Director hopes 'Unsolved' crime series will elevate black community

USA Network's, “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.", gives a behind-the-scenes look at the rap icons' murder investigations.
by Karu F. Daniels /  / Updated 
Image: Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur, left, and Wavyy Jonez as Biggie
Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur, left, and Wavyy Jonez as Biggie in a scene from "Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G."Isabella Vosmikova / USA Network

Two decades since the tragic deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., biographical stories of the 1990s era hip-hop icons continue to resonate in today’s zeitgeist, due to a number of notable film and television projects. However, the latest series delves into the behind-the-scenes aspect of their murder investigations.

Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.”, is a 10-part true crime series kicking off Feb. 27 on the USA Network, a program service of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment that is a division of NBCUniversal.

Helmed by Emmy Award-winner Anthony Hemingway, the new project offers more insight into the cases by specifically chronicling the police investigations of the controversial murders.

“I got excited about this project because I think it will help to continue to elevate us because there are things that we can draw from it that will help improve us and better pull us together,” Hemingway told NBCBLK.

“Also, being able to show on screen these two brothers that supported each other and were friends, and did it effortlessly,” he continued. “I was excited to tell that part of the story, to humanize them in a way that we haven't seen them before. The tragedy behind this story has always been the fact that we've only gotten fed the drama and the negativity about their beef. We haven't really focused on the positives.”

Featuring actors Marcc Rose, who plays Shakur and Wavvy Jonez, as Christopher 'Biggie Smalls' Wallace, “Unsolved” also stars veterans Josh Duhamel, Jimmi Simpson, and Bokeem Woodbine as Los Angeles detectives Greg Kading, Russell Poole and Daryn Dupree.

Kading, who is an executive producer of the series, authored the bombshell 2011 tome “Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations,” in which he implicated rap moguls Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Suge Knight.

The former LAPD detective was a source of inspiration for the series, which was shot in Los Angeles over the course of four months in 2017.

“[His] investigation, it was inspired really by his psychology,” Hemingway, 40, explained. “That's where I start with everything, really understanding and knowing psychology of the character and story. His role really demanded for me, I think, to take a fresh approach, as he did.”

“Kading’s been somewhat myopic, so that definitely started to inspire the choices that came there,” he added. “Giving it more scope, because he just had a breadth of it -- even a sense of entitlement. That's kind of where I dig and where I find my inspiration, really delving into the psychology of character.”

Image: Wavyy Jonez as Biggie, left, and Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur
Wavyy Jonez as Biggie, left, and Marcc Rose as Tupac Shakur in a scene from "Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G."James Minchin III / USA Network

With numerous credits including “The Wire,” “Power” and “Empire” to his credit, Hemingway knows his way around contemporary fare. But his directing of the 2012 George Lucas-produced World War II epic “Red Tails” and the widely watched WGN America slave narrative series “Underground” showcased his interest for period drama.

In 2016, the sought after director hit a career high with “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,’ in which he won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding limited series.

The Bronx native is well aware of the relationship shared between the racially charged murder trial of the former football superstar and the unsolved murders of the hip-hop kingpins.

“The interesting thing here is, from the starting place, it was almost like “Unsolved” was turning the page almost as a Stan Craig book does, because this story really was on the heels of the O.J. trial and The Rampart Scandal and all that stuff,” he reflected.

“Examining and understanding L.A. and what was happening here at the time allowed inspired me to find [my] choices. Within that, it was the ability to make it primal and visceral and real, and to really reflect the truth.”

Image: Josh Duhamel as Detective Greg Kading in a scene from "Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G."
Josh Duhamel as Detective Greg Kading in a scene from "Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G."Richie Knapp / USA Network

Hemingway’s latest work fits well into a diverse and growing career trajectory that has run the gamut from medical drama “ER”, sci-fi with “Battlestar Galactica”, “American Horror Story” and others.

“I'll say it this way, I like stories full of commas, question marks, and periods but every once in a while we get an exclamation point. This has been one of those exclamation points for me. And what it means, I feel, the contribution it adds to that body of work,” Hemingway said.

“'The Wire' was an exclamation point to me, it was probably several exclamation points,” he continued. “Red Tails,” “Underground,” “The People v. O.J.,” and now “Unsolved,” I think there's a commonality between them in terms of the stories that they tell. In terms of connecting to our history and being able to drag it forward and learn from it now, it's exciting for me and I really hope that I get the opportunity to continue to elevate our culture by telling stories that need to be told.”

“Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.” premieres Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 10 p.m. ET.

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