Tupac Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas in 1996 at the age of 25, at the height of his rap superstardom. The Notorious B.I.G. was slain in Los Angeles in 1997, at the age of 24. There have been multiple inquiries into the motives behind their deaths, but the details surrounding Pac and Biggie’s murders remain inexplicable. A new USA Networks scripted true crime series, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., takes a closer look at their cold cases.
On February 19, the network held a private screening of the premiere episode at an intimate theater at 1 Hotel, nestled near the East River in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. Hip-hop vets Doug E. Fresh, 50 Cent, and director Anthony Hemingway (The People v. O.J. Simpson), were on board to celebrate the latest project exploring the lives of hip-hop’s saintly icons.
“The death of both these brothers transformed the way that we view hip-hop,” Doug E. Fresh, who was friends with both Biggie and Tupac, said before the screening began. “There was a wall between the east and the west and that wall was broken down because of the lives that was [sic] taken and it changed the face of the way we do things now.”
The story will unfold in 10 episodes. The first installment explores a range of views: how racism within the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) possibly influenced the quality of the investigation into Biggie’s death; how LAPD officers may have colluded with Death Row Records head, Suge Knight, to cover up details surrounding the rappers’ murders; and on a lighter note, visuals of Biggie and Tupac’s friendship before they were divided by the violent East coast-West coast rap feud.
Hemingway, who directed the first five episodes of the series, said he was honored to bring a fuller depiction of the artists to the small screen. “[To have] the opportunity to humanize them and tell a story that we have not been able to tell before, especially leaning into their friendship, is beyond exciting,” Hemingway told CASSIUS. “Because of the unfortunate tragedies, all we’ve been given by the media is the beef. And that’s all we’ve really taken away from them. They’ve contributed much more than that.”
The premiere focuses on the 1997 murder of Biggie, played by newcomer Wavyy Jonez. Unsolved shies away from a linear storytelling flow. Instead the script navigates three time periods in one episode for multiple perspectives on the murders.
One narrative explores how B.I.G. and Tupac—played by Marcc Rose (who also portrayed Shakur in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton)—met and grew to relate to each other.
Another looks at the initial 1997 homicide investigation into Biggie’s death. LAPD detective Russell Poole, played by Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) led the investigation. Poole later published his findings in two books LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. (2003) and in Chaos Merchants: Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG (2016).
The third subplot follows former LAPD investigator Greg Kading, portrayed by Josh Duhamel (Transformers: The Last Knight). He led the 2006 task force that reopened Biggie’s case. The officers revisited the case after Biggie’s mother Voletta Wallace—Brooklyn’s own Aisha Hinds nails Ms. Wallace’s motherly love and Jamaican accent—filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the department. In 2011, Kading published his findings in Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations.
Unsolved draws some inspiration from Kading’s Murder Rap and several source materials including news stories and interviews from the era, according to Hemingway. The many outlooks offered in the series challenges viewers to see all sides of the deadly incidents. Hemingway wants those who tune in to Unsolved to use these various viewpoints to reflect on how personal decisions can impact everyone around us, for better or for worse.
“[It’s about] learning how to deal with our differences because one action can be a domino effect to something tragic we never intended on happening,” explained Hemingway. “You know, that’s a thing I really hope and pray that people are able to think about—their actions.”
Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. premieres Tuesday, February 27 at 10 p.m. EST on USA Network.