“You rewind this, Bad Boy’s behind this.” These lyrics are a part of The Notorious B.I.G.’s song “Who Shot Ya?” Tupac Shakur believed the song was meant as a taunt, and developed a deep adversity towards Biggie and Bad Boy Records (Biggie & Tupac). Following his court hearing regarding charges of sodomy, sexual assault, and possessing a weapon, on November 29, 1994 Tupac headed over to the Quad Recording Studio located in Times Square, New York City. Upon entering the lobby elevator, he and two of his comrades were forced to the ground at gunpoint. The men then shot Tupac five times and stole what was estimated to be over forty thousand dollars of his jewelry (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/). Investigators would later discover that Biggie had nothing to do with the shooting, but the damage was done (Baeshad 65). With this shooting and robbery began hip hop’s greatest rivalry: Tupac vs. Biggie. Albeit, the conflict between the two rappers was no more than the vertex of the conflicts between record labels, territories, and rap’s relationship with the law.
Born Christopher Wallace, Biggie Smalls only adopted his stage name after determining it was in his best interest to stop selling crack and spending time in prison to pursue a rap career (Notorious). Through a friend, he was introduced to Sean “Puffy” Combs, who would soon found Bad Boy Records and provide Biggie with the opportunity to make the music that would change his life(Biggie & Tupac).
Tupac got his start quite differently than Biggie. Ensuing moving to Merin City, California, he became a backup dancer for Digital Underground. Digital Underground leader Shock G eventually let Tupac record a verse in the song “Same Song,” and it was only a short while before 2Pacalypse, Tupac’s first album, was released in 1991 by Interscope Records(http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/).
Biggie and Tupac’s conflict began with their production of music within the same sub-genre known as gangsta rap. “Gangsta rap” was a term created by the media to describe the type of rap that N.W.A. was creating, essentially discussing the daily lives and ideals of individuals living in the ghetto (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/25591580). After its implementation, gangsta rap was taken in two different directions: political, by artists such as Ice Cube and pre-Death Row Tupac, and nihilistic, by Death Row and Bad Boy Records (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/2645846). Perhaps it was Dr. Dre who best described this new brand of rap in his song “Let Me Ride” where he says, “No medallions, dreadlocks or black fist/ It’s just that gangsta glare with gangsta rap/ That gangsta shit brings a gang of snaps.” Within this song, Dre raps that there is “No… black fist.” At this point, it became evident that gangsta rap was becoming less political and less socially conscious. Rap’s shift to nihilistic gangsta rap can be seen in Tupac’s shift in lyrical content (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/). His lyrics went from “they never talk peace in the black community/ All we know is violence, do tha job in silence” in his 1991 song “Trapped,” to, “so fuck peace/ I’ll let them niggas… know it’s on for life” in 1996’s “Hit Em Up.” Though Tupac was writing these lyrics out of anger toward Bad Boy for his 1994 shooting, they were popularized as a result of the changing rap game (http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&hid=25&sid=8368f680-c50e-45fd-92c9-511c3948da69%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=23063307). Rapping about conflict, violence, and drugs was selling records, and, thus, he was encouraged to create such music (http://we4mf3mv5e.search.serialssolutions.com/?sid=EBSCO:a9h&id=pmid:&genre=article&issn=01612492&volume=22&issue=2&date=19990301&spage=306&title=Callaloo&atitle=Dead+men+printed.&aulast=Barrett%2c+Lincoln&id=DOI:&pid=).
Law enforcement saw this new subgenre’s glorification of violence, selling drugs, etc. as a major threat, particularly Ice T’s “Cop Killer” (Perry 109). The government felt threatened by this song, and, in 1993, a Senate-select committee was formed to look into the hip hop movement. Due to “inflammatory qualities,” some hip hop artists were put under FBI surveillance, which would later be the cause of conspiracy theories in the death of The Notorious B.I.G (Biggie & Tupac).
Law enforcement’s relationship to hip hop and the Tupac-Biggie dispute was controversial and complicated, and little good came of it. There always seemed to be a conflict between law enforcement’s involvement in hip hop and lack thereof. For example, on October 31, 1993 he was arrested for shooting at two off duty police officers. Witnesses reported that the cops shot first, and that they never identified themselves as police officers. Once it was discovered that one of the cops had taken the gun he used to shoot at Tupac with from the evidence lockup, the charges were dropped (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/). Immediately after Tupac was shot in, he had suspicions Biggie and Puffy were responsible, but it was not until he went to prison that he discovered his suspicions to be the truth. He claimed that strangers were bragging in jail saying, “They tellin’ their niggas in jail, ‘Yo, we just got Pac.’” These strangers in jail ended up being undercover FBI agents put into prison to convince Tupac that Biggie was at fault (Biggie & Tupac). Thus the FBI is at least associated with both the murders of Tupac and Biggie: Tupac for the reason stated above and Biggie because he was under FBI surveillance up until the point he was killed (Notorious). The law had complete control over the Tupac vs. Biggie conflict. When the rappers believed that they were being lawless and creating a feud, they were actually playing into the hands of law enforcement, which wanted no more than to witness their demise.
Another contributor to the ultimate deaths of Tupac and Biggie was territoriality. Territoriality, though it had always been a part of rap, was emphasized in gangsta rap (http://we4mf3mv5e.search.serialssolutions.com/?sid=EBSCO:a9h&id=pmid:&genre=article&issn=01612492&volume=22&issue=2&date=19990301&spage=306&title=Callaloo&atitle=Dead+men+printed.&aulast=Barrett%2c+Lincoln&id=DOI:&pid=). Grandmaster Flash, one of the earliest hip hop DJs, even remarked about the spatial distribution on sound systems and crews in New York saying, “We had territories. It was like; Kool Herc had the West side. Bam had the Bronx River… so that we all had out territories, and we all had to respect each other. When hip hop came along, the transition from gang-based turf affiliations to hip hop based turf affiliations intensified feelings of territoriality . Affiliations with specific areas caused cities to become an audible presence in rap as the “foundation of its cultural production” (journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=61724). Once rappers made enough money, they realized that they could start their own labels. As small artist-owned labels burgeoned, there was an increased emphasis on local affiliations (Perry 115).
According to Tricia Rose, this emphasis is what brought the ghetto into rap and the public consciousness. Since 1987, hip hop culture has been influenced by alliances with West coast gang systems. Album covers and rap videos feature artists representing their gang with their clothing and elaborate hand gestures. Criminal activities mentioned in songs became secondary to the setting in which they took place (journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=61724). The place in which the events in the song took place was so important because it was from these places the gangsta rap artists gained their world perspective. One such place was Compton, which, following the release of N.W.A.’s album Straight Outta Compton, rapidly gained notoriety (Forman and Neal 235). Those who lived there were a bunch of “tough and well-armed homeboys” who had no moral consciousness (journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=61724). Hip hop Compton was created as a response to the hip hop nexus that was the Bronx. With hit albums such as N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, West coast crews were telling those of New York that a new sound had arrived and tipped the scales in favor of the West (Forman and Neal 235). A Bronx rapper named Tim Dog defended Bronx pride with his song “Fuck Compton” in which he lyrically depicts an assassination of N.W.A. (journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=61724). And so was born the greatest division rap would ever see.
Howbeit, the rivalry would have remained contained had it not been for Death Row Records, originally a small label started by Suge Knight (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/2645846). Knight grew up in a section of Compton run by the Mob Pirus, a division of the Bloods. When Suge Knight created Death Row, he surrounded himself with those he knew, many of whom were Mob Pirus. Hence, Death Row Records gained a name as the most violent label in the business, headed by the most violent man in the business. Over a money dispute, Knight once held Vanilla Ice out of a window by his ankles, and there were reports of almost daily beatings that occurred in his offices (Biggie & Tupac). Suge Knight portrayed anger towards almost every individual he encountered, but none more so than Sean “Puffy” Combs, and Bad Boy Records located in New York City. His dislike of Bad Boy led him to seek out Tupac (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/).
After Tupac was sent to Rikers Island for sexual assault in 1994, Knight jumped at the opportunity to sign the talented rapper, putting up 1.4 million dollars to get Tupac out of prison and into the studio (http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&hid=25&sid=8368f680-c50e-45fd-92c9-511c3948da69%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=23063307). For doing him such a kind service, Tupac saw Suge Knight as the father figure he never had, creating a close relationship. Suge and Tupac’s relationship was enhanced by a shared hatred for Bad Boy Records, who Tupac believed was involved in his shooting and robbery on the night of November 29, 1994. In an interview with Vibe Tupac stated, “Puffy was there, Biggie… Nobody approached me. I noticed that nobody would look at me… Puffy was standing back too.” (http://www.vibe.com/page/biggie-puffy-break-their-silence-95-vibe-cover-story-pg4). Knight’s beef with Bad Boy was the result of the October 1995 shooting of Jake Robles, a close friend of Suge’s, in Atlanta. Suge believed that it was more than coincidence that Robles was allegedly shot by Puffy’s long term body guard Anthony Jones (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/). A few weeks after the shooting, Suge signed Tupac (http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&hid=25&sid=8368f680-c50e-45fd-92c9-511c3948da69%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=23063307). To him, Tupac was the weapon he needed to wage a war against Bad Boy. By encouraging Tupac’s hatred of Bad Boy, Knight knew that he would be able to get revenge, while further benefiting from Tupac’s profitability. The big contract Tupac signed made him feel like a king, but he was really just a pawn in Suge’s overarching conflict with Puffy. These events solidified the East-West divide.
The East vs. West conflict turned violent only two months after the shooting of Robles. Members of Death Row were filming a video in Brooklyn for Tha Dogg Pound’s song “New York, New York” when shots were fired at their trailer (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/). The video featured giant sized members of Tha Dogg Pound stepping on and crushing Manhattan. This video was met with a hostile response from Queens rappers Mobb Deep, Tragedy, and Capone and Noreaga who responded by making “L.A. L.A.” Their music video depicted look-alike members of Tha Dogg Pound being kidnapped and tortured before being thrown off a bridge (http://www.vibe.com/page/biggie-puffy-break-their-silence-95-vibe-cover-story-pg4).
When Tupac was signed to Death Row, his lyrics immediately began to embrace the “gangster aesthetic” (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/). His fifth album All Eyes On Me indicated this shift, including songs such as “California Love” where he raps “The West side is the best side.” Tupac proceeded to preach revenge and warning two Biggie and Puffy in his song “Hit ‘Em Up,” which begins with Tupac yelling at Biggie, “I fucked your bitch, you fat muthafucka.” “Hit ‘Em Up” was Tupac’s retort to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?” which he believed was about the attempt on his life in 1994 (http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&hid=25&sid=8368f680-c50e-45fd-92c9-511c3948da69%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=23063307). He also remarked, out of anguish towards Biggie, “Biggie is a Brooklyn nigga’s dream of being West Coast.” (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/).
The reality of the situation was that Biggie recorded “Who Shot Ya?” months before the shooting of Tupac in Times Square, and could not believe what Tupac was accusing him of (Biggie & Tupac). As the feud continued to escalade, more records were sold, and, thus, it was encouraged instead of cooled. Noting the increasing tensions, Dr. Dre responded, “If it keeps going this way, pretty soon niggas from the East coast ain’t gonna be able to come out here and be safe and vice versa.” (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/) Within a year Dr. Dre’s prophecy came true.
In June of 1996, at the Soul Train Awards, Biggie and Tupac met face to face for the first time since Tupac’s shooting. When Biggie, Puffy, and Faith performed, Tupac stormed the aisle. Of the incident Biggie commented, “That’s when I knew it was real to him.” (http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/3486/). Then, on September 7, 1996, Tupac was shot in a professionally executed drive-by (http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&hid=25&sid=8368f680-c50e-45fd-92c9-511c3948da69%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=23063307). The shooting occurred in Las Vegas when Tupac and Suge left the MGM Grand where they had just seen Mike Tyson fight Bruce Seldon. The two were on their way to Suge’s Club 662 when a white Cadillac pulled along the passenger side where Tupac was sitting and opened fire at the black BMW. When the cops arrived at the scene, Tupac Shakur was laying on the back seat bleeding profusely (Biggie & Tupac). He passed away six days later at the University Medical Center at the age of 25 (http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&hid=25&sid=8368f680-c50e-45fd-92c9-511c3948da69%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=23063307).
The primary detective in the murder of Tupac was to be Russell Poole, but as soon as he began the investigation he was ordered to stop. Instead of stopping, he quit the LAPD and elected to investigate on his own. He believes that Suge Knight is responsible for the killing of Shakur for a variety of reasons (Biggie & Tupac). Suge had motive to kill Tupac as he had recently informed Suge that he was going to quit Death Row and take his music elsewhere when his contract was up ((jbs.sagepub.com/content/40/4/509.short)). Looking into Death Row, Poole discovered that thirty to forty LAPD officers were working for the company on the side. Suge had officers at all levels working for him, including a D.A. The killings of Tupac and Biggie were orchestrated to appear to be gang killings. This way, the killing of Biggie would appear to be retaliation for the killing of Tupac (Biggie & Tupac). In this situation, the LAPD likely refused to investigate to minimize embarrassment. Even after his death, Tupac remained subordinate to the interests of law enforcement.
Evidence, events, and testimonies from the few willing to speak up support the idea that Suge Knight was the mastermind behind both shootings. On the night Tupac was killed in Las Vegas, one of Suge’s Piru homeboys told Tupac that a Crip was near. This Crip was Orlando Anderson, who can be seen in video footage wearing a Death Row medallion. Tupac, loyal to the Bloods, punched Anderson. The only reason this series of events occurred was to provide the Crips with a reason to do harm to Tupac. Roughly two hours after this transgression, Tupac was shot (http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=2&hid=25&sid=8368f680-c50e-45fd-92c9-511c3948da69%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=23063307). Losing Tupac to another record company was not all Suge had at stake. At the time he was mortally wounded, Death Row owed him upwards of ten million dollars (Biggie & Tupac). When Tupac provided Suge with a major inconvenience, he had him killed.
Officer Kevin Hackey has also indicated that Suge Knight is behind the murders of Tupac and Biggie. He witnessed numerous money disputes between Suge and Tupac, and saw Biggie’s shooting as no more than a diversion of any investigation away from Suge and Death Row (Biggie & Tupac). Suge’s actions regarding Biggie demonstrated Biggie’s lack of power in comparison to Suge. With Biggie getting murdered shortly after Tupac, the deaths could be chalked up to East vs. West rap politics (Forman and Neal 458). Making Suge Knight’s claim that he had nothing to do with the shooting of Tupac even more suspicious was his lying that he had a bullet in his head from the shooting. Such a claim seems ridiculous unless he wanted to make it seem like he was also a target of the shooting. In order to sell the idea that the shootings of Biggie and Tupac were gang related, Suge claimed that Combs and Biggie were Crips when such was not the case (Biggie & Tupac). The fact that Biggie had no part in Tupac’s murder before being shot himself, during a conflict supposedly between the two rappers, evidences how little power they had over their own situations. Death Row, the law, and the overarching East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry all convened at one vertex that resulted in the death of Tupac shortly followed by that of Biggie.
Six months after Tupac’s death, on March 9, 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in a drive by shooting similar to Tupac’s when leaving a Vibe party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. He was only 24 (Notorious). The job was a professional, one man hit in which the shooter was never caught, indicating that the perpetrator knew something about covering his tracks. Poole suspected David Mack, a rogue police officer, of orchestrating the hit. In a search of Mack’s home a multitude of scanners and radios used to carry out such an operation were found. Harry Billups, the man Lil Cease, who was in the vehicle with Biggie at the time, identified as the shooter, was the godfather of Mack’s kids. Prior to the murder, multiple witnesses placed Mack at the museum. The car used in the drive by was a black SS Chevy Impala, a car that Mack owned. Suge and Mack grew up in the same area of Compton where Mack was a member of the Mob Pirus, and he was present at private Death Row parties (Biggie & Tupac). Neither Mack nor Billups have been questioned by police about Biggie’s murder (http://articles.latimes.com/2004/oct/29/local/me-big29). Much like Tupac, Biggie’s life was taken to satisfy the greater need of those in control.
Tupac and Biggie were the two largest figures in a changing rap game. The new game included violence, gang life, death, and territoriality, and scared law enforcement. Tupac’s shooting at Quad Recording Studios may have resulted in his despise of Biggie, but it was only due to the exterior factors of record companies, the East vs. West rap conflict, and law enforcement that anything came of it. As lyrics became weapons and affiliations more prominent, tensions rose. These tensions climaxed with the murders of Tupac and Biggie. The deadly competition that occurred between these two rappers was not the result of their own doings, but that of the greater powers of record labels, territories, and the law.
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