A B.I.G. Life Writ Large In 'Notorious' George Tillman Jr.'s sketch of the life and death of the Notorious B.I.G. looks at how the Brooklyn rapper changed hip-hop. Corey Takahashi takes a look back at the man who would become Biggie Smalls.
NPR logo

A B.I.G. Life Writ Large In 'Notorious'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/99240630/99482974" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A B.I.G. Life Writ Large In 'Notorious'

A B.I.G. Life Writ Large In 'Notorious'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/99240630/99482974" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. "Notorious" is the name of a new biopic about the life and early death of the rap star The Notorious B.I.G. It's co-produced by his friends, by people involved in his music and his mother. It portrays Christopher Wallace as a complicated character, a young Brooklyn hustler, then a budding rap star who was very close to his mom.


ANGELA BASSETT: (As Voletta Wallace) Christopher, are you not still lying in that bed, are you?

JAMAL WOOLARD: (As Christopher "Biggie" Wallace) No.

BASSETT: (As Voletta Wallace) Christopher, what are you doing? You're saying you're prayers?

WOOLARD: (As Christopher "Biggie" Wallace) Praying that God teaches you how to knock.

BASSETT: (As Voletta Wallace) Please, don't you mock your prayers.

WOOLARD: (As Christopher "Biggie" Wallace) You don't think Jehovah has a sense of humor?

BASSETT: (As Voletta Wallace) He must have, if he made you. (Laughing)

WOOLARD: (As Christopher "Biggie" Wallace) We always got to listen to this corny old country music.

BASSETT: (As Voletta Wallace) I happen to like this music. It tells good stories.

NORRIS: The film "Notorious" opens today. Reporter Corey Takahashi visited the site of the rapper's murder in Los Angeles, and he went along with the writers of the movie.

COREY TAKAHASHI: This is the site of one of L.A.'s most famous unsolved murders.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC TAKAHASHI: It's the intersection Wilshire Boulevard and)

REGGIE ROCK BYTHEWOOD: It really was like the shot that was heard around the world, in terms of hip-hop.

TAKAHASHI: Reggie Rock Bythewood co-wrote the screenplay for "Notorious" with Cheo Hodari Coker. Coker had followed the rapper's rise in the hip-hop world, reported on his murder for the L.A. Times and was the journalist to interview him at length.


NOTORIOUS B: (Rapping) We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us. No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us. Birthdays was the worst days. Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay. Damn right, I like the life I live 'cause I went from negative to positive and it's all...

CHEO HODARI COKER: How does a Catholic school kid, who's a straight-A student, become a drug dealer, almost by accident, become a rap legend, go through all the trials and tribulations of being a superstar and then, right at the moment he gets it all together, it just gets snapped away?

TAKAHASHI: More than a decade after his death, his music still resonates. On a recent afternoon, Marlon Blakley(ph) was getting off a bus near the 1997 murder scene.

MARLON BLAKLEY: He wasn't just a hardcore rapper. People loved him. The women loved him, you know. He even say, I'm ugly, like he would say, I'm ugly as ever. However, I stay Gucci down to the socks.


B: (Rapping) However, I stay Gucci down to the socks, rings and watch filled with rocks and my jam knock in your Mitsubishi. Girls pee pee when they see me. Navajos creep me in they teepee as I lay down laws like Island Carpets. Stop it - if you think they gonna make a profit. Don't see my ones, don't see my guns - get it? Now, tell ya friends, Poppa hit it...

TAKAHASHI: Screenwriter Coker says The Notorious B.I.G.'s lyrics continue to distinguish him from other rap stars.

HODARI COKER: He's relevant to hip-hop in the same way that Charlie Parker or John Coltrane is relevant to jazz or the way that Michael Jordan or Dr. J are still relevant to basketball. It doesn't mean that people aren't playing every day. It just means that he put a mark on it, and a certain signature that is just indelible.

TAKAHASHI: His influence echoes throughout the work of pop stars like Sean "Diddy" Combs - his former producer - as well as Jay-Z, a fellow Brooklynite, who's carried forth the B.I.G. formula of wit, verve and humor. But B.I.G.'s celebrity in the mid-'90s came with what the rapper called "Mo' Money/Mo' Problems."


SEAN: (Rapping) From the d-to-the-a-to-the-d-d-y. Know you'd rather see me die than to see me fly. I call all the shots, rip all the spots, rock all the... ..TEXT: TAKAHASHI: Screenwriter Reggie Rock Bythewood.

ROCK BYTHEWOOD: This was still the height of this media-induced East Coast-West Coast war between East Coast rappers and West Coast rappers.

TAKAHASHI: Tupac Shakur represented the wild West Coast sound. B.I.G. was East Coast tradition. And what had been a competition for record sales took on menacing tone after the California superstar, Tupac, was robbed and shot at a New York recording studio in 1994. Tupac suspected that members of The Notorious B.I.G.'s camp were involved. In 1996, Tupac was shot again, fatally, in Las Vegas.

Six months later, The Notorious B.I.G. traveled to L.A. to promote and work on music and to try to ease tensions between the East and West Coasts. That's when he was killed. The movie "Notorious" trends toward the positive. It doesn't ignore gritty aspects of his 24 years, but it's clearly the perspective of family, friends and fans. Cheo Hodari Coker says one key chapter of the story remains open.

HODARI COKER: I hope, if anything, this movie spurs interest to demand his murder be solved.

TAKAHASHI: So far, this is one L.A. story without a clean Hollywood ending. For NPR News, I'm Corey Takahashi in Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.