Notorious

Rap artist known as the Notorious B.I.G, played by Jamal Woolard, but behind this behemoth of a man was Christopher Wallace – a man with a dream. The film "Notorious" focuses on his childhood. He was born in Brooklyn, loved his mother (a teacher who was studying for a master's degree), got into street-corner drug dealing because he liked the money, performed rap on the street and at 20 was signed by record producer Sean "Puffy" Combs and then four years later, was killed.

Documentaries about B.I.G. have focused on the final years of his life. "Notorious" tells us of a bright kid who was deserted by his father, raised by a strict mother from Jamaica and spread the word to the kids on the playground of his future fame. "You too fat, too black and too ugly," a girl tells him, as he simply looks back plainly.

His demo tape is heard by Sean Combs, played by Derek Luke, who is seen in the film as a good influence, in part perhaps because he's the movie's executive producer. Puffy explains to all who will listen the difference between the street as a market, and a place where he wants his artists to be seen. B.I.G. leaves the drug business, and almost overnight becomes a huge star, an East Coast rapper to match the West Coast artists like Tupac Shakur.

2pac was shot dead not long before B.I.G. was assassinated. They died because of a feud between the East and West Coast gangs and onetime friends B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). Another version, in Nick Broomfield's 2002 documentary "Biggie and Tupac," is that both shootings were ordered by rap tycoon Suge Knight and carried out by off-duty LAPD officers in his hire. Broomfield produces an eyewitness and a bag man who says on camera that he delivered the money. The film, perhaps wisely, sidesteps this possibility.

"Notorious" is a good film in many ways, but its best achievement is the casting of Jamal Woolard, a rapper named Gravy, in the title role. He looks uncannily like the man he is portraying, and Antonique Smith is a ringer for B.I.G.'s wife, rapper Faith Evans. Woolard already knew how to perform, but took voice lessons for six months at Juilliard to master B.I.G.'s sound.

The real B.I.G. may have had a harder side, but we don't see it here. Instead, director George Tillman Jr. and his writers, Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, craft an understated message picture in which B.I.G. eventually decides to accept responsibility for the children he has fathered, and, as his mother, Voletta (Angela Bassett), urges him to do, become a man. Shortly before his death, he announces a new direction for his music.

In "Notorious," they show how talent can lift a kid up off the street corner, but can't protect him in a culture of violence. The whole gangsta rap posture is dangerous, as B.I.G. and Tupac proved. Although the acting and some cinematic techniques in the film are appropriate of Hollywood, Notorious is a weak attempt at glorifying a womanizer and materialistic rapper and his legacy.

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