George Tillman Jr.’s biopic about the life of Christopher Wallace (Woolard), better known as superstar rapper Notorious B.I.G., doesn’t take any liberties with the Brooklyn native’s life. It doesn’t have to. His story is a compelling one. Raised by his single mom (Bassett), the young Wallace (played by Christopher Jordan Wallace, Biggie’s real-life son) is a straight-A student who becomes disenchanted with his grade-school education and starts hustling drugs to show he’s not just “the kid on the stoop.” He gets busted and ends up doing time. While in prison, he sharpens his rapping skills and comes out with a set of rhymes ready to go. His demo eventually catches the attention of young record exec Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke), who aspires to make the portly rapper a star. Biggie’s debut, Ready to Die, goes on to become a smash on Combs’ newly launched Bad Boy Records.
But with more money comes more problems. Biggie’s success ignites a simmering East Coast/West Coast rivalry between rappers, and he gets blamed for the shooting of Tupac Shakur (Mackie), something the film suggests he had nothing to do with. It’s at this point that the movie gets bogged down in the details of a rivalry that doesn’t really need to be revisited. We see Death Row honcho Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold) make threats against Biggie, and we see Biggie give tense performances in front of West Coast audiences. It’s all very dramatic but really not necessary to the storyline.
More interesting is how the charismatic rapper attracted the attention of women like Faith Evans (Smith) and Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton). While he doesn’t deliver a particularly strong performance, Woolard is quite good at conveying Biggie’s natural charm. Although it’s an accurate portrayal of Biggie’s life, it’s too bad the film doesn’t spend a bit more time developing the character who was told as a kid that he was “too fat, black, and ugly” to amount to anything.