UNSOLVED: Tupac Shakur

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Tupac: A name spoken with utmost reverence among rap fans since the 1990s and considered by most to be one of — if not the greatest — rapper of all time. His sense of lyricism and rhythm has set the standard for the future of rap, and rappers of today are judged based on a benchmark that he set. He was, in many ways, the king of hip-hop. On September 7th, 1996, at around a quarter after 11:00 pm, he was shot four times at the intersection of Koval Lane and East Flamingo Road in Las Vegas, Nevada. His killer was never officially identified. Now, 23-years-and-change after the fact, a number of conspiracies, allegations, controversies, and finger-pointing have been aimed at nearly every figure in his life. Maybe there’s some life lesson to be taken out of his untimely death about the frivolity of money and fame, but under the magnifying glass right now are the circumstances and possible theories put forth concerning his murder.

Before we jump to theories, however, let’s take a look at his life, career, relationships, and murder.

Tupac Amaru Shakur (born Lesane Parish Crooks) was born in East Harlem, Manhattan, New York City on June 16, 1971. A year later, he was renamed to Tupac Amaru Shakur in honor of the legendary Incan revolutionary. The child of two members of the Black Panther party (Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland), Tupac was surrounded by African-American-centric political activism for most of his early life. Many of his extended family were also affiliated with the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, and similar black-pride movements. Pac’s social commentary-heavy, almost cynical lyrical style may have stemmed from his early introduction to this mix of politics and crime.

An elevated view of East Harlem (via Compass)

In 1986, Tupac and his family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he attended the Baltimore School of the Arts. Here, he began to make a name for himself among the students as an extremely distinguished rapper and winning many ameteur rap battles with his friend as his beatboxer, Dana “Mouse” Smith. During this time, he also was allegedly a member of the youth wing of the Communist Party of the USA, however it is unknown whether he maintained these beliefs into adulthood and whether they had any major influence on his music.

Fast forwarding through the takeoff of his career, Tupac has now begun to garner a respectable following in the mainstream rap scene, as well as making rather frequent appearances in Hollywood. In 1993, Tupac and New York rap titan The Notorious B.I.G met at Shakur’s house during a cookout. Despite Biggie’s name today as Tupac’s equal in nearly every way, his name was seldom uttered outside of NYC. However, under Tupac’s wing, Biggie began drawing more eyes to himself on the West Coast. Tupac has made multiple claims implying that he is to thank for Biggie’s rise to fame.

I trained (him), he used to be under me like my lieutenant.”

— Tupac

Some time into their friendship, and Biggie is dissatisfied with the rate at which his label is growing. His next natural step is to ask Tupac to manage his career, hoping to experience the same meteoric rise to fame as Tupac. He declined this offer, however, claiming that Biggie’s manager would “make him a star.” Over the course of the next few years of their careers, their relationship decayed under controversies of all kinds, including allegations of Tupac framing Biggie to avoid gun possession charges and Biggie having henchmen rob Tupac in Quad Recording Studio in Times Square.

One figure who’s had his face somewhere among many of these conflicts is one Suge Knight, CEO of Death Row Records, Tupac’s label. On the night of his death, Tupac, Knight, and his entourage were in Las Vegas at a boxing game, Mike Tyson vs. Bruce Seldon. After the game, the group recognized a member of the Crips outside who had robbed an entourage member. Tupac, Knight, and the entourage attacked the group of Crips. Later that night, Tupac and Knight were caught in a driveby at the intersection of East Flamingo Road and Koval Lane. A few months later, Biggie was also killed in a similar fashion. So ends the rap legends’ ballads.

So, what happened? A question that federal investigators and small-time speculators have been asking for the better part of two decades. Well, you could fill a library with the amount of theories swirling around the incident(s). Here are a few of the more popular and plausible theories.

Beef with Biggie

Tupac, Biggie, and singer Aaliyah

The most plausible theory by most accounts is that Biggie, fed up with Tupac’s constant slew of abuses, disses, and transgressions, ordered his killing; simple as that. Tupac’s death had Death Row and the Bloods ready to retaliate, and street justice was eventually dealt to Biggie upon his death. Many allege that Orlando Anderson, the man Tupac, Knight, and their entourage jumped after the boxing match, was the shooter in this case.

The assailants were after Knight, and not Tupac

Tupac and Knight in the car that they were shot in (via FastMag)

This could definitely be considered a stretch, but there may be elements of truth involved. Knight was just as involved in the Blood dominated Death Row’s feud with Bad Boy Records (Biggie’s Crip-dominated label) as Tupac was. When Tupac was jumped and robbed by a group of lackeys under an associate of CEO Sean Combs in the recording studio in Times Square, prior beef between Knight and Combs caused Tupac to side with Knight. However, seeing how Biggie was also likely in on Tupac’s assault, it’s likely both men were targeted.

Tupac’s and Biggie’s deaths were orchestrated by the FBI

Now, hear me out. As the theory goes, the FBI wanted to quell the wave of gang-affiliated, violence-espousing hiphop that Tupac and Biggie catapulted into the mainstream. Say what you may about the authenticity of the gang relations that today’s rappers tote around, but the rap game was an even bloodier business in the 90s and 80s than it was today. Bloods and Crips were rivals since their respective conceptions, but Tupac and Biggie only amplified this animosity towards each other. With the very real threat of people like Tupac and Biggie influencing America’s youth through mainstream media, would it really be that much of a stretch to assume that the government was eager to put a stop on the blood flow? So their solution, in their typical government fashion, is to shoot the source of the problem until it stops being a problem. However, this leaves out the identities of the occupants of the shooting vehicle, as many theories do.

Beef with Crips and Orlando Anderson

Another plausible theory related to the Biggie theory is that Orlando Anderson and his group orchestrated it themselves as revenge for being attacked. This is similar in most ways to Biggie’s theory, only without Biggie being the one ordering the killing. Anderson died in 1998 in a gunfight, however, forever leaving it a mystery as to the identity of the shooter.

Tupac isn’t dead

A picture, supposedly of a modern-day Tupac (via Suge Knight’s Instagram page)

The fan favorite of all conspiracy theories, the rap community’s most famous tinfoil-hat theory alleges that Tupac faked his death and fled to another country, Cuba and Malaysia being the most popular destinations. Tupac had apparently had intentions to fake his death very early on in his career, and allegedly hinted at it in his lyrics and old stage name, Makaveli. Photos have also arisen depicting people in these countries with rather similar appearance to him.

However, with most witnesses and critical faces surrounding his death now dead themselves, the murder of Tupac Shakur will likely remain forever a cold case.