Tupac Shakur, American rapper, was mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting on September 7th, 1996, in Las Vegas, Nevada. He would later die in the hospital on September 13th, 1996. His murder has never been solved.
Christopher (Notorious B.I.G.) Wallace, American rapper, was mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting on March 9th, 1997. He died within the hour.
For over 20 years the world has wondered, speculated, and accused. Who killed these young men, these two bright and shining stars of rap? Was Pac’s death a result of rivalry and Biggie’s the result of revenge? Or was the rivalry manufactured simply to sell music? Were they actually friends as many have said? And why, after over 20 years, have their murders never been solved?
On February 27th, USA network will air a limited true-crime series that will explore all of these questions and more: Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. The two young men in the title roles are Marcc Rose as Tupac and newcomer Wavyy Jonez as Biggie.
The casting of the leads was unusual for different reasons. Rose had actually already played Tupac in Straight Outta Compton, but the amount of time he spent on-screen amounted to a cameo. In Unsolved, his role is going to be much larger and more challenging. Jonez had never been in a film or television show before he was discovered by producers during a nationwide talent search, so he needed to learn everything from the ground up.
I caught up with Rose and Jonez a few days ago and learned a few things about them, their connection to the characters they play, and their plans for the future.
Rose, on the difference between the playing Tupac in Straight Outta Compton and in Unsolved:
“This time around it was a lot different. In Straight Outta Compton I just got a chance to play him in a one-dimensional kind of view. You got to see Pac in the studio. But now in Unsolved, I get a chance, luckily, to unpeel the layers to show Tupac’s core, showing him not just as an artist, but as a person. So, we get ten episodes to dive into Pac’s character. This time around, the pressure is definitely there. But for me, I think that the thing that was so dope this time around was to have Anthony Hemingway, the director, and Kyle Long, the writer—just having them around and just nurturing and just helping me hone my craft made it that much more fulfilling.”
Wavyy, on the experience of being cast is his first acting job:
“Actually, somebody hit me up about it, that it was an open casting call looking for Tupac, Puffy and Biggie. At first, I thought it was a scam, so I wasn’t going to do it, but then I was like, ‘Okay, let me try it out.’ And I did and they called me back and said, ‘The producers want to fly you out to test for the role of Notorious. B.I.G.’ It was so surreal. It was definitely an unconventional route for me. I never thought anything like this could happen. My whole family was very proud.”
On the most challenging part of filming Unsolved:
Rose: “I would say the most challenging part for me…was the death scene. It was real hard for me to put myself in his shoes because we all know ultimately what happened at the end. We shot [the series] out here in LA, [though] we did go to Vegas to shoot that scene where it actually happened. So, we were on the strip, we were on the boulevard, I was in the car, and the gunshots were in the window. And so you know, reliving that had to be the hardest part of the series. But again, Wavyy was there with me. He wasn’t even filming that day but he came out to Vegas and made sure I was good, and made sure I wasn’t in my head too much, because a lot of the time I was. I would say that was the hardest, but I got through it.
Jonez: “Just being a fan of these two artists, it was a very emotional time to actually go through this and to actually think about, ‘Wow these two dudes lost their lives, and they [had] family members and friends and so many people around them that loved them, and such bright careers ahead of both of them.’ It was definitely a tough thing to have to think about. Greatness can often be imitated but never duplicated. I knew I couldn’t be B.I.G., but I could come close to being, to represent in this series who he was.
On the most fulfilling part of filming Unsolved:
Rose: “Just being able to tell the story this way. A lot of times when you hear about Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace a lot of people get so excited about the East Coast-West Coast beef, and, you know, to be able to tell the story from this angle and show their friendship and their humanity and show that there was an actual investigation going to find the killers of these two icons, you know, that’s what was rewarding for me.”
Jonez: “As far as something that was good about the whole thing, like Marcc said we get the opportunity to tell the story of what happened to these two gentlemen, and that they were friends, and that there was an investigation behind everything, and just being able to work with everybody, the whole cast and crew were just phenomenal. Just to be able to work with Marcc Rose, Anthony Hemmingway, Kyle Long, everybody, to work with all of them was such a blessing.”
On similarities and differences with the men they portrayed in Unsolved:
Rose: “Our passion. Tupac was such a passionate person. And reading into his life and who he was I found myself relating in so many ways. I’m very passionate. He was a go-getter, I’m a go-getter. He goes hard for the people around him. I go hard for the people around me…As far as not alike, I think I have a better handle on when I get upset. When I’m ready to just go from zero to a hundred, I think I have a better handle on that than Pac…He was a hothead.
Jonez: “I would say that me and Big actually had a lot of similarities that I didn’t really know about. I actually explored who Christopher Wallace was, and one thing…the relationship he had with his mother was beautiful, and it’s the same type of relationship I have with my mom. The other things are that we’re both MCs, we’re both from New York. As far as what’s different, [laughs] he’s from Brooklyn, I’m from Long Island.”
On the future:
Rose: [laughs] “I’m all Tupac’d out! I’m definitely going to continue in film and television. I’m enjoying entertainment, period. Before I got into acting I was designing, and I had a line that I was working on, so I’m going to definitely continue doing that, and just being as busy as I can, and putting in as much work as I can. But I’m going to keep pushing forward.”
Jonez: “It really was [a culture shock being in LA] because I’m originally from New York, so just to finally come out to LA and the West Coast…it’s a whole different culture and way of living out here. I’ve met some great people out here, I can’t help but to come back.
“I plan on pursuing entertainment, period, in whatever forms it makes people smile and make positive moves. Right now, I’m in the studio working on my album, which will be out probably at the top of next year. And, yeah, I really do plan on working on more acting jobs because I definitely love doing that.”
Advice from Marcc Rose on the entertainment industry for newcomer, Wavyy Jonez:
“I’d just tell him continue to hone his craft as he has been. He’s so, so talented. Just seeing the type of questions he had for the first time he jumped on set, to now, he’s such a veteran as well. If there is any advice I would continue to give him, it would be to give him what I did when we first met, it would be just: ‘Do your thing. You know you got it. Like, just continue to shine.'”
On their friendship:
Rose: For sure, it’s going to last until the end of time for us.
Jonez: Yeah, we’re brothers.
Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G is a scripted limited 10-episode series, and will premier on February 27th on USA Network.
Written by DaVette See
DaVette See lives in Inglewood, CA with her husband, Rob, her mother, and her seven (yikes) kitties. She has a BA in English and Theater and a Law degree. When not writing, reporting, and video editing for BGN, she operates Running Lady Studios and produces animated short films and the web series Afro Bites! She was a geek before geek was chic. She loves books, plays, movies, and more than anything, she loves telling stories.
From the producers
From Universal Cable Productions (UCP), Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. is a scripted true crime serial that chronicles the two major police investigations by LAPD Detective Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel) into the murders of Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) and Biggie Smalls (Wavyy Jonez).
Emmy Winner Anthony Hemingway (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) directed the pilot and will executive produce the series, along with Mark Taylor through their Hemingway | Taylor production company. Kyle Long (Suits) wrote the pilot and will also executive produce. Kading, who will also serve as co-executive producer, led multiple law-enforcement task forces investigating the murders and authored the book Murder Rap: The Untold Story of Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations.
The series also stars Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) as Detective Russell Poole, Bokeem Woodbine (Fargo) as Officer Daryn Dupree, Jamie McShane (Bloodline) as Det. Fred Miller, Brent Sexton (The Killing) as Det. Brian Tyndall, Luke James (Black Nativity) as Sean “Puffy” Combs, Aisha Hinds (Underground) as Biggie Smalls’s mother Voletta Wallace, and Letoya Luckett (Rosewood) as Suge Knight’s estranged wife Sharitha Golden.