The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls was one of, if not the best rapper to ever touch the game of rap music. By today’s standards, running a close race with the late Tupac Shakur, B.I.G is referred to as the greatest rapper who ever lived. As one of the first artists signed to former hip hop dynasty Bad Boy Records, the rapper broke the mold by selling albums off of his lyrics and not his looks. With a full life that was shortly lived, its no surprise that the film industry came knocking to produce a biopic on the late, great Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace.
Over 11 years ago, at the young age of 24, the Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in the streets of L.A. This unfortunate incident occurred just 6 months after former friend, then foe Tupac Shakur was murdered under the same circumstances in Las Vegas. This film’s purpose was to give insight into the slain rapper’s life as he rose from his poor Brooklyn neighborhood to the top of the Billboard charts. Newcomer Jamal Woolard plays the lead role, in which he seemlessly projects the size, voice, and bravado of the late rapper.
The film begins with a flash forward to that unforgetable night where the rapper was fatally shot and uses a voice over narration by B.I.G. to detail his life in retrospect. From that point on we backtrack to the young Christopher Wallace as a chubby, glasses wearing kid, who gets walked home from school by his overprotective, Jamaican native mother (played by Angela Bassett). The series of events that shaped Wallace’s childhood, like most of us, caused him to strive for certain things in his adult life, that eventually played a huge part in his downfall.
For the most part, throughout the film we are exposed to several named characters that fans of the Notorious B.I.G. may recognize, such as Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton) and Lil’ Cease (Mark John Jefferies) who were both members of the rappers entourage/rap group Junior Mafia. The film shows us how Wallace went from selling drugs on the street corner, to making hits in the studio, with the help of super producer Puff Daddy. The film was produced by the late rappers mother Voletta Wallace, who wanted the movie to show her son as a man, not just a musician. Yet, I don’t really feel as if we get beyond a certain point in terms of his internal struggles. Important events such as the East coast, West coast beef, which inadvertently may have been the cause of both his and Tupac Shakur’s deaths, was just glazed over in a montage. I would have loved to see more of what happened behind those events, because not only was it an important part of his life, but it’s a part of hip hop history.
In terms of performances, one actor stood out to me like a sore thumb, Antwon Fisher star Derek Luke. Luke portrayed Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, the man who promised a 19 year old Biggie Smalls he’d make him a millionaire by the time he was 21. When I first heard of Luke’s casting as Combs, I was beyond skeptical. Luke is a mere 5 years younger than the real Combs, who I thought was still young enough to play himself. Even though these two look nothing alike, Luke was able to draw me in with his dead on imitation of the infamous Puffy “swagger.” Combs was the mentor and best friend of the late rapper, a dynamic Luke and Woolard pulled off with ease. The combination of wardrobe and writing, paired with Luke’s ability to mimic Puffy’s signature dance moves won me over. His performance was definitely the highlight of the movie, which is coincidentally produced by Sean Combs and his Bad Boy Films company.
Overall, I think Notorious was a good attempt at making an accurate biopic of a tragic figure. The soundtrack to the film alone plays a great homage to the rap scene of the ’80′s and ’90′s, which is an integral backdrop to the films story. The bottom line is that the film isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it’s worth the money. Notorious is directed by George Tillman, Jr, whose previous credits include Soul Food, and Men of Honor.
The film is rated R, and is playing in wide release everywhere.