Directed by George Tillman Jr.

Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker

Starring Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke



"Notorious" is the story of Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G., aka Christopher Wallace, the Brooklyn-born rapper who was killed at the age of 24, just as, like so many of us, he was about to get his life together. It's been brilliantly made, with Jamal Woolard - a rapper but a first-time actor, playing Biggie and doing a sensational job of it. In fact, Biggie's young son Christopher Jordan Wallace plays the young Biggie at about age 10, and also does a great job.

Growing up fat and nearsighted in a bad neighborhood isn't a recipe for instant success. But Christopher had a talent for rapping, writing his verses and trying them out on the streetcorners. Abandoned by his father, his Jamaican mother (Angela Bassett with a disappearing Jamaican accent) tries to keep him studying up to his potential, but like a lot of slum kids Christopher joins his friend selling drugs on the street, winds up in a North Carolina prison, but comes out a year later with his talent intact.

He meets Sean Combs (Derek Luke) who's become a producer of rap artists and likes what he sees in Biggie. By the time he's 19 Biggie's had a daughter with his girlfriend, abandoned her, and like a lot of kids, white and black, is more interested in getting laid than in building a family.

Biggie makes it very big, becomes a friend of Tupac Shakur and learns some of the lessons of fame in the rapping business when Tupac and Shug Knight are killed in Las Vegas and Sean Combs is wounded in New York. Not long after, Biggie himself is killed in Los Angeles in what might be a turf war between East and West coast rappers.

But "Notorious" is compelling from beginning to end, with great re-creations of Biggie rapping with some extraordinary songs, marrying and fathering another child, getting rich, starting to question his own attitudes toward life, and then being cut down just like that.

"Notorious" was directed by George Tillman Jr., who knows how to direct; there isn't a bad shot or edit in the whole two hours, and at the end you just want to stick around for more; it's the highest compliment I can give.