Are the murders of Tupac and Biggie Smalls connected?
Arguably among the most pivotal events in the evolution of Hip Hop music, were the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. They embodied the entirety of the infamous “East Coast/West Coast Rivalry” that defined the Hip Hop genre in the mid-1990s, and were the most highly visible casualties of it.
A detailed explanation of the rivalry would require much more text than is necessary here, but in theory, it mostly centered on two competing record labels, the artists who signed with them and the individuals who operated them. Death Row Records, based in Los Angeles, was headed by Marion (Suge) Knight who had a rebuttal for “strong arm” tactics when negotiating deals. Sean (then known as Puffy or Puff Daddy) Combs, founded Bad Boy Records in New York City and had found quick success with Long Island rapper, Craig Mack and Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls) from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The unofficial reason for the rivalry was the concept that East Coast artists held those from the West Coast in low regard due, in part, to New York City’s reputation as the “Birthplace of Hip Hop.
The rivalry gained additional tension as personal conflicts developed between Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls (born Christopher Wallace). Tupac believed that Biggie and Puffy were involved in a shooting and robbery at Quad Studios in Manhattan in which he sustained gunshot injuries (which both men denied), and publicly accused them of such. He also later claimed to have slept with Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans (a claim which she denies), suggesting that doing so was a form of revenge for the shooting. There was also a series of “diss tracks” (songs with lyrics that make both direct and indirect accusations, and used for taunting purposes) released between the two rappers.
Tupac was Suge Knight’s most prized artist, and, for him tensions between Shakur and Smalls amounted to a personal opportunity unity to advance Death Row Records reputation in the Hip Hop Market. To that end, he made very public statements against Bad Boy Records which added fuel to the fire.
On September 7, 1996, Tupac was involved in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas and died six days later on September 13. Initially, it was believed that the shooter was reputed gang member, Orlando Anderson of the Southside Compton Crips, but after one interview, Las Vegas police released him. Los Angeles Times, investigative reported, Chuck Philips, who also believed in Anderson’s role in the murder, also claimed involvement by Biggie Smalls.
Six months later, on March 9, 1997, Biggie Smalls was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles shortly before the release of his second album, Life After Death.
At the time of Biggie’s death, Suge Knight was serving a prison sentence for his role in an attack on Orlando Anderson, one where Tupac Shakur was also allegedly involved (one of the reasons why Anderson was an initial suspect in Shakur’s murder). Despite being in jail, Knight continued to run Death Row Records from a pay phone.
Knight, like Tupac, believed, not only in Biggie’s involvement in the Quad Studio shooting, but was part of Tupac’s entourage at the time of his murder, blame for which had also been pinned on Biggie. Knight has been an unofficial suspect in Biggie’s murder ever since, but has never been arrested or charged. Apart from the sentence he was serving on the night of the murder, Suge Knight is no stranger to prison walls, but he’s never seen them as a result of anything directly connecting him to the murder of Biggie Smalls.
As recently as last fall, several news outlets reported that, actor Tom Sizemore, who had met Suge Knight at an AA meeting testified that Suge Knight ordered the murders of both Tupac and Biggie, a claim similar to the widely held theory that Knight had Shakur killed because he was trying to get out of a contract with Death Row, and then had Biggie killed to create a distraction. While Knight’s involvement in Tupac’s murder is somewhat disputed, his role in Biggie’s death would be less so, at least according to one police officer who investigated both incidents.
Slate Magazine, has been running a podcast series called Slow Burn since late last year, hosted by Joel Anderson, in which LAPD officer Greg Kading’s investigations of both cases, appears to shed some new light on them.
With regard to Tupac, Kading’s findings implicate Orlando Anderson as the assailant. While this is helpful information, Anderson cannot be charged with a crime because he was killed in a gang related shooting in 1998.
What is critical in Kading’s investigation, is a revelation that there was reason to believe that Knight’s girlfriend, had received orders for a kit on Biggie Smalls. To verify this, he created a false affidavit appearing to be a sworn statement of Knights directives, which Kading showed to the girlfriend (he used a false name for her). Upon seeing this document, she subsequently gave up the specific details of Suge Knight’s orders to have Biggie Smalls killed. At this point, it would seem that his role is more than mere suspicion and theory.
According to Kading, the girlfriend is now dead and (like Orlando Anderson) cannot be charged with a crime. Suge Knight, however, is still alive. Can he face charges in the murder of Biggie Smalls, or will it remain a perpetually unsolved crime? That may be a question for the ages.