Notorious; Biggie Smalls biopic blends film, music in solid tribute

His name is Christopher Wallace. He has been known as Biggie Smalls, the corner freestyle rap king. The Notorious BIG is what he called himself when he became a music superstar and now the biggest name known to the hip-hop/rap world finally gets the silver screen treatment in Notorious.
The film begins in 1983 where the young Wallace – played by Wallace’s real-life son Christopher Jordan Wallace – is a Catholic school honor student and his mother, Voletta (Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett) does everything she can to keep him away from the world of drugs.
Feeling he does not get enough respect, Wallace begins dealing drugs in order to buy himself some spoils such as Izod and Le Tigre shirts and jewelry.
Years later, an adult Wallace (newcomer Jamal Woolard) becomes a freestyle rapper with the gift to spit out rhymes that reflect on his life and his surroundings. One day, he makes a demo tape of his rhymes in a basement for fun.
The tape finds its way to young, upcoming record producer Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke), who signs Biggie to his newly formed company, Bad Boy Records. Just as Biggie starts to solidify his musical legacy as the creator of one of hip-hop’s greatest bodies of work with his vivid rhymes, fate has other plans.
The acting in Notorious is better than expected with the exception of Angela Bassett’s portrayal of Voletta Wallace. While the real Voletta Wallace has a Jamaican accent, the accent Bassett uses slips in and out through the movie. At one point, Bassett sounds like she is channeling a leprechaun. Despite this problem, she does her best to become the only woman Biggie will never stop loving.
Luke might not look exactly like Combs, but his portrayal recreates the ambition and determination that showed Combs how to cement his first client’s legacy as a hip-hop artist.
Anthony Mackie has an eerie resemblance to the late West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur and embodies his arrogant and sometimes paranoid personality. Ironically, Mackie has played Tupac before in an off-Broadway play called Up Against The Wind, which was also produced by Mackie at Juilliard earlier in his career.
The actor that really shines in the movie is newcomer and Brooklyn rapper Woolard. He not only personifies the legendary rapper, he submerges himself in the role whether he is battling a local “wannabe” rapper or letting his emotions out – physically or musically.
The script infuses some of the lyrics from the Notorious BIG’s songs in the dialogue, including a scene where a young Biggie writes down his first rhymes on a notepad.
Notorious could have been the type of movie that follows a formulaic plot, but the movie manages to avoid such clichés. The true source material comes from one of the screenwriters, Cheo Hodari Coker, who wrote a biography of Biggie and was the last person to interview him.
Coker’s writing helps capture the gritty reality in Wallace’s life. He also captured the essence of the Notorious BIG and the main figures in the rapper’s life including his mother and Combs.
The soundtrack is definitely the highlight of Notorious. While some songs that are featured are sung by the real Notorious BIG, Woolard brings his game to the table to recreate Biggies’s trademark baritone and commanding tone.
Aside from Woolard providing the film voice of Wallace, Antonique Smith plays the rapper’s widower, Faith Evans. Smith has a tremendous voice when she sings one of Evans’ songs, “You Used To Love Me.”
Another actress that sounds identical to her on-screen persona is Naturi Naughton as former Junior MAFIA member and artist Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones. When Jones sings “Get Money” with the rest of the Junior MAFIA crew, she recreates the sultry, sexy and raw sound and performance that made Lil’ Kim recognizable.
Jones is not a newcomer to the music scene, as she was in a girl group called 3LW and made her Broadway debut by landing a role in Hairspray.
Notorious mixes the genre of a musical biographical picture and a coming of age drama to tell the story of a man who continues to impact the world, well beyond the boundaries of hip-hop.
NOTORIOUS: 3.5 stars out of 5

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