Courtesy of USA


'Unsolved' Stars Discuss Lingering Mystery of Tupac and Biggie's Deaths

The famous East Coast-West Coast hip-hop beef in the '90s had been going on a while, but it entered the public stratosphere in 1995 at the Source Awards when Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight famously took a very public dig at Sean Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, during his televised acceptance speech for the Above the Rim soundtrack. The jab was met with a room full of boos from the New York crowd.

This geographic rivalry, which got hyped up by the media and helped launch hip-hop into a whole new height of mainstream popularity, eventually led to the death of Tupac Shakur in September 1996, and six months later, that of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G. Or at least, that explanation is one popular theory on these much-speculated-upon unsolved murders. The topic has already been explored at great length in movies, books and documentaries, but the new USA series Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. digs deep into the case over the course of 10 episodes. The show explores the two major police investigations of Wallace’s murder in 1997 and 2006, as well as examining the role that the beef between Shakur and Wallace may have played, starting back at a time not as many people are aware of: when the two were close friends.

“When you hear of Tupac or Biggie, a lot of people get so excited by the small instance of the East Coast-West Coast beef that took place. A lot of people don't know that they were actually friends,” Marcc Rose—who portrays Shakur on the series, as well as in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton—tells Playboy. “You see them laughing at each other's jokes, just doing things that regular friends would do, hanging out and talking. You never see that with those two. I really believe we were able to capture that.”

"For fans of Biggie and Tupac that have been yearning for justice, they're never going to get it. There will never be judicial prosecution in this case."
The murders of Shakur and Wallace have been a lifelong obsession for series creator Kyle Long, who moved to L.A. right around the time of Wallace's death, and ever since has read everything he could get his hands on about these cases. Director and executive producer Anthony Hemingway also played a major role in the project. They worked closely with Greg Kading, the real-life lead detective on the 2006 investigation of Wallace’s murder, whose thoughts on the results were articulated in his 2011 book, Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations. They met with the rappers' friends and family, police officers and employees of Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records, and flushed out every detail to make the production as accurate as possible. “A big goal of the show was to try to get everyone's point of view in,” says Long. “I framed it as, ‘This is what happened. This is what the police were doing.’

Hopefully, the audience will be able to make up their own mind. There's still a lot of unanswered questions. I really tried to be fair about it.”

In each episode, the series cuts between the three separate timelines: the two investigations, as well as the relationship of Tupac and Biggie, showing the arc from their relationship as fast friends in 1993 to a slow erosion into rivalry due to a series of miscommunications and bad input from the people close to them.

The premiere episode contains several moving scenes with Tupac and Biggie. Wallace looked up to Shakur, who seemed to really want to take the Brooklyn native under his wing. One scene shows them hanging out with some friends and taking turns freestyling and laughing without a care in the world. These scenes were based on input Long got from the rappers’ family and friends.

"My take on it is, if they hadn't been murdered, eventually they would have gotten over this."
“It was very surreal, growing up listening to Biggie, and listening to Tupac, researching and going back and exploring who the Notorious B.I.G.—not only as the Notorious B.I.G., but also who Christopher Wallace—was,” says actor Wavyy Jonez, who portrays Wallace. “To be able to speak to people that they knew or that love them, to be able to see the friendship firsthand, was the greatest part about it.” The 1997 investigation is probably the storyline that's been most examined by previous films and books. LAPD detective Russell Poole became obsessed with the Wallace case and was convinced that dirty cops were involved with the murder. He was taken off the case, and eventually retired in 1999. He died in 2015 of a heart attack at 58, while working on a book about the case.

“He's a fascinating character, really kind of a tragic character,” Long says. “There's not been a lot about the 2006 investigation. I don't think people that are really geeks about this even know much about what the task force actually did.”

Not only was Kading’s investigation less public than Poole’s, but his conclusions were different. In the three years he led the investigation, he examined the same evidence with the lens of hindsight and tested what he felt was any credible theory on the murders, concluding that Shakur’s murder was ordered by Combs. He contends that Combs also ordered Knight’s murder, but he survived. In retaliation, Knight ordered Wallace’s murder, according to Kading.

“Our investigative strategy was to keep the investigation as covert as possible. We didn't want to alert people to the idea that there's a reinvigorated investigation into these murders because that doesn't give us the element of advantage,” Kading tells Playboy. “Through a process of elimination, we got down to the one that couldn't be disproved and actually had all the evidence to support it.”

It’s a sprawling examination of the lives of Shakur and Wallace—not to mention the lives of the detectives who dove deep into their murders, each with incredible obsession to the detriment of their personal lives—all while examining the facts of the cases themselves from as many sources as possible. Rather than follow one single theory, Long tried to give the audience enough facts for them to make up their own minds.

“The whole point, really, is to provide information that the audience hasn't had previously and to illustrate it in a way that they can connect the dots,” Kading explains. “For fans of Biggie and Tupac that have been yearning for justice, they’re never going to get it. There will never be judicial prosecution in this case. But they can have closure. People can finally sit back and say, ‘I know what happened.’”

There’s a lot to take away from Unsolved. But a big point, Long says, is just how young—and unprepared for fame and wealth—everyone involved in these incidents were at the time.

“My take on it is, if they hadn't been murdered, eventually they would have gotten over this. It does seem like Tupac was conflicted by a lot of the stuff. Biggie, his heart was never in any of this stuff,” Long says. “I really didn't want to judge anyone in the show, even Suge Knight. These were young men. They weren't perfect. There was a lot going on.”


Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. premieres Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 10/9c on USA.

Related Topics

Explore Categories