Ten Things About Notorious


Not really worth the trouble

Not really worth the trouble

So I went with my younger brother to go see Notorious last night.  I thought it was pretty bad, and I’d lowered my expectations before going in.  Here are ten things I thought about it.


1.  The basic arc of the movie where Biggie reconciles all of his troubled relationships shortly before dying seemed totally false and unnatural.  I haven’t read Cheo Coker’s biography, so for all I know it could be true, but even if it is the movie didn’t sell it at all.

2.  Furthermore, the idea that Biggie decided to stop rapping about hustling on his second album is just factually wrong.  Life After Death is the album with “Somebody’s Got to Die,” “N****z Bleed,” and “Ten Crack Commandments” on it.  To soundtrack Biggie’s claim that he wasn’t going to talk about street life anymore with “Sky’s the Limit”–pretty much the only song like that on the album–is totally dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of any viewer who’s actually listened to Biggie’s music.

3.  If you watched this movie with no knowledge of rap music, you’d think that nobody was rapping in the 90s except for Biggie, Tupac, Junior Mafia, and maybe a few West Coast acts.  This is a shame because one of the great things about New York rap in that era is the way that Biggie, the Wu, Nas, etc. were all kind of competing and also like using each other’s ideas.  I didn’t expect the movie to go into real rap nerd territory or anything, but some recreation of the early 90s “scene” would have added some verisimilitude.

4.  A good general rule might be that you shouldn’t make a biopic about anyone whose mom is still around to co-produce it.  No disrespect to Voletta Wallace, I just think that having someone that close to the subject of the film involved that much will, in the end, not help.  Could you say, “actually Mrs. Wallace, I think we need to portray your son as more of a dick in this scene?”  I know I couldn’t.

5.  Gravy’s not too good.  The parts he shines in most are the parts where he’s actually performing music, which makes sense because he’s a rapper.  He does a pretty good Biggie voice.  Other than that, it’s a pretty weak performance, although it kind of works if you figure that Biggie probably would have given a similar performance if he were forced to act in a lame biopic about himself.

6.  The music scenes in general are just better than the rest of the movie.  The next best parts are the parts where the compelling parts of Biggie’s biography (most of them) aren’t obscured or made into cliches by how bad the movie is (rarely).

7.  I don’t know whether it would be worse watching this as a Biggie fan or not.  On the one hand, the disappointment is probably worse for me because I’m actually invested in Biggie and his legacy.  On the other hand, who wants to watch a bad movie about someone they don’t even care about?

8.  I think the movie greatly overstates Puff Daddy’s role in Biggie’s music, if not his life.  There’s no mention of anybody who made music for Biggie.  If you look at the credits on Ready to Die, Puff didn’t make that many of the beats and all the ones he did he co-produced.  He was the executive producer, sure, but not mentioning at least like Easy Mo Bee or Premier seems like a sin of omission.

9.  They should make a biopic about Pimp C.  I know this contradicts the rule I’m trying to establish in number 4, but Mama Wes is cool and seems to have a pretty well-rounded image of her son without too many illusions (check out the interview with her on the excellent Damage Control tribute radio show), so I’m willing to let it slide.  I have no idea of who would be capable of playing Pimp C, but if it were done right, it could be a great movie.

10.  So, yeah, bottom line, you’d probably be better off saving your money and spending a few hours watching Biggie videos.


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