It’s been more than 20 years since the tragic murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace, and memories of many details may have faded. In particular, it’s been nearly forgotten that despite all the hype of an East Coast/West Coast rap war at the time, Tupac and Biggie were initially pals — and respected each other’s craft.
USA’s new series “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.,” focuses on the failed investigations into the murders of both hip-hop stars, killed when they were in their 20s and at the height of their fame. Was it a function of the so-called East Coast-West Coast rap wars at the time? Was it a gang hit? And were rogue cops from the LAPD involved? Plenty of theories have been bandied about through the years, and “Unsolved” dives into those details with new gusto.
But “Unsolved” also takes time to show the tragedy of what could have been a great friendship, marred instead by the people around them.
Series showrunner Kyle Long worked along with director and executive producer Anthony Hemingway to craft “Unsolved,” and they found two fresh faces to play Tupac and Biggie: Marcc Rose, briefly seen in “Straight Outta Compton,” and Wavyy Jonez, an aspiring hip-hop star who got the role after answering an open casting call.
Hemingway, Rose, and Jonez recently stopped by IndieWire to discuss “Unsolved,” Tupac and Biggie with IndieWire’s Turn It On podcast. Listen below!
Hemingway was first hesitant about joining “Unsolved”: “As an artist, you look to continue to spread your wings, and the year prior I had done a pilot that was similar. It wasn’t until I read it that I saw it’s so much bigger than what they think. Most perceptions were that this is a documentary and it’s not. To be able to humanize these two young men and really have this ability to give a love letter to our culture, and see how it resonates to today, is incredible.”
Rose had previously played Tupac in a bit part on “Straight Outta Compton,” and has for years been stopped in the street because of his resemblance to the star. (He tells of how he used to work at The Grove shopping center, and would be mobbed by tourists — much to his boss’ chagrin.)
“Sometimes I see it and sometimes I don’t,” Rose said of the resemblance.
Tupac’s brother Mopreme Shakur was on set, and gave his blessing, but the Wallace family declined to respond to requests to take part — although Aisha Hinds, who plays Biggie’s mother Voletta Wallace, did have a conversation with her.
“With any of these stories, it demands a level of sensitivity and respect,” Hemingway said. “Knowing that from the beginning and knowing we were all in sync on that, we reached out, writing letters to the estates and trying to at least open up the conversation or let them know that we were out here and doing this. The intention and hope was to have a dialogue and a connection. That way they could hear us and feel us and try to convey our intentions. To not get the response wasn’t surprising but it also wasn’t off-putting.”
Do Jonez and Rose have a better idea of who may have been behind the murders? “After doing ‘Unsolved’ and seeing all the information we got in 10 episodes, I had to sit back and it really messed me up,” Rose said. “I don’t know. I just know its unfortunate.”
Quipped Jonez: “By the time ‘Unsolved’ wraps, I think I’ll know everything.”
“Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA Network.
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.