LOS ANGELES: The murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls not only robbed hip-hop of two defining artists but also uncovered allegations of conspiracy, bloody rivalries and police corruption—shining a light on rap’s criminal underworld.
More than two decades later, with the killers still at large, the cold cases are being revisited in “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.,” a 10-part series to debut on the USA Network.
Christopher Wallace—who went by both Biggie Smalls and The Notorious B.I.G.—was killed at age 24 in a drive-by shooting as he visited Los Angeles on March 9, 1997, six months after Tupac, then 25, was gunned down in Las Vegas.
“Unsolved” chronicles the separate investigations of detectives Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel) and Russell Poole (Jimmi Simpson), with Marcc Rose reprising his Tupac from 2015 hip hop biopic “Straight Outta Compton” while newcomer Wavyy Jonez portrays Biggie.
“With every other story about Biggie and Tupac so far it’s like, ‘This is the take.’ Everything else is negated and vilified,” Simpson (“Westworld,” “House of Cards”), told AFP at the show’s premiere in Hollywood.
“This is, ‘Here’s a take, here’s a take, here’s a take and here’s a take—here’s four avenues of truth, and when you see them together you’ll understand what happened.’ It’s finally being told with ‘Unsolved.’”
Biggie and Tupac remain among the most iconic figures in rap, with fans worldwide drawn to Shakur’s emotional directness and theatrical flair, and his rival’s inventive wordplay and deft vocal delivery.
Under the monikers 2Pac or Makaveli, Tupac became one of the most identifiable figures in the early 1990s West Coast scene centered around Suge Knight’s Death Row Records. He struck up a friendship with Biggie, taking the younger rapper under his wing, but the two fell out.
Many believe they were slain as part of a rivalry between their music labels, LA-based Death Row and New York’s Bad Boy Entertainment, although some music historians say the coastal rift was exaggerated for commercial reasons.
Arriving in the wake of a glut of recent shows looking back at notorious 1990s “true crime,” from the O.J. Simpson trial and the Waco siege to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, “Unsolved” is the first narrative TV series chronicling the pair’s demise.
Both have been the subject of numerous documentaries, however, and have appeared as characters in several big screen biopics, notably last year’s “All Eyez On Me” and 2009’s “Notorious.”