Tupac Shakur

Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 1996, 25-year-old Tupac Shakur was the crown prince of West Coast rap.

Traveling the road paved by hip-hop pioneers like Dr. DreIce CubeSnoop Dogg and Ice-T but also blazing his own way as an inimitably talented but unruly provocateur, the All Eyez on Me artist had emerged as a boldly honest, startlingly prescient voice poised to change the game forever.

Which he did, only he didn't live to see it.

On Sept. 7, 1996, Shakur arrived in Las Vegas to attend a Mike Tyson fight with Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight at the MGM Grand. The day before, his bodyguard Frank Alexander had gotten everything arranged to the rapper's liking at Death Row's preferred hotel, the Luxor. Alexander was perturbed to find out that guests were being asked not to bring any guns into Knight's 662 Club, where they planned to party after the fight. Big Frank, as the rapper called him, didn't like the idea of being without a weapon around Shakur, who attracted a crowd wherever he went.

Tyson, who walked out that night to Shakur's "Wrote the Glory," knocked Bruce Seldon out in the first round. As Shakur, Knight and assorted entourage members were leaving the MGM, Knight associate Travon Lane came up to Tupac, whispered something to him, and the rapper took off, with Frank close behind. When the bodyguard caught up, Shakur was exchanging punches with a man named Orlando Anderson, who was allegedly linked to the L.A. Crips. (Knight and Death Row were famously associated with the Bloods.) Hotel security broke up the fight, and the Death Row crew returned to the Luxor.

As if nothing had happened, they got ready for their night out at 662. Frank planned on going with Shakur in Knight's BMW, but Shakur handed him the keys to his girlfriend Kidada Jones' car and instructed to drive his group, the Outlawz, to the club.

Tupac Shakur

Ron Galella/WireImage.com

So Frank was driving behind the BMW, which had Suge behind the wheel and Tupac in the passenger seat. There was no other security ahead of or trailing Knight's car. Frank was it. He wouldn't even stop for gas when the warning light went on.

The group spent 30 minutes at Knight's house before the two-car caravan took off for 662. Stopped in traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard, aka the Vegas Strip, a bicycle cop approached Knight's car, from which music was blasting. Frank observed Knight getting out of the car and opening the trunk for the cop.

At the next intersection, shortly after 11 p.m., a white Cadillac pulled up next to Knight's car. A gun-wielding hand poked out and fired 14 shots into the BMW. Frank jumped out of the car but Knight, who had been grazed in the head, hooked a U-turn and sped off. Slowed by a blown-out tire, he was forced to stop. Frank caught up, as did police and paramedics.

They pulled Shakur out of the car and laid him on the ground. "Frank, I can't breathe," said the rapper, who had been shot four times. "I can't breathe. I can't breathe." And that was it.

Chris Carroll, a retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police sergeant who was the first officer on the scene that night, had a different memory of Shakur's last words. 

"He looked at me, and he took a breath to get the words out, and he opened his mouth," Carroll told Vegas Seven in 2014. "And then the words came out: 'F--k you.'"

Rashida Jones, Kidada Jones

Jeff Vespa/WireImage.com

"I knew we should've never gone to Vegas that night," said Kidada Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton and older sister of Rashida Jones, according to Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Frank Johnson's 2010 biography Tupac Shakur. "I had a horrible feeling about it. I've gone over it in my mind a million times. It wasn't supposed to happen. We weren't supposed to be there."

Shakur spent six days on life support and died at 4:03 p.m. on Sept. 13, 1996, after his mother consented to turn off the machines. In that instant, a legend was born.

Tupac Shakur's legacy has been a fluid one, with everything from books, documentaries and biopics to his appearance as a hologram at Coachella and endless dissections and reexaminations of the music he left behind, plus the sporadic unearthing of never-before-heard music over the years, prompting new conversations to be had about his lasting influence on hip-hop and countless artists, from Eminem to Kanye West to Kendrick Lamar, to those who weren't even born yet when Shakur died.

Though he tends to be treated like a musical deity, Tupac Amaru Shakur was of course no saint. But he was also, by all accounts, a deeply sensitive and intuitive artist, a voracious reader, poet and visionary who brought gravitas to every lyric and radiated charisma. He and his sister Sekyiwa were raised by a single mom, Afeni Shakur, who battled drug abuse and, until he enrolled at the Baltimore School for the Arts (tuition was free for local residents), he had operated under the assumption that white people weren't to be trusted.

Jada Pinkett Smith, Tupac Shakur


At school he and the future Jada Pinkett Smith became friends when, as the actress put it just last year, she was heading out of "the life" and Shakur was heading in.

"I know that most people want to always connect it in this romance thing, and that's just because they don't have the story," Pinkett Smith said on Sway in the Morning. "But it was based in survival, how we held each other down...When you have somebody that has your back when you feel like you're nothing, that's everything."

In the middle of his junior year of school, the family was evicted from their apartment and Afeni packed up and moved them across the country to Marin City, Calif. Not making it as a small-time marijuana dealer ("the drug dealer said give me my drugs back 'cause I didn't know how to do it," he said), he was already rapping in front of friends and whoever would listen, gaining a local reputation that preceded him when he met the music promoter who took him under her wing, Leila Steinberg. She was his first manager, as well as friend and mother figure when he was so in need of one.

In a 2010 interview with Chicago Now's GoWhere Hip-Hop blog, Steinberg remembered Shakur as "just an incredible spirit and an awesome young man. On first meeting, you meet people and you connect with them. He's one of the deepest connections in my life and he will always be. Yeah, Pac was definitely a connection that was one of a kind."

Steinberg said that 24/7, Shakur's production company that he never got a chance to do much with, was an apropos name because its founder was always going, all the time.

"2Pac was very, very difficult and exciting at the same time," she said. "You couldn't tell him anything; he knew everything. He was incredibly stubborn, with incredible vision. He had a work ethic unlike no other that I have met, to date...His body...different people have different requirements. And he literally did not require the same amount of sleep. It's like he worked on some other level, where he tapped into another energy source and has this desperation to complete what he felt he was here to do."

Steinberg hooked Shakur up with his next manager, Atron Gregory, who got the obviously talented teen started as a roadie for Digital Underground frontman Gregory "Shock G" Jacobs. Shakur was featured on Digital Underground's album This Is an EP Release, debuting his solo skills on "Same Song" and appearing in the video.

Funnily enough, Shakur's first onscreen appearance came with Digital Underground in the 1991 comedy Nothing but Trouble, starring Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase; the group performs "Same Song" to get Aykroyd's judge to release them from traffic court.

Shakur struck out on his own and was signed by Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records in 1991, further cementing Iovine's own reputation as a visionary. Tupac's first single, "Trapped," was about a young black man getting into a confrontation with a police officer, who then fires at him and the man fires back. Chased down and cornered by police afterward, he raps, "I'd rather die than be trapped in the living hell."

A few weeks after the hit single was released, on Oct. 17, 1991, two white cops stopped the rapper for jaywalking in Oakland and, according to Shakur, they hassled him instead of writing him a ticket and sending him on his way. He said that he swore at them, then they wrestled him to the ground, choked him out and he was thrown in jail for resisting arrest.

"They sweated me about my name, the officers said, 'you have to learn your place,'" Shakur recounted at a press conference that November.

Tupac Shakur

Ron Galella/WireImage

It was his first trip to jail and, while he eloquently alleged that he was mistreated by the cops, his reputation split into two right there—hardworking, tireless black man speaking out about having his civil rights violated, five months after the beating of Rodney King, and law-flouting criminal. 

Both boosted the release of Shakur's debut algum, 2Pacalypse Now, on Nov. 12, 1991. The album went platinum, earning Shakur a litany of lifelong fans and the ire of the fearful who scorned the music as detrimental to young minds, as well as activists who worried Shakur was just a walking glamorization of the societal ills he rapped about. (Shakur later settled a $10 million lawsuit he filed against the city of Oakland for a reported $42,000.)

In a 1992 interview with E! News, Shakur drew a distinction between the violence rapped about in music and seen in movies and the violence taking place on the streets every day.

"It's an adventure world that we're creating," he said. "What we're doing is using our brain to get out of the ghetto, any way we can, so we tell these stories...and they tend to be violent, because our world tends to be filled with violence."

"In my rhymes," he explained, lyrics about shooting back at the police "vents that anger, 'cause I can fire back at the police and won't go to jail for life." And ultimately his music was mainly talking about "the oppressed rising up against the oppressor...So the only people that's scared are the oppressors. The only people who have any harm coming to them are those who oppress, simple as that."

The emergence of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. (The Hate U Give Little Infants F--ks Everyone), his mission statement to curb drug use and violence in the inner cities, was as polarizing as you'd expect.

"It's not thugging like I'm robbing people," he told MTV, according to Michael Eric Dyson's 2006 book Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. "That's not what I'm doing. Part of being a [thug] is to stand up for your responsibilities and say this is what I do even though I know people are going to hate me and say, 'It's so politically un-correct,' and 'How could you make black people look like that? Do you know how buffoonish you all look with money and girls and all of that?' That's what I want to do. I want to be real with myself."

Shakur hardly eschewed the good life, but he disdained what to him was the insatiable need for more being sewn into the fabric of the country, and he decried the glaring divide between the white and black experience in this country. He told MTV News in August 1992, "Everybody's like you get taught that from school, everywhere, big business, if you want to be successful, you want to be like Trump, 'gimme, gimme gimme, push push push push, step-step-step, crush-crush-crush,' that's how it all is. And it's like nobody ever stops. I feel like instead of us just being like 'slavery's bad...bad whitey,' let's stop that.

"And everybody's smart enough to know we've been slighted, and we want ours. And I don't mean by ours like '40 acres and a mule, 'cause we're past that. But we need help. For us to be on our own two feet, meaning youth or 'us' meaning black people, whatever you want to take it for...because we have been here, we have been a good friend...and now we deserve our payback. You got a friend that you don't never look out for...America's got jewels and they paid and everything, and they're lending money to everybody except us."

He continued, "If this is truly a melting pot and a country where we care about everybody, Lady Liberty got her hand like this [he raised an imaginary torch], she really love us, then we really need to be like that."

Shakur's second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., came out in February 1993 and also went platinum. The video for "Keep Ya Head Up" was dedicated to Latasha Harlins, a black teenager who was killed in 1991 by a Korean liquor store owner in L.A. The owner, Soon Ja Du, said Harlins was trying to steal a bottle of juice. The 15-year-old had put it in her backpack and witnesses told authorities the girl had $2 in her hand to pay. Du grabbed Harlins' arm and Harlins hit her in the face. She dropped the juice at the counter and headed for the door. Du shot her in the back of the head. She was convicted of voluntary manslaughter but served no jail time.


Tupac Shakur was fast becoming the voice of a black community that was tired of coming out on the losing side. And yet he wasn't always so serious. He also liked partying and smoking weed, and living the life of a beloved rapper.

As Arsenio Hall commented when Shakur appeared on his show in 1993, it seemed as though there were "two Tupacs."

At the same time, however, a third Shakur started to emerge.

He was arrested in March 1993 in L.A. after allegedly attacking a limo driver who asked him to stop smoking pot in the car. Shakur told a judge that he thought the driver may have been reaching for a gun and the charges were dropped. A month later he spent 10 days in jail in Michigan after swinging at another rapper with a bat.

In Atlanta in the early a.m. hours of Oct. 31, 1993, Shakur got arrested for shooting and wounding two off-duty police officers. Atlanta police claim the two cops had been crossing the street with their wives when two cars ferrying Shakur and his entourage almost hit them.

In his defense Shakur said he had pulled over because he saw two white guys harassing a black motorist and he had no idea they were cops. The assault charges against Shakur were dropped after it was determined that one of the guns aimed at Tupac had been seized in a drug bust and stolen from an evidence locker, and the officers had been intoxicated. 

While the incident only elevated Shakur in his fans' eyes, the incident did him no favors among police.

Simultaneously, while Shakur's star in the hip-hop community was rocketing ever higher, he was becoming increasingly in demand in Hollywood. His acting career began with his role playing a troubled teen in the 1992 drama Juice. The New York Times called him the movie's "most magnetic figure."

That was followed by 1993's Poetic Justice, co-starring Janet Jackson. He guest-starred on the Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, then landed starring roles in the basketball drama Above the Rim and the crime dramas Bullet, Gridlock'd and Gang Related.

Those last three were released posthumously.

Tupac Shakur, Janet Jackson, Poetic Justice

Columbia Pictures

It was during the filming of Poetic Justice that Shakur first heard a song called "Party and Bulls--t" by an up-and-coming rapper named Biggie Smalls, who was affiliated with New York-based Bad Boy Records, started by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Shakur saw Biggie perform in Maryland and introduced himself. They became fast friends and ended up collaborating on "Runnin" and "House of Pain." Biggie even stayed with Tupac on trips to L.A.

Biggie later said he warned Shakur not to get too close to an allegedly shady promoter named Jacques "Haitian Jack" Agnant, whom he met while researching for his role in Above the Rim.

Shakur's reputation as a man of the people took a real hit after a night of partying in November 1993. A woman named Ayanna Jackson went back to Shakur's suite with him. Several other people were there, including Agnant. Shakur later told Vibe that several other men came into the bedroom and he left and passed out on the couch. Jackson called police, saying she'd been sexually assaulted by multiple men, including Shakur. The rapper and his road manager Charles Fuller were charged with sexual abuse, sodomy and illegally possessing a firearm. (Agnant was also charged and tried separately.)

Tupac Shakur, Mug Shots

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Singleton had wanted to work with Shakur again on Higher Learning, but Sony pushed him to drop the rapper after the rape accusations. His fate still hanging in the balance, in March 1994 Shakur was sentenced to 15 days in jail for punching Menace II Society director Allen Hughes the previous year. Along with brother Albert, Hughes had cut Shakur from the cast. At the time, per the Los Angeles Times, there were four cases pending against Shakur in three states, including the then yet-to-be closed Atlanta shooting.

He had been nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Poetic Justice but the National Political Congress of Black Women campaigned to make sure he did not win.

He also met his future wife, Keisha Morris, in New York while awaiting trial. In school at the time working on a degree in criminal justice, Morris chose to not go to court with him, but she believed in his innocence.

Shakur gave an interview to the New York Daily News' A.J. Benza calling Agnant a "hanger on" and suggesting he'd been set up. He'd call him out on the 1996 diss track "Against All Odds."

Agnant, who cut a deal in the sexual assault case and received probation, told HipHopWired in 2015 that he and Tupac had at one point been "like brothers."

"Then later on other things lead to other things and then people put things in his head, which created a bad blood between him and me," Agnant, who was deported to Haiti in 2007, said. "But I never had any bad blood towards him though. A lot of those things will get cleared up sooner or later. I actually had nothing to do with what happened to Pac. I never played a role in anything."

About the rape case, "The thing is Pac did nothing to that girl, neither did I and neither did anyone else."

Tupac Shakur, Notorious BIG, Christopher Wallace, 90s Scandals

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images; Jane Caine/ZUMAPRESS.com

With debt piling up, Shakur agreed to rap on a record being made by Lil Shawn. The guy who set it up knew Agnant, which Shakur didn't like, but Lil Shawn was tight with Biggie, which made Shakur more trusting of the situation. In November 1994, Shakur went to the NYC recording studio Quad to cut the track. He was with his sister's boyfriend; Live Squad rapper Randy "Stretch" Walker, a friend of Biggie's; and Stretch's friend Fred.

A guy waiting outside followed them in, and there were two more men Shakur didn't know in the lobby, but he assumed they worked for Biggie. On their way to the elevator, the three guys pulled out guns and told everyone to get down and take off their jewelry. Shakur ended up getting shot five times.

Still, he made his way to the elevator and went upstairs, where a group was assembled, including Combs and Biggie. Shakur would later say that they let him stagger around bleeding. Combs and Biggie insisted someone immediately called 911 and Shakur never claimed he had been set up. (In the 2009 Biggie biopic Notorious, Anthony Mackie's Tupac does make that claim.) When police arrived, according to the 2010 book Tupac Shakur, three of the cops had also been at the scene when Shakur was arrested for sexual assault. One had just testified at his trial.

On Dec. 1, 1994, Shakur was found not guilty of rape, sodomy or illegal weapon possession, but was convicted of sexual abuse for "forcibly touching" Jackson's behind. In February 1995 he was sentenced to 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years in prison. Fuller was sentenced to four months in jail and five years' probation.

Recorded after the shooting and release on April 1, 1995, while he was in jail, Shakur's Me Against the World, featuring "Dear Mama" and "So Many Tears," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. He also married Morris later that month.

Meanwhile, an interview he gave to Vibe magazine's Kevin Powell from prison reportedly roiled pretty much everyone who was at Quad the night of the shooting, including his friends. (Incidentally, Powell sued the producers of the 2017 Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me, claiming the script was basically ripped right from a series of articles he wrote about the rapper.)

While he was behind bars, Shakur was told that Biggie and Combs at least knew something was going to go down at Quad. 

"Fear is stronger than love...all the love that I gave out didn't mean nothing when it came to fear," Shakur said in another prison interview, suggesting Biggie had been a good friend until he fell under the sway of more sinister characters. He felt truly betrayed.

Tupac Shakur, Suge Knight

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Needless to say, Shakur's relationship with Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G., had been irreparably damaged.

But it wasn't any beef between them that pitted East Coast vs. West Coast. The general consensus is that it was Suge Knight taking a swipe at Combs during the 1995 Source Hip-Hop Music Awards at Madison Square Garden, held in August, when Shakur was still in prison. He reportedly said, "Any artist out there who wants to be an artist and stay a star, and don't wanna have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancing—come to Death Row."

Snoop Dogg, Tupac

The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Then Death Row artist Snoop Dogg got on stage to a chorus of boos and inquired, "The East Coast ain't got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and Death Row? Y'all don't love us?...We know y'all East Coast...We know where the f--k we at...So let it be known then!"

Not long after, Knight's friend Jake Robles was shot and killed in Atlanta, and a witness fingered Combs' bodyguard, Anthony "Wolf" Jones. No one was charged and, in 2001, when the subject came up again when both Jones and Combs were on trial after a nightclub shooting in New York, their attorneys stated that their clients had "absolutely nothing" to do with Robles' death.

Meanwhile, Knight had visited Shakur several times in prison.

When he got out (and into a white limo and then onto a private jet to take him to L.A.) in October 1995, Shakur signed with Knight and Dr. Dre's Death Row Records, which was flying high on Dre's 1992 smash hit The Chronic. He may have stepped right into a war zone, but Tupac also got right back to work on his fourth album. The first single, which would become his biggest song ever, was "California Love," featuring Dr. Dre. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard 100 and was nominated for two Grammys.

Shakur reportedly felt that Knight's connections could help keep him safe from the various enemies he'd acquired over the years, which now included Biggie Smalls. He'd poke the bear by publicly accusing Wallace of co-opting his style (a jab hip-hop connoisseurs have disputed as not having much weight behind it).

And yet he also had to nurture the commercial side of his life. "I got shot five times by some dudes who were trying to rub me out," Shakur told the Los Angeles Times. "But God is great. He let me come back. But when I look at the last few years, it's not like everybody did me wrong. I made some mistakes. But I'm ready to move on."

In November 1995, exactly one year after the Quad shooting, Stretch Walker, the Biggie associate who'd gone to Quad with Shakur, was shot to death in Queens. Tupac denied having anything to do with it.

Tupac Shakur, All Eyez on Me

Death Row/Interscope

When All Eyez on Me—hip-hop's first double album—came out in April 1996, critics applauded its sonically impressive importance to the genre. One song stood out, however, for not having a socially conscious bent—"2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," a duet with Snoop. The video, filmed in the spring of 1996, features a bloody Tupac, fresh from being shot, walking in on two guys named "Buffy" and "Piggie," one of whom is on the phone and the guy on the line can be heard saying, "We did it, man." 

They beg for their life. Tupac says, "I ain't gonna kill you. We was homeboys once, Pig. Once we homeboys, we always homeboys." Then he steps aside and two of his crew step forward, about to pull their triggers.

Shakur had originally tried to insist there was just an issue between him and Wallace, denying that there was some big Coast vs. Coast beef going on, but he eventually started taking more digs at the East Coast scene in general.

Shakur and Snoop Dogg appeared with Knight on the cover of the New York Times Magazine in January 1996. Knight said in the article that Notorious B.I.G.'s wife, Faith Evans, had bought Tupac's flashy outfit, as well as "some other stuff." Asked how he thanked her, Shakur said, "I did enough."

Faith Evans, Sean "Diddy" Combs, 2015 BET Awards

Mark Davis/BET/Getty Images for BET

Biggie, who ended up getting booed at the 1996 Soul Train Awards held in Los Angeles, was by many accounts positively incensed. Combs told Vibe that Tupac knew who shot him but he was busy making trouble with them. "If you ask him, he knows, and everybody in the street knows, and he's not stepping to them, because knows that he's not gonna get away with that s--t. To me, that's some real sucker s--t. Be mad at everybody, man; don't be using n---as as scapegoats. We know that he's a nice guy from New York.

"All s--t aside, Tupac is a nice, good-hearted guy."

Like Notorious B.I.G., who would be murdered in cold blood six months after Tupac, on March 9, 1997, Shakur lived hard and fast but also seemed to be walking in the shadow of death, often referring to his own demise—whether he truly sensed it was imminent or not. After prison he took to wearing a bullet-proof vest around and never went out without at least one bodyguard. "I know one day they're gonna shut the game down but I gotta have as much fun and go around the board as many times as I can before it's my turn to leave," he told Oakland's KMEL radio station.

On June 4, 1996, he released the diss track "Hit Em Up," in which Shakur raps, "That's why I f--ked your bitch you fat motherf--ka." Michael Eric Dyson called it "the most bitter, vindictive, vengeful battle rap and diss song of all time...It was vicious and it was powerful and compelling at the same time." (In the May 1996 issue of Vibe Evans denied ever sleeping with Shakur.)

After "Hit Em Up" came out, bodyguard Frank Alexander told his boss he'd need reinforcements to protect Tupac. The rapper laughed that off. He was busy touring with Tha Dogg Pound, shooting Gridlock'd, making a video a week and working on his fifth studio album, The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory, which—years ahead of artists ranging from Beyoncé to Nicki Minaj to Garth Brooks—he attributed to an alter ego, Makaveli. 

The album came out Nov. 5, 1996, two months after Shakur was killed. 

While that murder was already frustrating detectives, who had failed to make any arrests, the killing of Biggie Smalls added an interminably murky twist to the investigation, and the two became inextricably linked.

In addition to becoming fodder for endless speculation and conspiracy theories as they remained unsolved, the cases also added another layer of lore to Los Angeles and the L.A. Police Department's twisted history with celebrity, race relations and internal corruption.

Marcc Rose, Wavyy Jonez, Unsolved

USA Network

The enduring cultural impact of Biggie and Tupac's deaths, plus the extraordinarily complex layers of mystery involving a far-flung cast of characters, has resulted in numerous renderings of what happened, including the USA limited series Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., premiering Tuesday and starring Marcc Rose as Shakur and Wavvy Jones as Biggie.

Rose, who also played Shakur in the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton and was 4 when Tupac was killed, says he thinks both rappers would've still been at the top of their game had they lived.

"Hip-hop has changed so much over the years, I don't think they'd rock with most of the music that gets played on radio today," he told The Source recently. "There aren't messages being told the way they used to anymore. I feel they would've changed that."

Jimmi Simpson takes on the role of LAPD Detective Richard Poole, who would become convinced that Knight was behind both murders (Johnny Depp plays Poole in the upcoming movie LAbyrinth, based on the book by Randall Simpson), and Josh Duhamelas Detective Greg Kading, who detailed exactly whom he believes is responsible in his 2011 book Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur Murder Investigationand who is an executive producer on Unsolved.

Orlando Anderson, the alleged gang member Shakur had tussled with hours before he died, was considered a prime suspect—at least by L.A. police—but nothing ever came of it. Shakur's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Anderson in September 1997, alleging that he pulled the trigger and was later seen carrying the same kind of gun that killer her son, a .40-caliber Glock.

In May 1998, Anderson was killed along with another man in what police deemed an unrelated gang shoot-out in Compton, Calif.

There's the theory that Knight was behind both murders, having offed Tupac to improve an ailing Death Row's financial outlook by turning his own artist into history. Then there were the optimistic souls who were convinced Shakur faked his own death to get himself out of the game. 

Not since Elvis Presley have more people believed in the persistent existence of a man who was gone way before his time.

Far more prevalent, due to their widely publicized beef, was speculation that Notorious B.I.G. was behind it, and in turn Knight masterminded Biggie's murder. Numerous sources laid out various theories to the Los Angeles Times, including that Biggie had been in Vegas at the time and had put a $1 million hit on his rival. (Biggie's mother, Volletta Wallace, told Rolling Stone in 2010 that the idea her son had masterminded the Vegas attack was "so ridiculous.")

Christopher Notorious B.I.G. Wallace, Sean P. Diddy Combs

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Combs called the theory that he commissioned Tupac's murder, as proposed by Kading in his 2011 book, "pure fiction and completely ridiculous." According to Kading, Orlando Anderson's uncle, Crips member Duane "Keffe D" Keith Davis, told police in 2008 that he was sitting in the passenger seat of the white Cadillac from which the fatal shots were fired. He said Anderson shot at the BMW from his perch in the backseat of the Cadillac, and Combs ordered the whole thing. (Keffe D had told the FBI in 1997 that his nephew wasn't involved.)

Also according to Kading's Murder Rap, Knight girlfriend "Theresa Swann" (an alias used in the book for her protection) had said Knight gave her $13,000 to give to his associate Wardell "Poochie" Fouse, and tell him in no uncertain terms that he wanted Biggie dead. Several sources fingered Fouse as the trigger man, Kading wrote.

Poochie was shot and killed in July 2003 while riding his motorcycle in Compton, caught up in a feud between different Blood factions, according to police. The LA Times reported that Poochie's death made four of Knight's closest associates killed since 1997. 

Asked in August 2003 if he feared for his own life, Knight told the Times at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, "I don't believe anyone is hunting me. But even if they were, so what?"  "The only guarantee a man has in life is that you are born to die. I'm from the ghetto, where black men get killed every day."

Kading wrote that he was about to lay out his entire case when higher-ups at the LAPD pulled him off the case in 2009. (Police told the LA Weekly in 2011 that the investigation into both murders was "active/ongoing.") He had been part of a police task force put together in 2006 to solve Biggie's killing, in no small part because Volletta Wallace had sued the city of Los Angeles for millions over her son's death. (The city was ordered to pay her $1.1 million in sanctions. Her original suit, filed in 2002, ended in a mistrial in 2005; she refiled in 2006 but agreed to withdraw the suit in 2010. The task force was subsequently disbanded.)    

No versions of her lawsuit named Suge Knight—who was in prison for violating probation on a previous assault charge when Biggie was killed and didn't get out until 2001—as a defendant. One of the first people named, however, was David Mack, a cop who had been investigated in the LAPD Rampart corruption scandal and who had ties to Knight, and associate Amir Muhammad, whom police also suspected at one point had pulled the trigger on Notorious B.I.G. Both men were dismissed from the complaint before it went to trial. 

"That's all the justice that these cases will see," Kading told Complex in 2012. "The co-conspirators are never going to be prosecuted. Unfortunately, the cases are so complicated and convoluted. These will never see criminal prosecution. 

"The co-conspirators are absolutely known and I say that with conviction. I worked directly on these cases for years and know exactly where they stand within law enforcement. They would be very problematic prosecutions because of all of the convoluted peripheral issues that were raised during the investigation. The D.A. in Los Angeles knows that this is an extremely difficult situation to try and prosecute. Here's the problem: You've got [Suge's girlfriend] confessing, and then, there was a bad move by law enforcement to give her immunity. The shooter's dead, the female confessor has immunity, so you just have Suge Knight."

Knight, who's never been charged with anything related to Wallace or Shakur's death, is currently in jail awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges for mowing down two men with his truck outside a Compton burger stand, killing one and seriously injuring the other, after an argument during filming on 2015's Straight Outta Compton. The now 52-year-old Death Row Records co-founder, who's been hospitalized multiple times since his arrest, has pleaded not guilty, claiming he was acting in self-defense. Two of his former attorneys were arrested in January for alleged witness tampering; they've maintained their innocence and were released pending further review of the case against them.

Kading also disputed Russell Poole's theory of the case, which he arrived at with the help of jailhouse informants who named, vaguely, someone named Amir as the possible shooter in Biggie's  case. 

"Coincidentally, [David] Mack has a friend named Amir Muhammad," Kading told Complex. "That circumstantial connection, put this investigator [Poole] down a rabbit hole."

He said, "There was all this exaggeration of information, and a whole theory was built on it, which never had a basis but captured the popular imagination. Actually, the individual who brought that information to the L.A.P.D. recanted and said, 'I made it all up. It was all bulls--t.'"

Poole died of a heart attack in 2015. 

Unsolved, Josh Duhamel


"Russell Poole...obsessed about this until he died, right up until it basically might have been the reason he died," Josh Duhamel, who plays Kading, told E! News last week. "My character started to go down that same path, and really truly wanted to bring justice to Christopher Wallace's mother. He was hired to find out what happened.

"He knew what happened, but wasn't able to prove it. It's not what you know, it's what you can prove, and that's really what the tragic part of this is, is that real justice was never brought to these families."

We suggest that no one try to multitask while watching Unsolved.

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

(E! and USA are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share