By Margeaux Watson
January 08, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

Everyone from Spike Lee, Jay-Z, and Beyonce to Diddy, Mary J. Blige, and Nas showed love for Biggie Smalls last night at the premiere of the late rapper’s biopic, Notorious, at the AMC Lincoln Square theater in Manhattan. B.I.G.’s family was there too, including his mom, Voletta Wallace, his widow, Faith Evans, and all of his children. Though it’s not as compelling as Eminem‘s 2002 biopic, 8 Mile (there are moments when Notorious seems more like an HBO movie than a proper theatrical release), I enjoyed the film, which stars Derek Luke as Puffy, Antonique Smith as Evans, Naturi Naughton as Lil’ Kim, Anthony Mackie as Tupac, and Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace. Jamal Woolard plays Biggie, whose personal and professional transformation from Brooklyn crack dealer to embattled hip-hop superstar is earnestly followed in the flick.

Anchored by a hot rap soundtrack, Notorious is also a nostalgic look back at a time before bling when hip-hop was the pensive voice of the streets and the darling of pop culture. For many of us in the audience who were eyewitnesses to the events depicted in the movie, it was a surreal viewing experience. I worked at Vibe magazine from 1996 to 1998 and I have vivid memories of the East Coast vs. West Coast beef. Looking back, it seems absurd that things got so out of control. At the time, however, it was all deadly serious. Literally. And though I imagine it must’ve been tough for B.I.G.’s family and friends to watch the reenactment of his death and funeral at the end of the film, everyone was in high spirits at the after-party gala at Roseland ballroom, where DJ Cassidy and D-Nice kept the old-school vibe going by spinning hip-hop and R&B classics from the 1990s. The guest of honor was sorely missed, but his spirit was certainly in the house.