B.I.G.ger Than The Movie

The late rapper Chris Wallace and his talent deserved a more honest tribute than this film.


If I got to choose a coast I got to choose the East

I live out there, so don't go there

But that don't mean a nigga can't rest in the West…

Cali got gunplay, models on the runway…

—The Notorious B.I.G., “Going Back to Cali


Watching Notorious is like time traveling to back to the day when gangsta rap ruled, all bluster and bling, beef was settled with bullets and an XXL-sized brother from Brooklyn dazzled, if only for a moment. 

Through Notorious, hip-hop heads get to relive the days when Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls/The Notorious B.I.G./Big Poppa, rocked the mic at that first concert at Howard, or when he first started making music with his mentor/producer, Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy/Puffy/P. Diddy/ Diddy. You get to eavesdrop on the night Biggie recorded his first big hit, “Juicy,” witness when Tupac got shot outside the Quad Studios and see how Lil’ Kim discovered that she could “Get Money” rapping about the power of the punany.  

Notorious, directed by George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food), and starring real-life rapper Jamal “Gravy” Woolard as Smalls, does indeed take you back, dutifully hitting the narrative high points like clockwork, from his Bed-Stuy childhood to his crack-slinging days to a drama-filled love life to his brief reign atop the charts.  

But only in brief instances does the film elevate the story beyond a by-the-numbers biopic. Instead, it feels curiously flat and affectless, never quite capturing the thrill of the music or the excitement of the creative process. (For that, you’ll need to refer back to Cadillac Records.) In many ways, the music is almost beside the point, with Smalls coming off as the accidental rapper.