Hi everyone. Good to have you once again.
The book we are going to explore today is ‘Unbelievable’ by Cheo Hodari Coker. Let’s
take a look. In my teen years, I inherited a desire in
secular rap music during the late 90s. I am not sure how this came to be. It was the flavour
the genre had to offer. The style it presented was similar from what jazz, soul, and funk
offered in the 70s which I also grew a desire for. Music in the 90s was forever changed
with the massive emergence of rap and hip-hop. I followed only a handful of rap artists.
The two artists that I followed the most was The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace)
and 2Pac (Tupac) Shakur. The irony is the moment I gained an interest in rap and my
two favourite artists, they were no longer alive. There was no opportunity to appreciate
them as individuals. My fascination of their legacies only grew larger. I studied both
their tragic deaths. March 9, 1997 is the day of Christopher Wallace’s murder during
a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. “Police tonight are investigating the gangland-style murder of gangster rap music star Biggie Smalls.” He wrote many rhymes during his life, but he never
had the opportunity to write his own story. Nobody at the time that could share his whole
life story as accurate as Wallace would have wamted. In 2003, I found what could be the
most accurate account of his life. ‘Unbelievable’ is Wallace’s story written by Cheo Hodari
Coker. I understand this is not considered a faith based book. This is more a curious
approach to see if ‘Unbelievable’ sheds any light on Wallace’s faith. Did he have any
relationship or faith in Jesus or any God for that matter? Fourteen years later, I am finally
reviewing a book that has been on my shelf for far too long. Cheo Hodari Coker is a hip hop journalist
turned Hollywood screenwriter. His resume is quite extensive. His writing has appeared
in many of the most well known hip hop publications. His 2003 account of Wallace’s story led to
his screenplay writing for the 2009 film Notorious. His most recent work is on Netflix as one
of the executive producers for the 2016 web series ‘Marvel’s Luke Cage’. To my knowledge,
‘Unbelievable’ is the only book Coker has published to this day. ‘Unbelievable’ is a title from one of Wallace’s
songs, but it also refers to the unbelievable life he has lived. I must say, to read and
review a book that I purchased over fourteen years ago is surreal. It is like opening up a mini
time-capsule of my teen years. My musical tastes have long since changed and I no longer
follow secular rap. Having said that, my hope and expectation has not changed. That is Coker
delivers an accurate story about the life of Christopher Wallace. The cover is black
and white showing a well dressed Christopher Wallace. His full size body takes up two thirds
of the cover. The title displayed in large uppercase black letters takes up the last
third. The only colour on the front cover are the red letters that spell ‘The Notorious
B.I.G’. Despite the lack of colour, its design, typesetting placement, and red accent makes
the cover stand out. Coker makes it clear in the introduction that
‘Unbelievable’ is not about who murdered ‘The Notorious B.I.G’. It is rather about the full
life of Christopher Wallace. It makes sense that several stories Coker shares in this
book are in the ‘Notorious’ film. ‘Unbelievable’ shares about the difficult life Christopher
had growing up. Not wanting to live a life of poverty, he quit high school to sell drugs.
With the emergence of rap music, he discovers the incredible gift and talent to write and
sing rhymes. Record producer Sean Combs, discovers Wallace’s unparalleled talent. He offers Wallace
the perfect opportunity to leave the drug game and land himself a career in rap music.
This once in a lifetime opportunity would change his life and fortunes. There is plenty
of truth in one of Wallace’s iconic songs, ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’. More money did in
fact create more problems for him. The competative rap industry created rivalries between record
companies and artists. This landed him in a west coast east coast war that he did not
want to be a part of. Coker goes into great detail to share important personal events
of Wallace’s life. Personal events such as his poverty, crime, money, fame, and tragedy. The first thing I appreciate from Coker is
his extensive background information. He gives context to every situation Wallace faces.
Also, Coker’s sources are well organized and helpful. They provide the most accurate story
of Wallace possible. With Tupac Shakur being an important part of Wallace’s story, he gives
a very fair level unbiased take. His view on the friendship turned feud between the
rap stars is honest. The dialogue from the interviews was one of the most enjoyable parts
of this book. The conversations from the interviews gave a genuine feel for each person. It gave
incredible information that I never knew before. The majority of ‘Unbelievable’ is rich in details.
Also, the rare glossy coloured pictures provided is a nice touch. A few notable quotes from this book are: It is uncertain how close of a relationship
or faith Christopher Wallace had with Jesus. Coker does mention him having the verse Psalms chapter 23 tattooed on his inside right forearm. This leads me to believe he had some amount of
faith in the God of the Bible. These areas of extensive background information Coker
provides is one of his strengths. Unfortunately, there were at times too much background info.
This did not exactly further the story of Wallace and also hurt the reading experience.
There are way too many people mentioned to keep track of. Sometimes the story would drift
away from the actual topic at hand because of this. At 351 pages, I would have preferred
a 251 page book focusing more on Wallace’s life. It would have been worthwhile to lose
100 pages of information that did not focus on Wallace’s story. ‘Unbelievable’ is a raw real honest look at
Christopher Wallace’s life in tragedy and celebration. This comes with raw real honest
language and sexual content that is only suitable for adults to read. I do not approve or condone
his lifestyle of gambling, selling drugs, drinking, and infidelity issues. ‘Unbelievable’
does provide important context to show the terrible hand Christopher faced. The word
“unbelievable” is by far the correct term to describe the ways he persevered. In many
ways Christopher made the wrong choices for the right reasons. He showed kindness, generosity,
and love for his friends and family. This was often overshadowed by the career and persona
of “The Notorious B.I.G”. Coker brings these shadows into the light in a beautiful way.
With no father, no money, no education, Christopher used his talent and voice: “If the game shakes me or breaks me, I hope it makes me a better man; Take a better stand.” He took the risks necessary to become one of the greatest rappers of all time. There are many books today that speak on the
life of Christopher Wallace. I am not sure how much more light they can shed the way Coker does. His rare in depth personal interviews makes this book the most definitive biography. This shows how much Voletta Wallace (Christopher’s mom) trusts Coker to speak on her son’s life.
If there was one book readers could choose, I would definitely endorse ‘Unbelievable’. This
one stands alone. I would consider this the biography that Christopher would have wanted. That concludes this review for today. If you’d
like to see more book reviews, be sure to visit: offshelfbooks.com. Thanks for
joining me today, take care everyone.