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Life after Death

by Archives January 20, 2009

Biopics on musicians almost always include the following: a poor childhood with a loving mother and no father figure, sudden financial success, sex and drugs, and that final moment of truth when they realize there’s more to life than all of the above. Does Notorious stick to that formula for biopic box-office success? Very much so.
Notorious follows the life of Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace (Jamal Woolard), also known as the Notorious B.I.G. Starting from the hip-hop mogul’s humble beginnings, Christopher Jordan Wallace, his real life son, plays the childhood version of his deceased father. A straight-A student sporting a school uniform and glasses, he lives in Brooklyn with his mother (Angela Bassett), a Jehovah’s Witness who emigrated from Jamaica. The movie exposes Biggie’s run-ins with the law and his big break into the music industry.
Easily swayed by a woman’s touch, infidelity becomes the least of his issues when tensions arise between his record label and West Coast label Death Row, including one member in particular: Tupac “2Pac” Shakur (Anthony Mackie).
Notorious guides us through the East Coast/West Coast rivalry, and the trials and tribulations Wallace faced as a young father of two. It finally lets us peek into Biggie Smalls’ final hours at the height of his career and how it impacted hip-hop culture.
Sean “Puffy” Combs is the film’s executive producer, which may have something to do with how virtuously Puffy (Derek Luke) and Biggie are depicted in the whole Death Row/Bad Boy Records rivalry.
Applying Biggie’s signature deep, husky sound to his dialogue, Woolard pulled out all the stops for the role. Not only did he train with acting, voice and dance coaches from the Juilliard School, he put on close to 100 pounds in order to nail that Biggie swag.
Another front-runner is Derek Luke, who flawlessly adopted everything from Puffy’s cockiness to his familiar unfortunate attempts at the Harlem Shake. The ladies who call the man “Big Poppa” are strong contenders as well.
Fellow New Yorker Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton) hangs with Biggie from the beginning, eventually proving she can spit aggressive lyrics from her pint-sized frame in a male-dominated game. Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) is Biggie’s wife, portrayed as his one and only true love, as her man calls her “Faye-Faye” throughout the entire film. Needless to say, Biggie still has difficulties fighting temptations, but Faith shows him she’s no pushover.
All in all, Notorious is enjoyable. As predictable as it may be (I mean, we all know he dies at the end, right?), the movie offers some interesting details about Biggie’s background that most fans wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

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