Unbelievable | Book Review May 31, 2017

Unbelievable Book Review - Book Cover
Unbelievable; Cheo Hodari Coker; 2003; Three Rivers Press; 351

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. 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 wanted. 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? 14 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 14 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.

"I think that if there were more people that were into the Lord, there would be a lot less [expletive] going on in the world." - page 235

"I think people need to realize that these are tests and obstacles that everyone has to go through. A lot of [expletive] want to give up and do wrong, but they don't even think God is in their corner. What I respect about God is that he always steers you in the right direction." - page 235/236

It is uncertain how close of a relationship or faith Christopher Wallace had with Jesus. Coker does mention him having the verse Psalms 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. 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.

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