At one point that night, the door to the room opened and someone came in. It was my aunt's husband, who I thought had gone to the hospital to be with his wife after he'd finished his shift.
I am a pretty hard sleeper so I didn't notice that he was in my room until I felt this presence hovering over my bed. I opened my eyes to find his face hovering over my face and his hands touching my body. When I realized it was him and what was happening, I swung violently at his face intending to take his eyes out. I slapped his face and screamed at the top of my lungs. Even in the dark, I could see his eyes widen at the thought of me telling his wife and the humiliation he would face.
He glanced over at his son, who was in a bed on the opposite side of the room, then looked at me and started to back out of the room, apologizing. He said in hushed tones that he was sorry and that he had never done anything like this before. He said he didn't know or realize what he was doing.
When he left the room, I was scared and angry. I knew that I was no longer at a home away from home and that I had to leave. He had never done anything to me in the days leading up to that night to make me think he was capable of doing something like that. In fact, I didn't think he even noticed me. I stayed awake that night crying about all the things that would suddenly come to an end, such as school and my part-time job. But my instincts told me to go and not look back.
When I woke up the next day, I wrote a letter to my brother, Valen, telling him that he should send a telegram to me right away, and that the telegram should say a relative was sick and my assistance was needed back home immediately. He wrote me back wanting to know what was going on and why I was doing this. He wanted details immediately. I told him that I would let him know everything as soon as he sent the telegram and got me out of Kingston without upsetting my aunt and her new baby.
Valen sent the telegram soon after and my aunt understood. When I got home, I told Valen everything, and he wanted to go and kick her husband's ass. I told him that he had not harmed me physically and that I was able to go on with my life and that I felt no reason to upset my aunt's home when I could just leave. I never told my mother or anyone else.
This thing took me completely by surprise. My mother had never sat me down and given me one of those talks about men. She was old-fashioned and trusted the world. I'm not sure how it would have affected her if I'd told her. I just figured it would have done more harm than good.
Despite not being able to finish high school, I made up my mind that I would work hard and make a good life for myself. I'd watched my father work hard and save enough money to buy land and build us a house with his own hands. So I knew firsthand that through hard work I could do it, too.
I found myself once again back home in Trelawny, but this time I could not just settle in. They say the grass is always greener on the other side and for me the other side was America. I was fascinated with going to America. I continued to read anything about the States that I could get my hands on.
The thought of England crossed my mind a few times, but the people, to me, came across as snobs. Despite having family in London, I had no desire to go there because it seemed like such a bore. It made me think of people with umbrellas and damp, old streets. London was gray and dull. But the United States of America had color and style. I knew that I would one day go there.
I needed to experience all of these things firsthand, especially the snow, because it seemed to make everything more bright and beautiful. At least that's how it looked in the pictures in the magazines and brochures that the travel agency received each month. There were a lot of pictures of New York, which only served to fuel my imagination and dreams of living the way the people in America lived. I was in love with the United States. Everyone there seemed so rich. Everyone lived in a big house. And even if they didn't live in a big house, they lived in tall luxury apartment buildings with fireplaces. Oh, and the cars. All of them were big and sleek and new. The clothes would be only the finest and most fashionable. I could occupy myself for hours just daydreaming about what my fancy life in the United States was going to be like.
While my daydreams were nice and allowed my long, hot days to go by faster, I was still a realist. How was I going to get to America? I was never a person who believed in luck. I believed that I would create my own destiny through education and hard work. I was raised to believe that you achieve the things you want through hard work, and this was drilled into my head with words and by example. There was no way around it. More important, I was taught that nothing is just handed to you, nothing is free...nothing. You must work for all that you get.
But on this day, things would be different. Out of the blue it appeared in the mail. It was from Jules Georgeson, House of Fashion. My old boss from the employment agency told me that it was an invitation.
"Do you know, you can use this and travel to the United States because you have a way with fashion. They would look at you and you would have no problem," he said.
I could not believe it. And I didn't know what to say or what to do next. When would I leave? What would I pack? What would I do when I got there? This invitation to New York was to change my world. I hadn't entered a contest or anything like that. I was just chosen. Here I was, actually going to a place that I had already visited a million times in my head.
I didn't think about being a young lady alone in a strange country. As a matter of fact, I didn't have any of the fears or anxieties that a person of any age, let alone a nineteen-year-old girl, might have about leaving her small island home for the first time and going to another country and being all by herself.
My family had friends in New York whom we contacted, and I was planning to stay with a friend of the family's so that I would not be all alone. But I was too excited to think about that. I was so naive that I didn't consider anything except the adventure.
It was 1969 and I was sitting on a Pan Am airplane with my heart doing backflips. It was my first trip to America. Hell, it was my first trip to any place on an airplane. It was a three-and-a-half-hour jouney to the United States. I was tremendously nervous and excited at the same time. I couldn't even eat the tuna fish sandwiches they served on the plane. I was going to America. I was headed to the lap of luxury and leaving my simple life far behind me. Though I remember what kind of food I was served on my first plane trip, the rest is simply a blur. I had dreamed so much about what it would be like being on a plane to America that most of that ride felt more like déjà vu.
I spent the entire plane ride daydreaming and wondering, tears flowing down my face, what the hell was in store for me once the plane landed. I had envisioned a place of wealth and glamour, of freedom and opportunity. That's what the photos in Life and Ebony magazines showed me. That's what I saw on the television programs that I used to watch wealth and glamour.
And I was going to the "Big Apple" no less home to the Empire State Building and skyscrapers. This was the home of the rich and glamorous, and I was going there to be one of them. I imagined having a maid and a driver, furs and fancy clothes. Of course, I was going to have a husband, a nice big home, and beautiful children. That was my dream my American dream.
I arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport with my eyes wide shut and ready to take in everything. As the plane was landing, I could see from my window this grand city of lights lights that I had never seen before. It was exceptionally beautiful. When I got off the airplane, I was amazed just by the number of people. Every inch of space in the airport seemed to be filled with them, and they were all moving so fast. I made my way to customs, then baggage claim, got my bags, and went to the ground transportation section, where I was instructed to catch a taxicab to the Bronx, where I would be staying with friends of my family's.
There, my rose-colored glasses were smacked off my face. On my way out of Brooklyn toward the Bronx, a cabdriver was standing across from a police officer, yelling at the top of his lungs, "You motherfucker, you better get out of my face, motherfucker!" I quickly got into a cab, afraid, thinking, Is this what freedom of speech really means?
Those were the first words I heard come out of an American's mouth. This scene was so harsh and scary and looked as if it was going to get scarier as the police officer approached the cabbie. I was alarmed because this cabdriver wasn't using this language with just anyone. He was cursing at a police officer. I thought to myself, What kind of place is this! This was a side of America I had never considered. I was faced with a new reality that brought with it fear and anxiety. I started to feel lost and alone in this strange country. If this had happened in Jamaica, jail would have been the cabdriver's home for the night, because this sort of freedom of speech did not exist there.
I got my final jolt of reality when the cab pulled up in front of a tenement building on a narrow, one-way street, 111 Tudor Place, in the Bronx off the Grand Concourse. Was this to be my new home? And the picture became clear this part of America was nothing like what I'd grown up seeing in Ebony. All I could say was "This is it?"
I was disappointed, but still hopeful. I knew there had to be more in this big country. I just needed time, money, and a plan. I came up with a five-year plan to work hard and save all my money. And by the end of the five years if I didn't want to stay in America, I would take the money I had saved and build a house on some of my parents' land in Trelawny.
The first thing I needed to put my plan into action was a job. After a couple of weeks, I landed a job working for a psychiatrist, at $18 a day. Then I found a furnished room to rent for $14 a week. This dingy, cold little basement room had a tiny twin bed in the corner. I shared the kitchen with the owner and another man who was also renting a room. I also had to share the bathroom with them. I stayed there for six months. My next place was a step up into a small studio on St. Francis Place off Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn. The rent almost tripled to $35 a week, but I also took babysitting jobs to supplement my income.
I was blessed with a strong sense of pride because even while living in that little basement-hole studio apartment, I felt that I had a lot more than many others out there. I knew there were nicer apartments but this was my apartment. I wasn't living off anybody. I lived in a $35-a-week studio and I knew this wasn't the last step for me. I had a plan. I was striving and preparing to make a future for myself.
Although I was working hard, I needed to work smarter to improve my financial situation. My new goal was to get my GED. I enrolled in a night school and focused on improving myself. It never occurred to me that I had adapted to this country and had been navigating the system all by myself. America had grown on me and I didn't even realize how much. I naturally grabbed on to all of the things that were good about the country and stayed far away from the filth. I went to work, I went to school, I went home, I babysat. That was my routine five days a week, sometimes six. I had created a safe little world of my own my cocoon, so to speak. I said my prayers every day and followed the Christian ethics I'd brought with me from Jamaica. I never begged. I borrowed money a few times but I paid it back as soon as I could. I was making an honest living for myself. Hell, America had grown on me.
Two years into my plan, I decided to stay in America. I decided that I would create the American dream I had dreamt so many years ago. I somehow felt it was all possible. I would settle down, have the house, the clothes, and the family. I would apply to become a citizen. This was going to be my permanent home.
Copyright © 2005 by Voletta Wallace
Table of Contents
Coming to America
One Lie and a Baby
My Bad Boy
He Was Not Ready to Die
My Big Poppa
On That Morning
Is It Mo Money, Mo Problems?
Friend of Mine?
Biggie & Tupac: Friend or Foe?
My Life After Death
What People are Saying About This
"Ms. Voletta Wallace is a gracious and wonderfully honest and sincere human being. I'm glad others are finally getting the opportunity to hear this very special soul share her grief, strength, hope and the painful reality of life without her precious baby boy.
"She is an incredibly strong woman who makes all of us proud of her grace in the face of ugliness. Read this book and remember this Jamaican American Queen and her uniquely talented son Christopher."