Why the Tupac and Biggie Docudrama Won’t Focus on the Artists’ Music

Cast and crew of "Unsolved" on the importance of focusing on the duo's murders.

February 26, 2018 5:00 am
Pictured: (l-r) Wavyy Jonez as Christopher "Biggie" Wallace, Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur. (Photo by: James Minchin III/USA Network.)
Pictured: (l-r) Wavyy Jonez as Christopher "Biggie" Wallace, Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur. (Photo by: James Minchin III/USA Network.)
James Minchin III/USA Network

It’s one of music greatest mysteries. Scratch that, it could be argued that it’s one of the most ‘notorious’ mysteries of all time.

Spanning nearly 20 years, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.  explores the dual police investigations–one in 1997 and the other in 2006–into the murders of these iconic American artists. Murders that, incredibly, remain un-prosecuted to this day.

The series goes beyond the headlines, exploring the complicated friendship between B.I.G. and Tupac and delving into a culture that both defined them and was forever changed in the wake of their untimely death.

Portraying The Notorious B.I.G, also known as ‘Biggie,’ who’s given name was Christopher Wallace, is Wavyy Jonez, in his first onscreen role.

Anthony Hemingway, who serves as an executive producer and director on the series, revealed at a recent press event, “We found Wavyy through doing a search over social media. He had such a natural approach to it that was obvious from his iPhone audition that he sent to us.”

Jonez, a musician in his own right, said, “Being a hip hop artist, it meant a lot to me to actually go back to find out who Christopher Wallace was, [he was] more than just Notorious B.I.G.”

Playing Tupac, Marcc Rose said, “I’m used to seeing him as just an artist and not really knowing what was underneath that, why he said certain things, why he did certain things. For me, finding his layers and peeling those off, I was able to see that we relate in so many ways.”

The friendship between Tupac and Biggie was the creative team’s entry point into the story, said Hemingway. “We tap into the innocence of who these guys were before celebrity.”

He added, “We’re so used to the media having told so many negative stories about Tupac and Biggie. This is our opportunity to really lay into their friendship and understand them as human beings.”

As for the narrative, series creator and showrunner Kyle Long said, “This show is crazy accurate. One of the things about this story is, if you made it up, people wouldn’t believe it. It’s going to be one of those shows where people say, ‘Did that really happen,’ and then like the next day, it’s like, ‘Yeah, this really happened.’ There’s some dramatic license taken to compress events, but it is very, very accurate, because I couldn’t have made up stuff better than what happened.”

Hemingway said that he was excited to humanize the men and show, ‘opposite sides of the same coin.’

“One of our major themes of the show is perception and how perception challenges your best judgment sometimes,” he explained.

“One of the questions that we constantly ask as we have [move] through the season was ‘Who could they have been today,’” revealed co-producer and music supervisor, Lyah Beth LeFlore. “Both of them had very strong, prolific voices and [were] able to affect a generation. They really were speaking for voices that are unheard. That was the exciting thing about this.”

In telling this story, LeFlore pointed out that in addition to highlighting the two men, “We had the opportunity to explore from 1993 to 2007, a time that feels like kind of the golden age of hip hop and R&B music.”

But, the series actually features very little of the real music created by the duo. “I always anticipated this,” explained Long. [The families are] notoriously restrictive [with the music.] I never conceived the show in a way that we were going to be super dependent on the music. I know that sounds a bit odd, but I think when people watch, they’ll understand that it’s much more about them as young men. We were trying to humanize them. But, yeah, obviously, would it be fantastic to get the music.”

The issues presented in the narrative are applicable to present day, said LeFlore. “You look at now and talk about Black Lives Matter and their music was reflective of that. We capture that spirit and that energy [in the show], and it’s very relevant to many of the issues that we are dealing with right now with young black men and gun violence.”

Mark Taylor, an executive producer on the series, added, “Their legacy is more than music. It is all about how they affected the people in their lives, how they affected the people who loved their music.”

Even if you aren’t into hip hop the series is universal in nature, says Bokeem Woodbine, who plays one of the investigating officers. “This is a very important show. You’re going to draw so much wisdom and understanding from the time period, and you’re going to get a real insight that has not been given before.”

‘Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G’. airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on USA.


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