Premiere: Celebrate Biggie’s Birthday With Two New Episodes Of ‘The SMALLS Family’
Today, on what would've been Chris Wallace a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.'s 41st birthday, hip-hop fans are given a good reason to take a look back on the legacy of the Brooklyn-bred MC. While Big's untimely death (as well as the events leading up to it) changed the trajectory of the genre in many ways, he left an incredible and un-fillable void with his music.
While fans across all demographics and social strata have celebrated Biggie by listening to his music and sharing his limited catalogue with friends and family, some of his biggest supporters have found ways to reinterpret his work to create their own Biggie-inspired art. Among them is David Catalano, a former music video director who created The SMALLS Family, a sitcom-esque webseries that reinterprets the lyrics from Biggie's most notable hits and turns them into a middle-class white family's dialogue.
Initially released a in March, the first three episodes of the series, fittingly titled "Warning," "Big Poppa" and "Going Back To Cali" have garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and were featured on Funny Or Die. Today, in honor of Biggie's birthday, Catalano has chosen to embrace his hip-hop audience by premiering the fourth and fifth episodes ("Unbelievable" and "Party & Bullshit") of the webseries with XXL. Check them out below, alongside a short Q/A about the series.
The first episode of The SMALLS Family premiered just over two months ago on Funny Or Die, and the series now has five episodes. How has the production process been?
David Catalano: It's been great. Right from the beginning, it was one of these things where I had an idea of something I'd wanted to do, but I had a lot of apprehension about it. I had apprehensions about if the actors could pull it off, if it could work, if it would be looked at as blasphemous by the hip-hop community… So, I didn't really sleep the night before we started shooting the first episode.
So you were nervous going into it?
I wouldn't call it nervous, it was more so just apprehension. As a filmmaker, you have a certain confidence, but at the same time you wonder, "How is this going to be received?" But once we got there and started shooting it, just felt so easy. Everybody was laughing, and I would look around and people would be cracking up, trying not to mess up the take. So at that point, I knew that I was onto something.
When you were casting your actors, did you feel like you had to overcompensate Biggie's lyrics by casting nerdy actors who would make the whole thing feel more ironic?
Yeah, a little bit. One of my director's notes was, "If you don't know how to deliver this line, just deliver it as white and nerdy as you possibly can." And that's where the comedy lies.
Were the actors Biggie fans before you started production, or did you have to school them on Biggie a little bit?
James, who plays the father, was a hip-hop fan, but he's from the Midwest so he has a straight-edge about him that a lot of people in the Northeast don't have. Then Jill, who plays the mother, is a bit of a hip-hop fan and she definitely has some swagger, but I had to take that swagger out of her so that she could deliver her lines straight. And Tess, who plays the daughter, had no idea who Biggie was. So I had to give her and her parents a little lesson, like a Biggie 101.
Did you have to contextualize the songs for them and break down what the lyrics meant?
Well, I would send over the scripts, then I would send over an e-mail attachment with a clean version of the Biggie song, and then I would talk to her and her parents about where I believed the comedy lies. There was a lot of apprehension on her parents' part because they weren't sure they wanted their daughter portraying some of these words, so I had to convince them that that's where the comedy lies, that if we could suggest or lead to certain things, we wouldn't have to show them.
But Biggie's lyrics are relatable in the sense that anybody could understand his problems.
Exactly, and that's totally what I was going for. Some of his content is definitely universal.
Continue reading for Episode 5 and the rest of the Q/A...
I feel like there's been an overwhelming amount of positive feedback on the series, but has there also been a lot of negative backlash?
There has, definitely. If I were to go to a percentage, it would be under 5%. People said things like, "Biggie's rolling over in his grave" and "This is blasphemous." There were other things said too, but it's online, where people want to have negative reactions. I'm used to it. But I thought the negativity would come in a much bigger wave, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was such a small percentage that was weeded out by the fans.
Today would've been Biggie's 41st birthday, and it's a sad day because we're reminded that he's not here, but it's also a positive day when we celebrate his legacy and his catalogue. What do you want to celebrate about Biggie with The SMALLS Family?
To me, Biggie's passing was an end of an era for hip-hop. I came up during the days of Boogie Down and Public Enemy and EPMD, and then Biggie came around. But once he was gone, I believe hip-hop changed and I believe culture changed. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't really have a true love for hip-hop after Biggie's passing, and I think that the Golden Era was over once Biggie died. He was also at the peak of his popularity at a very influential time in my life, so I feel like he spoke to me on a different and personal level, so I always took that with me. And I always felt like if I ever had the opportunity, I wanted to honor him as a filmmaker.
Are these two going to be the last two episodes in the series?
I have two more written, which I hope will be on a higher scale and higher production value. Right now I'm looking for other actors or possibly sponsors to take this a bit further. But that's always been the big question, like how far can I take this? There's a part of me that wants to do every Biggie song, but he only has a certain amount of songs that are widely recognized. I think part of maintaining the quality of the series will be only using the Biggie songs that are widely recognized. If I were to go to songs that were deeper cuts, it would be satisfying to me but the series would lose a bit of the luster because the audience wouldn't relate to them as well.
So with these two new episodes, what do you want your audience to know?
I would love them to know that The SMALLS Family is a regular family. It's a mom and a dad trying to raise a complicated teenage daughter, and people can relate to that struggle. That's a lot of what's disguised in these episodes - that's our narrative through-line - and we want to create real circumstances that families go through. And again, we want to make Biggie's lyrics the centerpiece of it all in a way that we pay homage to Big and bring his lyrics to a new audience. We want to show his lyrics in a way that they could be looked at by someone who's unfamiliar with Big but could relate to these characters.