Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Notorious: A Dream Realized For Biggie Smalls

It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up magazine...
I never thought it could happen, this rappin' stuff
I was too used to packin' gats and stuff
Now honies play me close like butter played toast
From the Mississippi down to the east coast
Condos in Queens, indo for weeks
Sold out seats to hear Biggie Smalls speak
Livin' life without fear
Puttin' 5 karats in my baby girl's ears
Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool
Considered a fool 'cause I dropped out of high school
Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood
And it's still all good
...and if you don't know, now you know

1994. If you didn't "know" about life on the drug streets of New York then Biggie's autobiographical lyrics definitely schooled you while making your head nod to the beat. East coast, west coast--his signature magnetic flow over Mtume's R&B hit, "Juicy", was then and still now a party jump off. But before the crowd began screaming, "Biggie, gimme one more chance!" and rubbing private parts if they loved "Big Poppa" there was a smart, young black boy named Christopher Wallace. And that's who Fox Search Light introduces to most and reintroduces to others in it's biographical Hip Hop flick, "Notorious."

"I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali"

1997. Los Angeles, CA, Wilshire Boulevard, is where the film begins, on that fateful night when the story of Biggie's life came to violent end. Then from there we rewind the tape to the 70s Hip Hop era when the soundtrack of Biggie's childhood life included rap legends Kurtis Blow, the Rapping Duke, and the Fabulous Five. Portraying a young Biggie is his son, sadly the child he never got to meet, Christopher Wallace, Jr., and acting as his single mother, Volleta Wallace, is Angela Bassett.

From there "Notorious" introduces us to the smart, Catholic school student, and all around good kid. But making good grades wasn't helping him and his mother keep food on the table, nor was it getting him the C.R.E.A.M, the fresh gold chains, and brand name kicks. Cash ruled everything around the young, impressionable Wallace and making paper became more important than making grades.

Now enter real life NY rapper now actor, Jamal Woolard, aka Gravy. After young Biggie's first introduction to the drug game, Woolard replaces the school boy Wallace and gives a great performance as "Biggie", a charismatic, young rapper trying to become the man his mother, his daughter, and himself could be proud of. Mad respect to Director, George Tillman, Jr ("Soul Food") and writers, Reggie Rock Bythewood ("Biker Boyz")and Cheo Hodari Coker for penning an insightful, multi-layered role for Woolard to play. "Notorious" provides audiences not only a backstage pass to some of the memorable moments at the beginning of Big's career, but also into his life off stage as he aims to be a father, husband, mentor, friend, and businessman.

But what most will bumrush the theaters to see January 16th are the portrayals of key people and moments that made it to entertainment news headlines--his marriage and divorce from label mate, Faith Evans, his affair with Lil'Kim, and of course the whole Tupac situation. All off it played out like a Hip Hop soap opera we tuned into daily and the film demonstrates it, but what "Notorious" doesn't really touched upon are the details of his unsolved murder. The film leaves us asking, "Who Shot Ya?" more than a decade later.

Besides that question the other aspect of the film people will be talking about is the casting of key figures in Biggie's life and how they were featured in the film. Although Lil's Kim is not happy about her portrayal according to entertainment news, others seem pretty pleased. After an industry screening Tuesday, I talked to "Notorious" casting director, Twinkie Byrd, on how the cast of mostly new and young talents were chosen. I also talked to an audience member to get his thoughts. Listen to what they have to say.


Overall, I'd definitely step to the mic to say, "See this movie!". I especially enjoyed seeing a new round of fresh talent playing roles that seem so familiar. I liked too that it gave me a new perspective on the life and music of Biggie. Still, I hope audiences will keep in mind "Notorious" is a motion picture, not a documentary. Every detail is not exactly true to how things really went down. But as with most good biographical films, it will generate great dialogue and possibly increase record sales. So now click the Fox Searchlight widget for behind-the-scenes footage, cast interviews, and more.

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