This is a biopic of one of the biggest stars of rap, literally, the legendary Biggie Smalls, AKA The Notorious B.I.G., played by Jamal Woolard.
It begins with his fatal shooting in 1995, then takes a look back at his life to see how he got there. We get to see small Biggie go to school in a segment they should have titled Biggie Schools. We then see him grow up, becoming embroiled in drug dealing, before being discovered by none other than Puff ‘P “Sean Combs” Diddy’ Daddy (Derek Luke), who also serves as executive producer.
Rapper Woolard, whose own life has much in common with his subject, put on 50 pounds for the role, and successfully channels the spirit of Smalls. And with its soundtrack packed with rap hits, and rags to riches narrative, this is a film closely tied to the hip hop image. With Mama Smalls producing, and Biggie’s real life son playing his younger self, this film is a product of Biggie’s surviving entourage and is, as such, told very much from his perspective.
Smalls isn’t given completely reverential treatment. In any case it would be hard, given the life he led, to make him look perfect. Scenes showing him selling crack to a pregnant woman and hitting Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) certainly gives an indication of the man’s rougher side.
That being said, the circumstances around his and Tupac’s (Anthony Mackie) deaths remain hotly debated, with Biggie’s involvement in two shootings of Shakur never ruled out. Yet Smalls is shown as a bystander and a peacemaker, and is redeemed as a character in perhaps an unduly cinematic way. This is about the legend of Biggie, made by his loved ones, and is more interested in being reverential than accurate or challenging.
This is a well made and well acted tribute to a hip hop legend. Its story may not be interesting enough to appeal to people not already familiar with Smalls but to get your hip hop fix it hits all the right beats.