Was it an East vs. West gang war or is there more to the story?
Two of the biggest rappers of their time died untimely deaths in eerily similar manners in back-to-back years 1996 and 1997. They were both shot to death in drive-by shootings and were both aged a mere 25 years at the time of their death.
The tragic losses were a culmination of one of the biggest “feuds” in the hip-hop music industry, especially within the “gangsta rap” scene. Tupac Shakur was the pride of the West, while Christopher Wallace aka “the Notorious B.I.G” or simply “Biggie” was the star from the East Coast.
The Origins of the Rivalry
The 90’s scene in the hip-hop music industry was dominated by the rivalry between East Coast and West Coast fans and artists. The feud began when East Coast artists were frustrated by the increasing number of rejections from West Coast record labels and were angry at the rising popularity of West Coast hip hop.
Seeing an opportunity to launch a record label as a platform for East Coast artists, record producer Sean LOVE Combs (yes, his legal name based on an official name change is Sean LOVE Combs, with an all-caps LOVE) aka “Puff Daddy” decided to rejuvenate his fledgling career founded the New York-centered hip-hop label, Bad Boy Records. This is the label that also launched Brooklyn-based rapper the Notorious B.I.G.
With his success and a few other East-Coast artists also gaining popularity, the East Coast hip hop scene saw a new life. California-based rapper Tupac Shakur accused Biggie, Sean Combs, and others of his shooting and robbery that happened in Manhattan in November of 1994.
Biggie and Sean denied these accusations. However, shortly after the shooting, Biggie’s single “Who Shot Ya?” was released, which seemed like a taunt on Tupac, but Biggie and Sean claimed that the single was recorded before the shootings even happened.
Another established record label that primarily worked with West Coast hip hop stars— Death Row Records, run by Suge Knight became a part of the battle with the East Coast. This feud began when at a records function, Knight taunted Sean Combs for his tendency to feature himself in the music videos of his artists.
Subsequently, a close friend of Knight was fatally shot during a music bash, and Knight claimed that Sean had something to do with the shooting. This led to a further escalation of the feud between Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records.
Tupac vs. Biggie and The Shootings
“Who Shot Ya?” was only the beginning of a long rivalry between Tupac and Biggie. Tupac hurled insults at Biggie and other East Coast artists in many of his singles, and this rivalry was hyped up by the media and also led to the fans taking sides.
After attending a boxing match with his friend Suge Knight, while returning from the venue, Tupac was fatally shot on September 7, 1996, in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The shooting is known to have occurred at 11:15 p.m. Pacific Time, when the car carrying Shakur was stopped at a red light at East Flamingo Road and Koval Lane.
Shakur had four rounds fired on him — two on the chest, one on the arm, and one on the thigh, and died of the wounds around six days later, in the hospital.
At about 11 p.m. the BMW of Tupac and Knight was stopped by cops for playing music too loud and not having license plates but were let go soon after. About five minutes later, a vehicle with two women pulled over next to their BMW, and Tupac invited the two women to Club 662. Only about five mins after this incident, a Cadillac pulled up to their side, and fired shots at Tupac, while Knight was also hit by the fragmentations from the shot.
Knight was able to drive them away from the crime scene, despite being injured, and then was helped by police bikes who called medics to assist the duo. After days of life support and a medically induced coma, Tupac finally succumbed to his injuries on September 13, 1996.
Despite a thorough investigation into the shootings, no definitive arrests were ever made, and the case remains unsolved. Many people believe that the police and investigators had information that they concealed.
Biggie As a Suspect, and His Eventual Death
Naturally, as a consequence of the feud between Tupac / Knight and Biggie / Combs, fingers were pointed at Biggie for being behind the murder of Tupac.
However, Biggie and his team denied the accusations and produced proof of him being in New York on the night of the shooting.
However, only about six months after Tupac’s death, Biggie’s life would come to a very similar end. On March 9, 1997, Biggie left with his entourage in two Chevrolet Suburbans to return to his hotel in Los Angeles. He was in the front seat along with his other associates in the car. Combs, the owner of Bad Boy Records, was in another vehicle along with security personnel or bodyguards.
Biggie’s SUV stopped at a red light when a dark-colored Chevrolet Impala SS pulled up alongside the SUV, and its driver, a black male, shot at the Suburban and four bullets hit Biggie. Biggie was rushed to a nearby hospital, but after having some emergency procedures performed on him to save his life, he was declared dead after about 30 minutes of the actual shooting.
An autopsy report released about fifteen years after his death revealed that three out of the four shots weren’t fatal while the fourth, entering through his right hip struck several vital organs, including his colon, liver, heart, and the upper lobe of his left lung, before stopping in his left shoulder area.
The Ensuing Investigations and Media Coverage
Due to the significant similarities of the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, in terms of the drive-by shootings, and their rivalry, people believed there were linkages between the two killings.
Reports speculated that Biggie was somehow involved in Tupac’s murder, and his own shooting was a result of revenge from the fans or the gangs that backed East Coast and West Coast hip-hop scenes.
In a 2002 book by Randall Sullivan, called LAbyrinth, information was compiled about the murders of Wallace and Shakur based on information provided by retired LAPD detective Russell Poole. This book was subsequently converted into a documentary titled Biggie and Tupac.
Netflix also released a TV series called Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. The ten-episode series chronicles the rivalry and relationship of the two rappers and their murder investigations.
The 2018 Deathbed Confession
There was a glimmer of hope for Tupac’s murder mystery when rapper Keefe D, real name Duane Keith Davis made a deathbed confession, suffering from cancer, about the murder. He claimed to have been a front-row passenger in the Cadillac from which shots were fired on Tupac.
Davis says the car was driven by Terrence “T-Brown” Brown, while DeAndre “Dre” Smith and Davis’s nephew Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson were in the back seat.
He claims that Tupac was shot as a result of Tupac having beaten up one of their gang members at the Club 662, owned by Knight. However, Davis did not reveal who actually did the shooting, and hence his confession was not enough to make any definitive convictions in the case.
While both cases remain unsolved, it is likely that both promising lives were lost to a gangster culture in the hip hop music industry in the ’90s that not just claimed these two lives, but many others of lesser-known people in similar shooting incidents and gang fights.
The period remains a blemish on the hip-hop industry, which is widely believed to have connections with gangsters and crime, despite having made attempts towards a much cleaner image in recent years. However, both these stars will be remembered by music fans for the numerous hits they gave in their relatively short careers.
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