Both rappers were very successful and among the most popular artists in rap music. Tupac Shakur was the top-selling artist for Death Row Records. Notorious B.I.G. enjoyed the same status at Bad Boy. Ironically, just before their deaths, both men had become disillusioned with the industry. Shakur was taking steps to sever his relationship with Death Row. B.I.G., who had two small children, was talking about getting out of the business entirely.
Top record executives were present at both murders. Death Row CEO Suge Knight was behind the wheel when Tupac Shakur was gunned down. A bullet fragment grazed Knight's head. Knight camped out at the hospital with Shakur's family while the rapper fought for his life.
Similarly Bad Boy founder Puffy Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy and P. Diddy) was in the vehicle right behind Notorious B.I.G.'s car when B.I.G. was shot. Combs ordered their caravan of vehicles to go directly to L.A.'s Cedar-Sinai Hospital, and he was with B.I.G. as he was wheeled into the ER. Combs got down on his knees and prayed for God to save B.I.G.'s life.
Posthumously released recordings by both rappers have sold in the millions and continue to sell.
Despite exhaustive police efforts and investigative reporting in the press, the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. remain unsolved. Rumors and theories have proliferated in the years since their deaths. Some believe that Shakur's murder was ordered by B.I.G. who in turn was murdered by Death Row loyalists and carried out by members of the Bloods, some of whom were also California police officers. Others feel that the murders were a deliberate attempt to escalate the East Coast-West Coast feud and keep rap in the headlines in order to sell records. It has also been suggested that Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were innocent bystanders and that the intended targets were actually the CEOs, Suge Knight and Puffy Combs. And the ultimate conspiracy theory holds that the record executives conspired to have these artists killed because dead rappers — particularly rappers with legal problems that cost their companies money — are more profitable than live rappers.
The deaths of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., just six months apart, are without a doubt related. But the question remains: Who killed them? And why?