'Unsolved' Seeks Truth in Deaths of Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G.

The new USA Network miniseries' cast and crew discusses diving down the murder mysteries rabbit hole and portraying hip-hop's most iconic artists.
Courtesy of USA Network

Music's biggest mysteries are coming to television on Tuesday with the premiere of USA Networks's Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., a 10-episode scripted true crime miniseries based on the iconic rappers' deaths less in 1996 and 1997. The show tells the story in three parallel narratives set years apart, examining the events that transpired leading up to and following the artists' fatal drive-by shootings and the police investigations that followed. In it, viewers are brought down the rabbit hole of this almost Shakespearean tragedy along with the obsessive detectives that sought justice. 

By his own admission, series creator and executive producer Kyle Long (Suits) has been "obsessed" with Tupac Shakur and Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace's deaths since his move to Los Angeles about 20 years ago and had a job working next to the Petersen Automotive Museum, in front of which Wallace was killed. Speaking with Billboard, Long explained that he has read all the books on the murders and seen all the documentaries, but what clicked for him in conceiving an adaptation for TV was when he learned of the Los Angeles Police Department task force run by detective Greg Kading in 2006 that reopened the initial investigation.

Long said after meeting Kading and reading his self-published book, Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder, he began to understand how to best tell this story as he started seeing similarities between Kading and LAPD detective Russell Poole, who led the department's initial investigation of Wallace's murder. "They were very different people, but the case really kind of got a hold of them, and there's a very similar journey," he said. 

In the course of creating the show, the case has likewise gotten a hold of Long and the rest of the cast and crew. "I think I know as much about this thing as anybody," he said. "I'm constantly thinking about it, constantly meeting new people that have some interesting story. It definitely has kept me up at night."

Josh Duhamel, who plays Kading and was able to rely on the former detective for advice during filming, became similarly absorbed in the investigation. He called it a "labyrinth," a "matrix of information" and "a giant, confusing puzzle at times," noting the intricacies of the many characters involved and their affiliations. 

"You have to understand who these people are, where they're from," he said. "It's not just a Crip, it's a Southside Crip or it's Piru Mob. Like, what is Piru Mob? I didn't know what that was, and it's part of the Bloods, it's this sub-gang of a gang, and then there's sub-gangs of sub-gangs. And sometimes it's like, why is he talking to him? I thought he was a Blood, how is he connected to him? It's truly fascinating how they were able to sort of unravel this thing and look at it for what it really was."

Added Bokeem Woodbine, who plays officer Daryn Dupree, an investigator on the 2006 task force with Kading: "There's been so much rumor and Innuendo, conjecture about what happened to Tupac and Biggie, that actually getting down to brass tacks and dealing with the minutiae of info that goes along with solving a murder is fascinating, and one of the most fascinating elements of it is the sheer volume of coincidence and bizarre simpatico, and sometimes in a nefarious fashion, like the fact that one person might be here at the same time that this person is here, and this leads to that."

"I mean, you could write some of this stuff and people wouldn't believe it's true, because the coincidences are bizarre and there's a multitude of them. There's a lot of things that happened that just defy logic in a way because they're integral parts of the investigation, but it's almost like if one thing was one degree this direction or that direction, this would have happened. But things fell in line in such a perfect, awful way that it almost seems as though it was orchestrated universally somehow."

Through Unsolved's three timelines, viewers gain unique insight into the trajectory of Shakur and Wallace's relationship from friends to foes with the knowledge that it ultimately ends in their deaths. Through this means, Long and executive producer and director Anthony Hemingway (The People v. O.J. Simpson) approach the rappers less as icons and more as young men. Shakur was just 25 when he died, and Wallace was 24; both were enjoying and being overwhelmed by their newfound fame and the pressures surrounding them. In the first episode, we see Shakur (played by Marcc Rose) and Wallace (played by Wavyy Jonez) meet for the first time in 1993 before they go on to live it up drinking, smoking, freestyling, praising each others' talents and even running around treating glocks as if they were toy guns. 

"It's so stupid — that all that happened for real," says Long. "We found that it's a real event. They met each other and then, like little boys, they ran around with real guns having fun. I wouldn't have put that in the show if we'd made it up because it's ridiculous, but the fact that happened for real is fascinating. And there's a lot of stuff like that in the show — people are gonna be like, 'What?' — that really happened."

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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