DVD review…‘Notorious’ surprisingly good

Being a movie buff in general and a Black movie buff in particular, as well as a lover of Black history, when I saw the “Notorious” DVD, I was curious but somewhat reluctant to get it because I’ve tired of all the gangsta movies. But I gave in.

After watching several other movies, I finally decided to pop it in after it had been sitting around for a few days. I was very pleasantly surprised.

First of all anything with Angela Bassett can’t be all bad. She played his mother. Not an extensive role, but enough to get my attention.

THE KING—Notorious B.I.G., played by Jamal Woolard, is seated in his royal chair as Puff Daddy, played by Derek Luke looks on.

In case you don’t know who I’m talking about. Christopher Wallace, AKA Biggie Smalls, AKA Notorious B.I.G., was one of the biggest rappers ever from the East Coast, or New York City, in popularity as well as in size. Even though Heavy D and the Fat Boys would give him a run for his money in size.

Though Angela is the only noted actor in the movie, including Jamal Woolard who played the lead role, all the acting was brilliant. The key characters in the movie apart from Biggie, were Faith Evans, his wife, played by Antoinique Smith; ’Lil Kim, his woman on the side, played by Naturi Naughton; Sean Puffy Combs his friend, producer and boss, played by Derek Luke; and young Christopher played by his real life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace.

Where they found these actors is a mystery to me, I’ve never seen any of them on anything, except Luke, but maybe that is what made the movie so believable, so real, so moving.

Director George Tillman Jr. did not pull any punches; he didn’t make Notorious out to be a saint. He was a womanizing man who cheated on his wife and his girlfriend, sold drugs and used them as well, but he loved his mother and his music. Well, he actually loved both women as well.

The movie was produced by his mother Voletta Wallace, and has grossed more than $37 million since its release in last January.

Not being a big rap or hip-hop fan I thought he had been around a lot longer than he had, but when he was gunned down in 1997 he had only released two CDs and was only 24, at the peak of his career.

Even though he was a nerd as a kid, bullied by other kids and never got the girls and a hard-nosed drug dealer as a teen, his music and his meeting Puffy is what skyrocketed him to the top of hip-hop. But he was never the gangsta that he was projected to be by his PR people in order to sell more records. In actuality, Puffy challenged him to pick between the thug life of selling drugs and ducking bullets or following his real talent, which was rapping. He made the right choice, even though he still ended up stopping bullets.

Wallace began rapping when he was a teenager. He would entertain people on the streets with his rapping as well as perform with local groups, the Old Gold Brothers and the Techniques. After his release from prison, Wallace made a demo tape under the name Biggie Smalls, a reference to his childhood nickname and to his stature; he stood at 6-3 and weighed as much as 300 to 380 pounds. The tape was reportedly made with no serious intent of getting a recording deal, but was promoted by New York-based DJ Mister Cee, who had previously worked with Big Daddy Kane, and heard by the editor of The Source magazine. Like most rap artists he performed on other CDs before finally breaking out on his own in 1994 with his first big solo hit “Ready to Die.” This hit was huge not only for him but for East Coast rappers because the West Coast had dominated rap at the time.

His decision to go out west to promote his new album and try to stop the West Coast-East Coast feud that had escalated when Tupac Shakur was attacked in a New York studio by some thugs, and climbed to an all-time high later when he was shot to death. Many for some reason said Biggie had something to do with it. Why, because he had been projected as a gangsta when in reality he was simply a rapper, an entertainer. It sold records. But apparently some in Los Angeles believed the hype and gunned him down at a traffic stop inside a car much like Tupac had been.

His double-disc set “Life After Death,” released 15 days after his death, hit No. 1 on the U.S. album charts and was certified Diamond in 2000. Wallace was noted for his “loose, easy flow,” dark semi-autobiographical lyrics and storytelling abilities. Since his death, a further three albums have been released. MTV ranked him at No. 3 on their list of The Greatest MCs of All Time. Because of his success and influence on music, he has become a cultural icon.

No, this is not a movie glorifying drug trafficking or the thugs and thieves on the street, but instead a very solid historical piece of work that gives us all some insight into the life of a very real man who against some very heavy odds became one of the most noted entertainers the world has known. Fat boys can be sex symbols, too.

One historical note, Wallace took the name Biggie Smalls from the character in the Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier movie “Let’s Do It Again.”

Small world isn’t it.


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