The still-unsolved killings of rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls continue to loom large in hip-hop lore, inspiring countless conspiracy theories and Puff Daddy careers alike. And now a new movie promises to bring us, if not closer to an answer, then at least to a vaguely unsatisfying conclusion in which a defeated Johnny Depp stuffs some papers in a briefcase and slumps out of a government building while “Changes” plays. The Hollywood Reporter says that Depp is attached to star in the Brad Furman-directed Labyrinth, in a role that reminds us of the babe. What babe? The babe with the power. What power? The power to postulate that both rappers’ murders were orchestrated by Death Row Records’ Suge Knight in league with vice-ridden members of the LAPD.
That corruption-gobblin’ king was Detective Russell Poole, who spent most of the years since Biggie and Tupac’s death investigating what he believed to be a shadowy cabal composed of Knight, gang members, and various LAPD officers. Poole was one of the chief investigators into the Rampart scandal—whose incredible record of police misconduct has already inspired countless pop culture works, including The Shield, Training Day, and of course, Rampart—and it was there that he discovered a link between the officers involved and Suge Knight, who’d hired them to work security. Poole’s attempts to present findings linking LAPD officers to the murder of The Notorious B.I.G.—real name Christopher Wallace—were suppressed by his superiors, spurring him to quit the department in protest, form his own detective agency, and continue investigating the murders, right up until his death last year.
Poole also wrote the book, LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates The Murders Of Tupac Shakur And Notorious B.I.G., The Implication Of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, And The Origins Of The Los Angeles Police Scandal, and it was his theory that formed the basis of both Nick Broomfield’s 2002 documentary Biggie And Tupac and spurred Wallace’s family to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the department based on his claims. That suit was eventually dropped; meanwhile, Poole’s theories turned ever more elaborate in later years, shifting blame from Knight to Knight’s ex-wife and head of security, whom he believed conspired in a coup to take control of Death Row, then hired lil’-known rapper Lil 1/2 Dead to carry out Tupac’s murder. As Poole’s allegations got wider and wilder, it became easier to discredit them—and for others to swoop in with headline-grabbing theories of their own. He died still chasing leads in the office of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, his death, fittingly, also prompting suspicions of a cover-up.
Still, while Labyrinth—or whatever it actually ends up being called—also won’t get us any closer to concrete answers, it’s a story that taps into our culture’s limitless interest in both hip-hop biopics (including the upcoming All Eyez On Me) and bad cops, as well as its somewhat-limited interest in Johnny Depp. And after a year of a messy divorce, domestic violence accusations, and starring in back-to-back bombs, one imagines Depp is eager to lose himself in the relatively more crowd-pleasing story of the death of beloved entertainers and our crumbling system.