Knee Jerk Review: Notorious

from my phone:

– Life, the meaningful parts of life, are corny, no matter how hard you are.

– There is no way to separate the American dream from hip-hop. When Biggie and Puff talk about making it, they mean in the most material way. It’s music or the streets, and they have to attain militaristic might and blast through the ceilings of structural racism to make it, in an equation where “it” = money, which = success.

– According to this movie, and many on fame, the height of success is empty sex, numbing drugs and getting surrounded by people with no critique, vs. remaining one of the many who are broke and trying to get to that vapid success.

– You have to throw your whole heart and all your dreams on the board if you want to make a real play for success.

– Best line, when one brother is coming our of prison: “Everyone in the pen is a philosopher.”

– The music itself is better than anything else in the film, in a porn-like way. I was waiting for each song to hit the place in my mind that knows it by heart, at which point the whole theater would smile and start boppin’ heads, givin’ into the music.

– Angela Bassett = quintessential black woman. As soon as she arrives in the movie there’s a Malcolm
X quality, an increase in slow motion, and there she is giving an Oscar-winning performance in a Source-Movie-of-the-Year film.

– Sean Combs executive produced the movie, and in the film he is like a lightning rod of good instinct. He pokes fun at his tendency to dance through everything, and the actor smiles much more than the Puff we all see on reality shows. Dude is clearly a genius. At least, he thinks so. I have always had a lot of respect for P-Diddy as a businessman/producer, through every nickname, even when I met him and he was a complete asshole. But I wonder, what’s the long-term result of all that hustle – how is the world changed other than some folks having more money and other folks dead? This movie, where Puffy is paraphrasing Gandhi and Grace Lee Boggs – to change the world we must change ourselves – made me long for a vision, rather than a personality and a soundtrack. Would more time have given us that?

– Memories burst up, watching this. Tupac was shot and died my first week in college, in NY. The night he died was the first time I was truly drunk. There was a fire that night, at the end of a hallway in my dorm and I was the first to see it, yelled out to folks to get out. The night I remember was people being sick all around me, crying, confused, outside in the chill, traumatic. Then a half year later, Biggie died on my sister’s birthday. I’d been in Germany just before college, years behind on hip-hop, I didn’t know that much about Biggie and Tupac, east coast and west coast. I was learning, falling in love with hip-hop, and thought they were both amazing, and telling stories of my family that had never been appealing. Time would teach me: Biggie was Brooklyn. My first time in Brooklyn was the parade of his funeral procession, we’d missed the actual cars, were just caught up in the wave of grieving fans, clueless and lost and seeing an impact I couldn’t understand.

It’s hard to knee jerk this one, because the movie is neither great nor horrible. It’s informative, chronological, one view of the events, clearly blessed by many close to him, with an amazing soundtrack; it’s a sympathetic portrayal of Biggie’s life. But it’s just not great. Still, the story floats all around the movie, and that story is massive, and personal. I am reminded of interviewing Afeni Shakur when Resurrection came out, and that same sense of potential and promise of more to come…but then they were gone.

Overall the movie leaves me sad; sad about how young Big was, sad about the way the media escalated a trivial rift into a death match, sad that every time someone starts to tell the truth in this country – either the truth about justice, or the truth about injustice (which is the setting for most of the brilliant hip-hop in the world), they are taken out.

Based on where Biggie started, and what was possible for him, he came so far. He punched through the expectations in a way that left a wall for others. Rapping about sex and money and life, produced by someone with a finger on the pulse of where hip-hop was headed, he had just made it through a first cycle on the life path, 24 years old. The entire path is the human story – from rags to riches to spiritual rags to spiritual riches.

I have often grimaced when folks compare the deaths of Tupac and Biggie to those of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The individualist paths of artists in this country, the capitalist cannonball success stories of brothers who want to get away from the hardship and buy they mama a house…these are folks within the containers Malcolm and Martin and others of their era were trying to hold. It seems an unfair comparison – folks trying to make it out of their communities, vs. folks working to uplift and transform the entire community, including the women and children therein. But watching Notorious on MLK day, one can’t help but see the threads between them, massive black men, moving folks to see themselves differently, driven by the force of personality from a stage/pulpit.

Who knows where Biggie and Tupac would have ended up, given the opportunity to both thrill us lyrically, and then uplift us as grown men. The movie’s drama and mystery lacks that component. We’re left to ponder it ourselves, in the fully realized age of hip-pop.

P.S. Seth im’d me a nice reminder on how Gandhi clarified the difference between pacifism and nonviolence – how he saw pacifist as a weak stance by folks who would actually engage in violence if they had the tools or the will, where as folks practicing nonviolence sit in a space of proactive strength. When I say I don’t identify as a pacifist, it is because I feel the kind of nonviolence work I do is an aggressive work, advancing the front line kind of work. Thanks Seth!
P.P.S. Thanks to the blog followers who gave me love at Butta last night, I often forget others read this.
P.P.P.S. On the health tip, I went for a walk today and don’t feel broken!