Who shot Tupac? Was it a police conspiracy? The Nation of Islam? The FBI? Space aliens? No one was ever charged with the rap icon’s murder, and questions surrounding Tupac’s murder continue to obsess his fans, captivate the curious, and absolutely inflame conspiracy theorists with wild possibilities.
It happened 22 years ago. On September 7, 1996, 25-year-old Tupac Shakur was on top of the world. The Grammy-winning rapper had just left a Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and was cruising to a club with Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight. Suddenly, at a stoplight, a white Cadillac pulled up next to their vehicle, and a shooter opened fire, hitting Tupac four times. A scramble to a nearby hospital ensued, where doctors put Shakur on life support. Six days later, on September 13, 1996, he died.
Former LAPD detective Greg Kading claims to have the answers. In Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Killings, a 2016 documentary based on Kading’s 2011 book of the same name, the retired officer alleges that New York hip-hop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs hired Crips gang member Duane Keith “Keffe D” Davis to kill Shakur and his manager Suge Knight for $1 million.
Kading believes that Keffe D’s nephew, Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, pulled the trigger that killed Shakur — and that to get payback Knight paid Bloods gang member Wardell “Poochie” Fouse $13,000 to kill Tupac’s East Coast rap rival Biggie Smalls on March 9, 1997. During a taped interview shown in the documentary, Keffe D backs up this theory when he tells Kading that his nephew “leaned over, and Orlando [Anderson] rolled down the window and popped him.”
In 2006, the LAPD assigned Kading to reinvestigate the Smalls slaying. Violetta Wallace, Small’s mother, had sued the police department in federal court for wrongful death, so Kading’s specific mission was to uncover any truth within the popular conspiracy theory that corrupt cops may have covered up an officer’s involvement in her son’s murder.
Kading alleges that Combs, whom he wrote was “most commonly known as ‘Puffy’ for his childhood habit of ‘huffing and puffing’ when he got angry,” ordered the hit on Tupac. “The persistent buzz on the street was that the shooting … was motivated by the ambition of Puffy Combs to rule the rap world by eliminating the competition and establishing East Coast dominance once and for all,” he explained.According to Kading, there was an evolution in conflict between the East Coast–based Bad Boy record label and West Coast–based Death Row, between Combs and Knight, and between the labels’s artists including Biggie and Tupac. The fact that Death Row CEO Suge Knight had a long and close association with a subset of the Bloods called the Mob Piru, while Puffy reportedly hired Crips to act as bodyguards, only added further fuel to the fire.
Trevon “Tray” Lane told Kading that, two months before the murder, a group that included “Baby Lane” jumped Tray Lane and his friends at a Foot Locker in the Lakewood Mall. One of the attackers stole Lane’s Death Row necklace. “Later stories circulated that Puffy had offered a $10,000 bonus to anyone who could bring him one of these medallions,” Kading wrote. “What had just happened was the opening round in an all-out gang war.”
On the fateful night of the Tyson fight in Las Vegas, Tray, who was traveling with Tupac and Suge, spotted Anderson at the MGM Grand and ID’d him as the person who had robbed him. Tupac and Suge violently attacked Anderson and his posse. A hotel security camera captured the entire incident on video.
“We’re not proposing a theory,” Kading told New York radio station HOT 97. “We’re telling you definitely that this is what took place in these murders. All of the empirical evidence, all of the facts lead you to draw this one and only conclusion.”
Kading believes that Tupac’s case will never go to court. Almost of the suspects and witnesses with key information are dead. Orlando Anderson died in 1998 during a Compton gun battle. Combs’s associate Eric “von Zip” Martin perished in 2012. Terrence Brown — whom Kading believes was one of the men in the white Cadillac during the drive-by — was killed in 2015 in a medical-marijuana dispensary.Yafeu Fula, also known as Yaki Kadafi of rap group the Outlawz, claimed to know the identity of Tupac’s assassin. A gunman took him down two months after Tupac. In 2014, Keffe D failed to appear in a California Superior Court for sentencing related to drug charges. He’s remained a fugitive from justice ever since.
Sean Combs has always entirely denied any involvement in the crimes. He responded to Kading’s allegations by writing an email to L.A. Weekly, “This story is pure fiction and completely ridiculous.”
While Knight may have dodged a bullet in the Biggie murder, his legal troubles continue. At present, the formidable rap honcho is locked up in Los Angeles. He’s facing charges of murder and attempted murder after pleading not guilty to allegations that in January 2015 he ran over two men with his truck, killing one, outside a Compton burger restaurant.
Sean Combs continues to dominate hip-hop, and has an estimated net worth of over $800 million.
Kading says after he and his team proved that the Violetta Wallace’s lawsuit had no merit, the LAPD pulled the rug out from under his investigation — and he believes that the case will never go to court. “We’ve lost so much of the foundation of a prosecution, and you just can’t practically go into court and face an icon like Puffy Combs and say, ‘Hey we’re going to base this allegation on the testimony of a convicted drug-dealing gang member,‘” he said. “There will never be judicial closure in these cases. It’s a lost cause.”
Still, Tupac’s legacy lives on. For many fans, he has become the hip-hop Elvis, with devotees reporting sightings of him as far afield as Cuba, and musicians including Chuck D of Public Enemy claiming to find evidence that he faked his own death. One video posted on YouTube in 2015 that includes a selfie of a bandanna-wearing man who looks eerily like the late rapper and is captioned “Tupac guys 100% same eyebrows and lips” has racked up more than 2.6 million views to date.
Tupac’s 1996 Hummer fetched $337,000 — more than three times the original estimate — when it went under the hammer in May 2016.
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Main photo: Tupac Shakur (Wikimedia Commons)