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Notorious

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Jeffrey M. Anderson

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The Weekly Playlist: Four B.I.G. Cuts
If you don’t want to hit the multiplex, you can learn all about Biggie’s life from these autobiographical tracks:
“Everyday Struggle” (1994)
Biggie reflects on the squalor, struggle and heartbreak of his Brooklyn upbringings. “I don’t wanna live no more/ Sometimes I hear death knockin’ at my front door.”
“Juicy” (1994)
Hip-hop’s premier anthem of triumph, it name-drops his early influences and gently mocks his old style: “Way back when I had the red and black lumberjack/With the hat to match.”
“Sky’s the Limit” (1997)
Though Biggie died shortly before the release of Life After Death, on this track death is the furthest thing from his mind; now that he’s a bona fide megastar, the possibilities are endless.
“Who Shot Ya?” (1999)
Arguably the most iconic of Biggie’s posthumous songs, it pissed off Tupac in its original B-side form and inspired a million knock-offs. Its title question seems ever-relevant in hip-hop.
--Ben Westhoff

George Tillman Jr.’s Notorious, a biopic of the late, great rapper The Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls, born Christopher Wallace), happily avoids many of the usual biopic traps. Mainly this is because Biggie was only on Earth a mere 24 years, leaving far less material than usual to cram into a two-hour movie. Moreover, it leaves an unexpected amount of room for a few interesting supporting characters. Unfortunately, the whole project is one of those “officially approved” affairs, produced by Sean “Diddy”/“Puffy” Combs, and it wraps up far too neatly to be believed.

The Details

Notorious
Three stars
Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Naturi Naughton
Directed by George Tillman Jr
Rated R
Beyond the Weekly
Rotten Tomatoes: Notorious
IMDb: Notorious

Woolard plays Biggie as if he were born to the part; he so fully occupies this character that you might believe you’re watching the real man play his own story, like Eminem and 50 Cent played theirs. Biggie’s smart, but a bad student stifling under the wing of his overprotective mom (Bassett). Thus, he begins selling drugs, impregnates his girlfriend and goes to jail, where he fills notebooks with rhymes. When he gets out, he meets Puff Daddy (Luke) and records “Juicy.” In the meantime, he discovers and helps launch the career of Lil’ Kim (Naughton) and marries his true love, Faith Evans (Antonique Smith). The rest is history, including a much-publicized fight with former pal Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) and Shakur’s producer Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold) and a part in an uneasy East Coast-West Coast feud. He was shot and killed just before the release of his second album in 1997.

Woolard and Bassett play some remarkably moving scenes together as mother and son, notably when Biggie calls her from prison, and veteran and newcomer generously share the screen. Luke brings an unquenchable, kinetic drive to his Puffy, so fired up he jumps onstage to share in Biggie’s rhymes. But as Notorious enters its second half, the picture feels like it’s winding down; Biggie begins to wrap up all his earthly affairs so that his ending can be a peaceful, hopeful one. That’s nice, but hardly honest. Regardless, the film’s unhurried, uncompressed feel yields many juicy moments worth savoring.

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