Who killed Tupac Shakur and B.I.G.?

The murders of the two hip-hop artists remain unsolved almost two decades on and a new TV series revisits the cases

TV series Unsolved chronicles the investigations of the killings of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.
TV series Unsolved chronicles the investigations of the killings of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

LOS ANGELES • More than two decades later, with the killers still at large, the murders of hip-hop artists Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. are being revisited in a 10-part series.

Debuting on Tuesday on the USA Network, Unsolved: The Murders Of Tupac And The Notorious B.I.G. chronicles separate investigations, a decade apart, by detectives Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel) and Russell Poole (Jimmi Simpson).

Marcc Rose reprises his Shakur role from the 2015 hip-hop biopic Straight Outta Compton, while newcomer Wavyy Jonez portrays The Notorious B.I.G.

Christopher Wallace - who went by the names Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls - was killed at age 24 in a drive-by shooting as he visited Los Angeles on March 9, 1997. This was six months after Shakur, then 25, was gunned down in Las Vegas.

"With every other story about Biggie and Tupac so far, it's like, 'This is the take.' Everything else is negated and vilified," actor Simpson said at the show's premiere in Hollywood last week.

"This is, 'Here's a take, here's a take, here's a take and here's a take - here are four avenues of truth, and when you see them together you'll understand what happened.' It's finally being told with Unsolved."

Shakur and Biggie remain among the most iconic figures in rap, with fans drawn to the former's emotional directness and theatrical flair and the latter's inventive wordplay and deft vocal delivery.

Shakur became one of the most identifiable figures in the early 1990s West Coast scene centred on 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, Los Angeles' 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 "true crime" shows that look back at notorious 1990s cases - from the O.J. Simpson trial to the Waco siege - Unsolved is the first narrative series chronicling the rappers' 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.

Unsolved follows detective Kading as he assembles a joint law enforcement task force to take a fresh look 10 years later at the killing of Biggie and the earlier investigation led by detective Poole.

The real-life Poole, who was never able to let go of the case and went to his grave in 2015 obsessed with solving Biggie's murder, was "passionate to figure out why justice wasn't served", said Simpson.

The detective claimed both the 2002 documentary Biggie And Tupac and the 2002 book LAbyrinth that Los Angeles Police Department had conspired to cover up Knight's conspiracy to kill Tupac and Biggie.

Corrupt LAPD officer David Mack, who spent three years of a 14-year term in prison for bank robbery, was named in a wrongful death lawsuit from Biggie's family as one of three officers who conspired to murder the rapper, although the suit was dismissed in 2010.

Poole's partner, detective Fred Miller, testified to a federal jury in 2005 that a prison cellmate of Knight's said the Death Row Records founder had confessed to Biggie's murder.

Knight - who has been in jail in downtown Los Angeles since 2015 awaiting trial for murder over a separate hit-and-run killing - has always denied involvement.

"It gave me a lot more respect for what rappers do and who these two artists were, and the sadness of what happened to them.

"These were just two kids," said Jamie McShane, who plays Miller in Unsolved.

"It's ridiculous. They got murdered for nothing."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2018, with the headline 'Who killed Tupac Shakur and B.I.G.?'. Subscribe