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Notorious

Year: 2009
Production Co: Bystorm Films
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: George Tilman Jr
Writer: Cheo Hodari Coker
Cast: Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke
If you're interested in gangsta rap, this is essential viewing. Despite a very strong narrative in the story of rap's genesis, everything from the myriad of personalities to the hard-to-decipher lyrics make the scene a glory box of mystery and wonder as you piece together the history, feuds, alliances, money and labels that make up the story.

And one of the biggest themes in the narrative is the east coast/west coast rivalry, of which Tupac and Biggie were the human embodiment. Like Titanic and Valkyrie, we know how this story ends, with Biggie shot dead in Los Angeles not long after his former friend and then mortal enemy Tupac Shakur was murdered in strikingly similar fashion in Las Vegas.

But don't let that dampen your desire to see it unfold. Chris Wallace (Woolard) is a fat NY kid jealous of the bigger kids and the money they get from selling crack, and soon he's a rising powerbroker in the street drug scene. After a stint inside during which Chris finds his voice, he realises rap is his ticket to the big time more so than drugs ever could be.

A lot of what follows is generic star biopic territory (Ray, Walk the Line, etc) – the battle for musical integrity, the alliances that defined him him like his relationship with Sean Puff Daddy Coombs (Luke) and the breakups and affairs that temptation would bring him.

But somewhere along the line director Tilman Jr starts to use evocative images and the story kicks up a gear out of seen-it-all territory, hooking you in with some quality you don't even know is there.

Of course, a decent part of the appeal is seeing how contemporary actors depict real-life celebrities and personalities, particularly ones still around today. But after several years of wondering what Tupac was on about in his infamous diss track Hit 'Em Up, it all became so clear.

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