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.
“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."
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."
“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.