Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hip-Hop Homicide

"Worth More Dead Than Alive"

But the most sinister theory fingers Knight for both murders. Before his death, Tupac Shakur was becoming a problem for Knight. The star was questioning Death Row's method of bookkeeping, which indicated that Shakur owed the company $4.9 million even though he had earned the company $60 million in record sales. Unhappy with his Death Row contract, Shakur was rumored to be looking for a new label once he'd completed his three-album obligation. Shakur also had a burgeoning acting career after having appeared in several movies, including Juice, Above the Rim, and Gridlock'd. Shakur's allegiance to Death Row might have been slipping, but Death Row possessed tapes of 200 unreleased songs recorded by Shakur, raw material for future albums. In the record business, death has a way of increasing public interest in an artist. As Cathy Scott quotes one unnamed record industry insider: Tupac was "'worth more dead than alive.'"

The Murder of Biggie Smalls
The Murder of Biggie Smalls

According to this theory, the killing of Notorious B.I.G. was a cover for Tupac Shakur's murder, meant to make both killings appear to be the products of the East Coast-West Coast feud. The fate of 19-year-old Yafeu 'Kadafi' Fula appears to add some credence to this theory. Fula, who was one of Shakur's backup singers, was the only witness willing to come forward and identify the killers. The Las Vegas police declined to interview Fula thoroughly and released him. Two months later Fula was shot to death in a housing project in Orange, N.J. "Execution style" is how the police in Orange described Fula's killing. Like the murders of the two rappers, Fula's murder remains unsolved.

Author Cathy Scott in The Murder of Biggie Smalls suggests that Puffy Combs might have had Notorious B.I.G. killed for the same reason that Suge Knight might have had Tupac Shakur killed — money. It was costing the impresarios more and more to keep their stars happy, and dead stars sell records without the bothersome upkeep. In the weeks after their deaths, both stars had albums that shot to the top of the charts. Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous release Life After Death debuted at number one and sold 690,000 copies in its first week.

Album Cover: Life After Death
Album Cover: Life After Death

But if Suge Knight actually had ordered a hit on Tupac Shakur, would he have put himself in the line of fire, behind the wheel of the BMW just a few feet from the intended target? Thirteen bullets were fired into that car, and Knight was hit by one. It seems highly unlikely that Knight would have chosen a plan this risky.

It has also been suggested that Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were not the intended victims of their killers and that Suge Knight and Puffy Combs were the real targets. But again, common sense makes this theory implausible. In Shakur's case, would a shooter actually mistake the whippet-thin Shakur for the king-sized Knight? Conversely, would B.I.G.'s murderer have confused the 300-pound rapper for the trim and fit Puffy Combs who wasn't even in the same vehicle? Unlikely.

Sean Puffy" Combs
Sean "Puffy" Combs

So who did kill Shakur and B.I.G.? Police in Las Vegas and Los Angeles continue their investigations, but the cases have grown cold. Unless a surprise witness comes forward, the prospects of solving these crimes grow dimmer as the years go by. Nevertheless, Notorious B.I.G.'s mother, Voletta Wallace, is determined to find out who killed her son, and she has filed lawsuits against the City of Los Angeles and the LAPD in her quest to get answers. Tupac Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur, also wants answers, and she rejects the theory that her son's murder was simply gang retaliation for the beating of Crip Orlando Anderson.

Suge Knight spent almost five years in prison on a parole violation for taking part in the beating of Orlando Anderson. He is free now and continues to run Death Row Records, which he renamed Tha Row Records in 2001. Puffy Combs, who now calls himself P. Diddy, remains the head of Bad Boy Entertainment. In 1998, he branched off into men's fashion with his Sean John collection. In 2003, he donated $2 million to the "children of New York City" for their "health and educational needs."

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