Jamal “Gravy” Woolard can tell “What’s Beef” and how to “Get Money.” Like many fans worldwide, he not only loved to listen to the music of the Notorious B.I.G., he studied him — way before there were thoughts of a Biggie movie, way before Big even died.
It’s nothing for him to quote lines from his favorite Biggie songs, like “You Can’t Stop the Reign” and “Who Shot Ya” or Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear” remix. Woolard is a huge fan of the grimy, Timberland-wearing, “Party and Bullsh–” Biggie Smalls. That sometimes-deranged, reflective, melancholy, life-of-the-party, Ready to Die Big Poppa who dominated the Source Awards in 1995. That ashy-to-classy, on-top-of-the-rap-game, Life After Death Frank White.
Whatever phase B.I.G. was in, the “Notorious” star loved Biggie. Gravy would even pretend to be Big while listening to his music at home.
“I had my little time wanting to be B.I. It’s a great thing,” Gravy said with a huge smile, standing right on the stoop where Biggie grew up on St. James Place in Brooklyn.
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Although Woolard had to go through what he called a “Biggie boot camp” to learn the late MC’s idiosyncrasies, he said preparing to be the rap great wasn’t difficult at all.
“I felt like he was the Shakespeare of the rap game,” Gravy said. “I didn’t have to meet Big to play Big. If you from BK, you supposed to know it. You supposed to know the boy’s swagger from the door.”
Big’s passion to be the best was transparent in his music and interviews, like when he spoke to Fab Five Freddy in 1995 on “Yo! MTV Raps”: “I’m just trying to rip the hardest, hardest rhymes. I’m just trying to be the hardest MC. When people hear the new Big joint, I want them to be like, ’That’s so hard.’ ”
Woolard was handpicked from hundreds of aspiring actors wanting to play Christopher Wallace in “Notorious.” The person who picked him understandably held a lot of weight with the producers: Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace .
“He came in the room, and I said, ’That’s my son,’ ” Wallace told MTV News. Gravy hadn’t even auditioned yet.
“It’s meant to be. It’s for a reason,” said Woolard, who grew up just minutes from Biggie’s house. “I feel you couldn’t pick a better person to do it. It’s a lot of hard work, though. Serious work. We was rocking for a year before [the movie] came out. We was rocking [in 2007], around November.
Woolard said he really lost himself in the performance scenes.
“I really didn’t have no problem loosening up,” said Gravy, a talented underground MC in his own right. “As a rapper … that was years ago I broke that fear. I was excited about doing it. I was excited about showing people around me how I can perfect him. I wanted to get it so crazy. I wanted people to feel inside their heart that ’damn!’ Especially Lil’ Cease and Mrs. Wallace and everybody else.
“Notorious” hits theaters January 16.
MTV News has some B.I.G. things on the horizon surrounding “Notorious” — stay tuned for more this week!