Who killed Tupac Shakur?

In August 1996, a few Southside Crips, one of Los Angeles’ most infamous gangs, assaulted a member of their rival gang, the Bloods, at a Lakewood, Calif., mall. This incident, one of many violent acts in the long-standing feud between the rival gangs, sparked a chain of retaliatory gang violence that ended a month later in the death of rapper Tupac Shakur.

In a shocking turn of events, however, Los Angeles Times staff writer Chuck Phillips recently alleged the prominent East Coast rapper Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls or the Notorious B.I.G., paid the Crips $1 million to murder Tupac with Biggie’s own gun.

According to Phillips’ account, the Blood gang member attacked by the Crips was no small-time gang affiliate; he was a bodyguard for Tupac, who was intimately associated with the Bloods. Moreover, the Crips had the audacity to rip a diamond-studded Death Row (Shakur’s record label) pendant from the bodyguard’s neck, a brazen affront to the Blood’s honor.

One month later, Tupac took the opportunity to avenge the Blood’s humiliation after a Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon boxing match at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Walking into the lobby, Shakur and his entourage spotted Orlando Anderson, a member of the Southside Crips. Shakur yelled to Anderson, “You from the South?” Without waiting for an answer, Shakur charged and punched Anderson, and his bodyguards then jumped in on the beating.

When the 30-second thrashing was over, a dazed and battered Anderson got to his feet in front of dozens of startled onlookers. Refusing the Las Vegas Police Department’s (LVPD) urgings to press charges, he headed to the Excalibur Hotel, phoned his fellow Crips and planned his revenge.

The Crips decided that they would murder Shakur that same night after his performance at Vegas’ Club 662. Then, an idea struck them: why not make a little cash on the side? The Crips had become associated with the Notorious B.I.G., Shakur’s East Coast rival, after he began hiring gang members as bodyguards during his forays on the West Coast. Biggie had taken to flashing Crips’ gang signs, giving shout-outs to the gang’s members and even inviting Crips onstage at his concerts.

In addition, according to Phillips, Wallace had privately urged the Crips many times to kill Tupac and implied that he would pay handsomely for the hit. Biggie was in Vegas that night at a penthouse suite at the MGM Grand, where he was registered under a false name. The Crips sent a member over to the suite and asked Biggie to finance Shakur’s murder. Witnesses located by Phillips say that Biggie agreed, but on one condition. Pulling out a loaded .40-caliber Glock pistol, Wallace said that he wanted Shakur killed with his own gun.

Around 11 p.m., Shakur was leading a group of five Death Row-owned cars toward Club 662 for his performance. Meanwhile, Anderson and three Crips jumped into a white, 1996 Cadillac in the parking lot of the Treasure Island Hotel and began tailing Shakur and his entourage. A fifth Crip, riding solo in an old, yellow Cadillac and carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, joined them. As the white Cadillac followed in cautious pursuit, the Crips discussed how they would stake out Club 662, and one of the Crips handed Anderson the loaded glock from Biggie Smalls. Traffic stopped at a streetlight, billboards flashed and throngs of tourists walked on Vegas’ Flamingo St.

Directly in front of the stoplight, in the center lane, Shakur and his caravan were lined up, at least five cars deep, in a single lane. Leading the convoy was Suge Knight’s (Shakur’s manager) black BMW. Inside the BMW, Knight was in the driver’s seat and Shakur was in the passenger’s seat; they were alone and unarmed.

The Crips were incredulous when they spotted Shakur in such a vulnerable position. They decided to scrap their previous plan and attack immediately. The white Cadillac sped up and pulled alongside the right of the BMW. Shakur didn’t notice; he was flirting with a carful of women in the left lane.

Rapper E.D.I. Mean, who was in the car behind Shakur, said, “I saw four black men roll by in a white Cadillac. I saw a gun come from the back seat out through the driver’s front window.”

Anderson fired the glock and bullets shattered the BMW’s windows. As Shakur tried to duck into the back seat, four rounds ripped through his chest. Blood spattered everywhere.

“We heard shots and looked to the right of us,” Knight said. “Tupac was trying to get in the back seat, and I grabbed him and pulled him down. The gunshots kept coming. One hit my head.”

In the confusion, neither Knight nor Mean could determine who fired the shots. “It all happened so quick. It took three or four seconds at most,” said Mean.

In 1994, Shakur survived five bullet wounds in a New York City attack that he attributed to Biggie Smalls and his associate Sean “Puffy” Combs. This time around, he wasn’t so fortunate. After fighting for his life for two days in a Las Vegas hospital, Tupac Shakur died at age 25.

About two years later, on May 29, 1998, Anderson was shot dead at a Compton carwash in a dispute police say was unconnected to the Shakur murder. The three other Crips who were in the white Cadillac with Anderson still live in Compton; none of them have ever been questioned by police about the murder.

Before his death, Anderson vehemently denied any role in the murder. “If they have all this evidence against me, then why haven’t they arrested me?” he said a year after the shooting. “It’s obvious that I’m innocent… To me, Tupac was like a hero. I admired him. I respected his music. Everybody I know had love for him… I wish they would hurry up and catch the killer so my name could be cleared.”

Likewise, rap artists and family members of the Notorious B.I.G. have refuted Biggie’s alleged role in Tupac’s murder. East Coast rapper Lil’ Cease commented, “Come on, man, its 2002, this s— happened in ’96-’97 and now you all come up with this. Who can place him there? And at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to – put my man in the MGM Grand… You mean to tell me, where the lobby is crowded everyday and the casino is crowded everyday, how could Biggie creep through there and nobody see him? Big isn’t a little [man] who’s five foot four inches and 90 pounds.”

Biggie’s ex-wife, Faith Evans, expressed similar sentiments of disbelief. “The night [Shakur was shot] I remember Big calling me and crying. I know for a fact he was in Jersey. He called me crying because he was in shock. I think it’s fair to say he was probably afraid, given everything that was going on at that time and all the hype that was put on this so-called beef that he didn’t really have in his heart against anyone. He was already getting threatening phone calls. I’m sure for all he thought, he could be next.” Indeed, the Notorious B.I.G. died less than a year later on March 9, 1997 in a still unsolved shooting in Los Angeles after leaving a music industry party.