On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. On March 9, 1997, the Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in a similar fashion in Los Angeles. The murders remain two of the most infamous unsolved cases in music history.
UNSOLVED: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., Tuesday at 10/9c on USA, is a 10-episode scripted take of the true crime that continues to captivate fans in hip-hop and beyond. Chronicling the work of former LAPD detectives Greg Kading (played by Josh Duhamel) and Russell Poole (played by Jimmi Simpson), the series explores the relationship between Shakur and B.I.G., which began as a friendship and then spiraled into an all-out coastal feud. The series is helmed by Emmy winner Anthony Hemingway (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story). Kading, whose controversial book "Murder Rap," alleges that the crimes are interconnected and involve a complicated web featuring Death Row Records’ Marion “Suge” Knight, Bad Boy Records’ Sean “Diddy” Combs and Los Angeles police, serves as co-executive producer. Neither Knight nor Combs have ever been officially connected to either murder.
Prior to his death, the Notorious B.I.G. (real name Christopher Wallace) was in Los Angeles. He was in high spirits. His sophomore album, Life After Death, was out and he was celebrating at a Vibe party. The festivities would end in a drive-by shooting that would take his life. The series begins with Biggie speaking to his mother on the phone prior to the incident. “Listen, be careful,” she warns him. “Ma. How many times do I got to tell you? I’m safe here,” he assures her. “You got nothing to worry about. I love you, Ma.”
We fast-forward to Kading in a diner. It’s 10 years after Biggie’s murder. Kading is a hot shot from narcotics and is enlisted to help the homicide division of the LAPD. Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, has filed a $400 million lawsuit against the LAPD. She believes there was a massive conspiracy to cover up her son’s murder, based upon the work of Poole, by the LAPD. “Is my objective to solve this case or cover the department’s ass?” asks Kading. His superior tells him to follow the case— wherever it leads.
We then jump back in time, nine days after Biggie’s murder. Two men get into an altercation on the streets of Los Angeles. A high-speed chase ensues. One of the men, who is white, is actually an undercover narcotics officer. The other man, who is black, flashes a gang sign and ends up being killed.
Poole is called to the scene of the shooting. He investigates and sees that the victim is Kevin Gaines. He has a gun and a Death Row Records CD in his car. His identification says that he is also an undercover officer. Poole reveals that the car Gaines was driving is registered to Knight’s wife. “I want to know why a police officer would be driving Suge Knight’s wife’s car,” he asks.
Poole and his partner interview the wife who affirms that she was dating the cop. “Suge and I haven’t been together for a long time…Our marriage was a piece of paper,” she says. She reveals that Gaines met Knight, who is incarcerated at the time, and even worked security for Death Row Records artist Snoop Dogg. After doing more digging, Poole realizes that Gaines has had other road rage incidents while off-duty. He also lived a flashy lifestyle, including steak dinners and Versace shirts. Poole wonders if Gaines worked for Knight on the side but his superior doesn’t like optics. Poole continues his investigation and ultimately gets surveillance footage that exonerates the white cop.
Poole wants to keep digging into Gaines but he has been assigned to work the Biggie case. “This is the kind of case we should be working,” says Poole. He has extensive gang experience but theorizes that the East Coast vs. West Coast rap feud may be a part of the incident. Poole gets the rundown of the party and what happened in the moments before Biggie was killed. There are two composites of a man in a bowtie with glasses. “We don’t have any leads,” says the original detective on the case. “Latest lead we have points to a Crip.” That gang member is Keffe D. “There’s something about this guy.” When asked about motive, he says that a confidential source said the altercation was over unpaid security work. Poole begins to think that the Biggie shooting wasn’t gang-related but actually a professional hit.
Elsewhere, Kading starts the daunting task of going through the Biggie evidence. He is expressly told that he isn’t allowed to talk to Poole or anyone named in the lawsuit. He begins to recruit his team of investigators. While listening to Biggie, they begin their work. Kading’s partner is a fan of Biggie and Pac and an aficionado of the case.
Poole is frustrated by the pace of the investigation. He’s low on resources and his leads are dry, until a fellow officer discovers that Keffe D got a speeding ticket while driving an unregistered Chevy Impala, matching the car ID'd in Biggie’s murder. They bust into a home and find Keffe’s vehicle, which doesn’t lead to much. Keffe turns himself in and says he’ll cooperate. “I’m here. Ask what you got to.” Keffe said that he knew Biggie “a little bit” but he won’t reveal more information. Poole asserts that the murder of Biggie is connected to Shakur’s and he wants to talk to the Las Vegas Police Department. His partner is less than thrilled.
Poole is then visited by Voletta Wallace. “Why haven’t you called me?” she asks him. “I care. I care very much,” he assures her. He asks for any information that might be useful. “I only knew about Christopher, so no. I cannot help you,” she says. “I just wanted to meet the man in charge.” She then waxes on her son: “I never even listened to his music until after he died,” she says. “His songs were grotesque stories…But they also read so beautifully to me…All this stuff about him and Tupac. They were friends.”
The episode flashes back to a moment when Shakur and Biggie were friends. We see them joking and admiring each other’s work. Shakur says he can’t stop listening to the New York rapper’s “Party & Bullshit.” “I’m just trying to be like you,” says Biggie. They hang out at Shakur’s home. They rap together and enjoy good vibes, which includes a gun fight in the sprinklers. “This business is dirty,” Shakur warns. “You gotta keep you boys close.”
Poole sits in his car, defeated. As he mulls the case—and his life—his partner knocks on the window. They’ve got a break in the case. Keffe D has a nephew named Orlando Anderson. “He might be the guy who killed Tupac,” says the partner. Poole and his partner decide they need to go to Las Vegas and look into this explosive information.
Back at the station, Kading and his partner go through the evidence. “I just want to solve this thing,” he says. “Wherever it leads.”
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