Producers of the film “Notorious” have finally found the man to play one the greatest MCs ever to grace a vocal booth: Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. Fellow Brooklyn rapper Jamal Woolard — better known on the mixtape circuit as Gravy — has landed the coveted role. While other entertainers such as Beanie Sigel, West Coast rapper Guerilla Black and even Sean Kingston had expressed interest in the part, the producers conducted an exhaustive search, auditioning thousands of men across the country.
“Finding B.I.G. was a task in itself, and I’m honored that so many young men came out to audition for the role,” Voletta Wallace, Biggie’s mother, said in a statement released Thursday (March 6). “However, it was Jamal’s charming personality, warm spirit, wonderful sense of humor and beautiful smile that won my heart. He is a talented and charismatic actor, and I am excited that he will bring Christopher’s character to the big screen.”
Derek Luke will play Sean “Diddy” Combs, while Anthony Mackie has been cast as Tupac Shakur. Angela Bassett is set to appear as Mrs. Wallace. Former 3LW member Naturi Naughton has also been given an as-yet-unspecified role in the film, which begins filming in New York this month with director George Tillman and is slated for release January 16, 2009.
Gravy has been a well-known figure on the mixtape circuit the past few years, working with a slew of rappers including Young Jeezy, Jadakiss, Fabolous, Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes and even Diddy himself. While Gravy is known for his wordplay, controversy has overshadowed his music.
In the spring of 2005, he made the big mistake of trying to record a song with his onetime close friend Foxy Brown and Miami’s Jacki-O. The two women got into a physical altercation in a Miami studio.
“Everybody knows Gravy. Gravy’s hard,” the Brooklyn MC told MTV News after the incident (referring to himself in the third person). “I’m a lyricist. I go with the hardest. Jacki-O is the hardest. And I go with the other hardest from New York, Foxy Brown. Boy, did I find out putting the two hardest together. It’s not a good look. Foxy was going a little crazy with it. It just got ugly.”
In April 2006, Gravy was gaining momentum on the release of his long-delayed Warner Bros. debut, God Willing. He was outside New York radio station Hot 97, waiting to go inside and be interviewed, when gunfire erupted and he was shot in the buttocks. Although Gravy did eventually make his way inside to be interviewed by Flex, the station subsequently banned his music, citing his involvement in the shooting , effectively putting his career on hold. Neither his scheduled single nor his album, which was due in September of 2006, were released.
“What [was] I supposed to say? ’Flex, I can’t do your show, even though it’s my life — I just took a shot to the a–!’ What does that sound like?” he said in an interview with MTV News in May of that year. “I had to do what I had to do. People are not seeing it that way. They’re like, ’He’s glorifying the shot.’ N—a, I’m not glorifying the shot. I love my life more than rap. I’m not trying to take a shot for rap. I don’t want to take no shot, brotha. Not in my thumb, my pinkie, nothing, brotha.
“Just imagine if I died. … Would they play me then? They would play me because they would not want the world to assassinate their character. ’Here’s a young man that was trying to do right and he got killed up there, and y’all not playing him?’ ”
In the wake of a violent outbreak between members of 50 Cent’s and the Game’s entourage that year, Hot 97 adopted a policy not to play any music by an artist involved in an altercation at the station.
“Notorious” Gravy’s first attempt to break into Hollywood: He also auditioned for the lead in “Fat Albert.”
Head here for a feature with Jay-Z, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Denzel Washington and many others talking about their favorite Notorious B.I.G. lyrics.
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