I have to admit that in late 1996 and early 1997, I was all about rap music. I don’t think I had anything in my car but rap CD’s and Tupac’s ‘All Eyez on Me’ and Biggie’s ‘Life After Death’ were staples. I knew the words, I knew the stories and yes, I knew I was white. But the cliché that more white, suburbia kids buy rap CD’s than any other demographic is only a testament to how broad a spectrum their music reaches. Even though we may not fully understand the pain and suffering behind the lyrics, we can still enjoy the snappy wordplay and catchy beats.
But the real question is whether or not Christopher Wallace (Notorious BIG) deserved his own film. I never thought Richie Valens deserved his own film, so I guess there’s no reason that Wallace couldn’t get his. But even so many years after his death, he’s still competing with Tupac and the prevailing thought I had throughout the film is that I would have rather been watching a film about Tupac’s life than Wallace’s.
The film briefly touches on Wallace’s childhood, the younger Biggie being played by his real life son. But it’s a cliché we’ve all seen before; smart, young black man turns his back on school for the easy money of drug dealing. We then flash forward to when he’s 17 (keep in mind he died when he was 24) and after a few run-ins with the law, he meets Sean Combs (Derek Luke) and his rise to stardom begins.
It’s a pretty simple story, but the biggest challenge for the filmmakers was how they were going to handle the “so called beef with you know who”. At the time, the media and public ate it up like crazy and of course it was distracting in the film. Anything concerning Biggie and Tupac is fascinating and they could have made an entire film about their rivalry. But it consumed the last year or so of Biggie’s life and so the filmmakers had no choice but to address it. Unfortunately, not enough attention was given to Biggie’s relationship with Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim. To be fair, the Biggie-Faith relationship was coming dangerously close to the Cash-Carter relationship depicted in WALK THE LINE.
But as is the case with most music bio’s; your appreciation of the film is going to rely heavily on your appreciation of Biggie’s music. Obviously, it plays throughout the film, so if you hate rap music, you may not get much out of this film other than a headache. But if you’re like me and you grew up with blasting Biggie and Tupac out your car speakers (and occasionally do it nowadays), I think you’ll enjoy peering into the life of one of the greatest rappers of all time.