I remember when Tupac Shakur and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace passed away because it was all over the news, the radio, and MTV. Tupac passed away on September 13, 1996 and Biggie on March 9, 1997. They were 25 and 24 years old, respectively. At the time I was living in Miami, which was and will always be a hip-hop town, and I remember all the chatter and speculation about what happened and who was responsible. People were devastated, enraged, sad, and confused. Were the deaths related? Was there really an East Coast/West Coast rap war going on? Adding to the eeriness of the deaths was that, two weeks after Biggie was shot, his double album Life After Death was released.
Twenty years later, the most shocking, confusing, and eerie part is the fact that both murders remain unsolved. How is it possible that no one knows what happened? I’m not big on conspiracies but I do find the music aspect of these untimely deaths as interesting as they are tragic which is why I decided to watch USA’s Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. While my expectations weren’t high (how could they possibly make an old story interesting?), when I saw that Josh Duhamel and Bokeem Woodbine were two of the lead actors playing detectives I was excited.
Throughout the 10-episode season, Unsolved shifts back and forth between two timelines that show LAPD detectives trying to solve the controversial Tupac/Biggie murders. The first starts in 1997 when Detective Russell Poole (Jimmi Simpson) delves into the murders and comes up with a theory that LA police officers were involved via Suge Knight and Death Row Records. The other timeline begins in 2006 when a task force headed by Detective Greg Kading (Duhamel) is assigned to look into Biggie’s death as a result of a lawsuit filed by the rapper’s mother, Voletta Wallace.
Both Kading and Poole become obsessed with the case (especially Poole) as they constantly take two steps forward only to take five steps back when theories don’t add up or witnesses refuse to talk. Everyone seems to be covering someone’s ass which leads to Kading and Poole (who never actually work together) having to start over again and spending years on the case. It’s tough watching the devastation that ensues after they think they find their perpetrator only to realize that they don’t. The phrase “It’s not what you believe, it’s what you can prove” comes up a lot which endlessly frustrates everyone involved. One of the most heartbreaking aspects is watching Poole lose his family because of his obsession with the case and, in the end, the stress of it all literally kills him.
But all of the theories, cops, detectives, hip hop artists, and sketchiness aside, what makes Unsolved so interesting is that, even though we know what happens, the show still keeps the audience on its toes. I liked watching the detectives bob and weave through their evidence and suspects, the way Tupac and Biggie’s friendship is so kindheartedly depicted before it all goes to hell, and how both rappers’ mothers play enormous roles in their lives. Those women are tough, smart, and resourceful. And they love their sons no matter what.
While the actor who plays Biggie (Wavyy Jonez) looks similar to him, the actor who plays Tupac (Marcc Rose) looks EXACTLY like him. As a viewer, you almost forget that it’s not Tupac. The way he walks, talks, and dresses – all of it. The similarities are uncanny. One issue I noticed was that none of the music was present. I assumed they couldn’t get the licensing, which was correct, but I wanted to know why. I found out that the powers that be are extremely restrictive with music rights when a plot has anything to do with actual events. For example, using a Biggie song in a show that isn’t about him is fine, but when a show is about him music rights aren’t going to happen. Same with Tupac – apparently, it’s nearly impossible to get the rights to any of his material.
And why shouldn’t it be? With all the controversy surrounding these murders people sometimes forget how legendary Tupac and Biggie truly are and will always be. A few impressive stats: Tupac has sold over 75 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. In fact, his double-disc albums All Eyez on Me (1996) and his Greatest Hits (1998) are among the best-selling albums in the United States. Additionally, in April 2017, Shakur was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Similarly, Biggie’s Life After Death was certified Diamond in 2000 by the Recording Industry Association of America, one of the few hip-hop albums to receive this certification. He also has certified sales of 17 million units in the United States, including 13.4 million albums.
If you’re a fan of detective shows and/or the stories behind the demise of two incredibly talented hip-hop artists then Unsolved is the show for you. Although aspects of the perpetrator-heavy narrative can sometimes be difficult to follow, the fact that it’s based on real events makes it even more appealing. Bottom line – if this wasn’t a true story no one would believe it.