The film Notorious is excellent. Yes, you heard it here first. I went to the premiere last night in New York City skeptical. Could Hollywood, the very place where Christopher Wallace was slain on March 9, 1997, capture the real character, swagger and larger-than-life personality of B.I.G.? The answer is a resounding yes.
Thanks in part to Fox Searchlight, Director George Tillman, Wayne Barrow (one of Biggie’s co-managers), Sean “Puffy” Combs and of course Voletta Wallace (his mother). This team of people took the life and times of Biggie Smalls and made it into the epic tale of the American dream. Notorious captures the essence of Christopher’s life from Brooklyn school boy to street hustler to hip-hop icon. The movie also serves as a metaphor for hip-hop’s meteoric rise and gradual decline through the ’90s.
For me, a person who had the rare pleasure of working with Biggie on several shoots for Vibe magazine back in the day, this movie was a memoir of a time when rap music flourished and bling was still a dream. I styled Biggie’s first cover of Vibe photographed by Eric Johnson. The one with Big and his wife Faith Evans sitting in the convertible on the Brooklyn waterfront. It was my first cover too. And styling someone of B.I.G.’s stature was no easy feat. Thankfully Groovy Lou was there to help out. But like most things in urban culture and fashion, in the words of Tim Gunn, you “make it work!”
Last night’s screening was a tribute to Biggie Smalls, but also a love letter to all of us who had the great opportunity to work with one of the greatest rappers of all time. What you will learn about Christopher Wallace while watching Notorious is that he was a visionary, a sexual creature and a comedian…a real man. I will never forget Big’s grand sense of humor or his hearty laugh. He was truly a gentleman. His mother, Puffy, Faith, Lil’ Kim and many people who knew Big remember that he also had a huge heart. Newcomer Jamal “Gravy” Woolard precisely captured the spirit of Biggie and brought his character to life.
All of the industry cats whom I watched the movie with last night agreed: Notorious is a movie that pays respect to hip-hop. It’s our movie. It also reminds me that the art of rhyming and making great urban music is a thing of the not so distant past; a remnant of hip hop’s “Golden Era.” If you love hip hop and are a fan of Biggie Smalls, then I recommend checking out Notorious on January 16 when it opens nationwide. It’s worth it just to hear the music, but the acting, directing and story telling are like icing on a delicious cake.
Big shout out to my colleague Cheo H. Coker, who co-wrote the script. Big things indeed.