B.I.G. Up, One Tip

By Guest Columnist Jan 28, 2009

by Aarti Shahani I just saw the biopic on the life and death of Notorious BIG, prince of hip hop. It was brilliant and beautiful, comedy and tragedy, with wise cracks and wisdom rolled into an instructive tribute to a man that became legend in less time than it took Jesus Christ. In a movie full of lyrical meditations, one of the best lines was (strangely enough) sage advice from Sean Combs. Back in the 1990s – when this grown man still called himself “Puffy,” a decade before he became a 007 wannabe – he advised the ambitious Christopher Wallace: you either live the streets, or you rhyme about them. I liked the get-serious-about-your-career delivery. It was tender, like a stern mother. But is it really a choice? I don’t think so. Many folks, whether rappers or community organizers, can’t write without the muse of lived experience. The movie also takes a hard line against the corporate media, who hyped the East Coast/West Coast, Biggie/Tupac rivalry to the point of no return, possibly to death. The goal of turning a profit subverted the greater good of building hip hop community. But the filmmakers lost moral authority when they chose to do more of the same in the seriously lame sex scenes. People weren’t going to see Notorious for the sexy (We’ll wait on Tupac’s bio for that). We wanted truth. Through each gratuitous shot – obviously zooming away from Biggie’s tits and ass, straight to Lil Kim or Faith Evans or whoever happened to be on top – these scenes were an embarrassment to the men behind the film. Sex was no doubt a part of Biggie’s life and fantasies. But in my own poll, 87% (mostly men) agreed that if the movie held back just a little – made the sex less smelly, maybe fingered in suggestive camera effects – Notorious could have gone from entertaining to sacred; a movie outing for millions of kiddy groups, even churchgoers who deserve to know this people’s history. Here’s a free marketing tip to hip hop (dis)believers: tasteful sells too. Lil Kim spoke out against the male filmmakers’ portrayal of her relationship with Biggie. Haters can and do dismiss her. But her point is one shared with many sheroes. (Back in my home country India, freedom fighter Fulan Devi denounced the filmmakers of her biopic “Bandit Queen,” which depicts her repeated rapes more forcefully than her repeated victories. She said that watching the tribute made her feel raped all over again.) Overall, though, the point stands. See Notorious. And if you can get a bootleg and photoshop out the tits and ass, sell me a copy. I’d pay more than the price of a Loew’s movie ticket.