Monday, January 19, 2009

Limit's The Sky

Mandatory B.I.G. dorm poster

Notorious was sold out at most major theaters on Saturday (especially Times Square, ignorance capital of New York City) so around 11 my friend Jesse and I said "Fuck it" and went to Brooklyn for this burlesque/bar thing being held by Burning Angel. So I spent Sunday night, after waiting on my favorite hip-hop album/movie piracy site to upload Notorious for most of the weekend, managed to view about 25 minutes worth of the film, uploaded to zShare and Rapidshare and dissected into 3-4 parts. I'm running low on hard drive space so it's tricky to watch films on my computer these days for fear of fucking up my computer before I get to upgrade, making watching a 1 gig movie not an option yesterday, although it was a bootleg so I'm not about sitting around for 2 hours and 2 minutes with shoddy resolution and only the left sound channel working.

But from what I did see, I can state two things. One, Naturi Naughton should never wear clothes. If there's any sort of justice she should be paid to parade around titties akimbo until she eventually hits the wall in her 40's.

And two, 2Pac won.

Though only confused and emotionally unstable/hormonal 70's and 80's babies keep track of shit like this, but if one were so inclined, I'd have to say Pac won this shit from beyond the urn. Let's take this chronologically:

1.West Coast rap is terrible. It just is. As opposed to NY rap, all the good West Coast shit has always been underground (Blu, Busdriver, The Pharcyde, Tha Alkaholiks, etc) while the face of the scene was always pretty spotty at best. Snoop and Dre fell way the fuck of more than 14 years ago (2001 without it's singles is a fucking terrible record), E-40 has two good songs, Ice Cube's good albums were produced by The Bomb Squad who weren't a West Coast production team, and The Game would be tied with Young Jeezy as the most frustratingly popular yet boring and unoriginal rapper today if it wasn't for the fact that Jeezy has a handful of standout tracks amongst the wall of synth din on each of his albums, which is something The Game can't claim. This is important because mainstream West Coast rap's traditional shittiness is a big part of the chip they had on their shoulder around the time all the bullshit started. That little brother complex always seemed like an internal recognition of deficiency to me and all the posturing and very real violence that followed seemed like overcompensating. 2Pac's first victory was getting murdered, validating his weak catalog (Greatest Hits is my shit, though), creating a rockist wet dream in terms of mythology and a convoluted persona that could be further marketed as things it wasn't (political and poetic, things that Pac failed at being), but most of all inspiring a stan to kill Biggie in the first place.

2.Biggie was and is respected and loved, but Pac's death automatically rendered him to permanently be number two in every attempt to canonize the two into rap history. Things like good albums and lyrics were eschewed in favor of image and marketability, which Pac had in spades, probably more than any other rapper ever. Most lists place Pac as the greatest rapper of all time, and even with the current revisionism of the canon he's still seated comfortably there, though most synopses of his career don't actually talk about his abilities as a rapper, which is pretty much the entire basis for these lists. Thus, despite the deluge of rappers that have followed, he's still revered in circles as Messiah-like and beyond criticism, something that Biggie isn't. Which is a shame, since Biggie doesn't get college courses dedicated to Ready To Die, but someone like Michael Eric Dyson could rhapsodize about the Diaspora in relation to All Eyez on Me for hours. The fact no one ever posited that Biggie was still alive and chilling in Afghanistan with Superhead attests the mark his life and death had on the mainstream as a figure, as opposed to someone who wasn't as good of a rapper as, say, Kool G Rap.

3. As an extension of that idea of remembrance, Puffy began a series of really questionable and gross album releases following a similar slew of posthumous records of Pac's scraps released by Death Row and Afeni Shakur (who should know better). Born Again was alright, since Biggie's discography was unfortunately not as deep as Pac's and it gave us "Dead Wrong", so that's something (although if I was Puff I would've put Tracy Lee's "Put Your Hands High" on there). The record wasn't entirely Biggie, had some cool B-side tracks on there and some nice tributes, most notably "We'll Always Love You Big Poppa" by the Lox. But somewhere after the 2004 10th anniversary remaster of Ready To Die, which I thankfully bought before a lawsuit came through to force Bad Boy to excise some crucial samples from the album, and Da Band's and by an extension Bad Boy's utter failure Puff thought that what Biggie needed the most was to ape the 2Pac mold and make an album of watered down beats with a bunch of mid-00's also-rans rapping alongside his ghostly detached vocals using the latest in grave-disturbing technology, necromancy and ProTools. On top of the pile of shit that Biggie Duets was, and it's intrinsic cheapening of the man's memory and catalog, a second unnecessary record was released in the form of a Greatest Hits. Listen, when the artist only made two albums and one is a classic and the other a near classic, you should just let kids fucking buy Ready To Die. It's not like, say The Clash or DMX who legitimately benefit from having their spotty album highlights compressed for consumption, mixtape style. Especially since they dedicated 4+ tracks to cuts off of Biggie Duets. I understand why there's a Notorious Soundtrack, but honestly it's just another financial stopgap fucking up the man's catalogue.

4. And now we get to Notorious. So, Biggie already has a pretty good movie, not as good as Tupac Resurrection which really was an amazing and encompassing documentary, but it still provided a lot more insight into Biggie's life that was oddly missing before 2007. There's another doc coming called Biggie Smalls:Rap Phenomenon that is apparently going to be composed of actual footage of the motherfucker, which'll serve as a great companion piece to Bigger Than Life, which was entirely composed of interviews with a few clips of Biggie placed as much as I guess they could financially be allowed. The two docs together should provide a great look into Biggie and at least give him something comparable to the care and expanse that clearly went into Tupac:Resurrection.

The problem with Notorious itself is that, though its enjoyable enough and, as Combat Jack asserts, pretty spot-on to actual detail despite what Lil' Kim says (and really, fuck Lil' Kim), it's a cheesy rockist biopic with sometimes awkward acting that ends up just being okay in the end, nothing great or bad, sort of like a movie version of Tha Carter III. Some of that has to do with the directing and how everyone tackles the "oh-shit-look-at-this-thing-that-really-happened" scenes. My interest in the film, as someone who already knows about Biggie and isn't a 90's baby or an old head who wants to wax nostalgic, revolved around Naturi Naughton and the girl who played Faith, and for purely aesthetic (i.e. eye candy) related reasons. As Paul Cantor discussed in the Scratch blog, this turned out to be a lot more like a VH1 biopic akin to Too Legit or that Meatloaf documentary from the look to the script. I know everyone is all excited, but like everything Puffy did after Ready To Die, the movie was shinier and more glamour-crusted than it was good. Details alone don't make a good movie, it's the execution, and like almost every black film this decade not named Akilah and the Bee or Barbershop, it was just incredibly fucking shallow. Angela Bassett was amazing as Voletta and managed to get her mannerisms and specific accent down pat, the girl who played Faith was spot-on as well (down-to the lousy heart tattoo on her left titty), Gravy did a real good job all things considered, and Naturi Naughton was surprisingly good and managing to be more than a random name attracting attention for baring a supreme pair of titties (seriously). However, you could make the argument, and you'd be right, that Notorious mirrors the failing of black film making in this decade, biopics as a mode of film making and the constant artistic failure of Sean Combs. Watching the movie in theaters a few days later (this Wednesday), I felt that Biggie's story would've benefited from being stretched out into something like an HBO mini-series by the people behind The Wire. Condensing a life into two hours is always treacherous and there are probably a lot of details that didn't make the movie that would've proved equally interesting. Enjoyable, yeah, but I don't know how much this helped B.I.G's legacy.


tray said...

So I'm guessing you didn't like Press Play.

Christopher said...

Tray- Actually, "Last Night" is THE jam.

tray said...

But so is Thought You Said, The Future, Making It Hard, etc. Also, you really think E-40's that bad, and if so is this on the basis of the old "I'm unable to get into his [totally amazing] flow" argument, or do you have a good reason?

Christopher said...

Well, my favorite song ever is "I Practice Looking Hard", for a bunch of reasons. Problem with 40 always was his shit was crazy corny. Considering I'm a Busdriver stan, flow doesn't really enter the equation.

Christopher said...

Beat-wise, that is. I still fucks with the dude, though.

Combat Jack said...

Dope ass blog my dude. I need to see your shit up more. [||] of course

dronkmunk said...

Wait, you don't like e-40 but you like Jeezy? Ok... And LOL@CJ ^^

Christopher said...

CJ- Thanks!

Dronkmunk- I wouldn't say "like". Enjoy his triumphant funeral party production, yeah, but I'd never even illegally download one of his records on GP.