After more than 20 years, the question of who killed Biggie and Tupac remains complicated. It’s a twisty maze of a thing embedded in gang violence, hip-hop, cops, and a conspiracy rooted in the Death Row and Bad Boy eras of rap music. The question of this unsolved mystery alone has fueled a number of high profile television and movie productions.
The latest of them, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G, kicked off late last month with a rousing first episode. And so far, the series is well-received. It’s a satisfying turn for people who are into police procedurals, hip-hop and the relationship between two of music’s largest icons.
The 10-episode series, which airs every Tuesday night on USA Network, marked its second episode the same week as the 21st anniversary of Biggie Small’s fatal shooting in Los Angeles on March 9. Before that, the show’s first episode contained a riveting and sad flashback sequence that showed the moment Biggie (played by rapper Wavyy Jonez, Tupac is played by Marcc Rose) was gunned down in his SUV following the Soul Train Awards in 1997. It seems this story, one of friendship and later murder, is something the public will never tire of.
But past attempts to dramatize the greatest pair of hip-hop cold case murders have mostly failed. Critically speaking, neither the Notorious B.I.G biopic Notorious (2009) or last year’s All Eyez On Me about Tupac’s life impressed anyone. They were merely frustrating exercises in making movie versions of one of the heights of 90s rap.
The Unsolved series also follows a recent television special on Fox called Who Shot Biggie and Tupac?, which aired in September. In that show, Ice-T helps interview the who’s who of rap dignitaries about the murders.
But why are we constantly reminded all the time of the genius of these two rappers and their early demises, especially when they haven’t made for the most compelling cinema thus far?
There are a handful of unsolved or disputed rapper murders that could make for good TV instead. There’s Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay’s unsolved killing, the murder of Harlem, NY rapper Big L, Bay Area-California rapper Mac Dre, and New Orleans spitter Soldier Slim, just to name a few.
Still, the soap-opera-like relationship between Biggie and Tupac, a West Coast vs. East Coast rap beef that was egged on by glossy magazine covers and songs remains the most universal. As Unsolved co-producer Mike Dorsey said in a Reddit Q&A on the series: “I think that Unsolved shows that you don’t have to be a diehard rap fan to appreciate this story—the complexity of the case, the story of a friendship that fell apart and led to both friends being murdered within months of each other.”
That sums up the appeal of this incredibly bingeable series, of course, until the next Biggie and Tupac television show rolls around.