Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls, were some of the most ground-breaking and influential rappers of our time.
Though the two artists dominated the hip-hop scene in the early ‘90s — with Tupac in California and Biggie in New York — they were both tragically killed in drive-by shootings. Their murders have remained unsolved until this day, and the duo’s heated East Coast-West Coast rivalry has fueled various conspiracy theories over the years.
Who was 2Pac?
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born on June 16, 1971. Although he would become synonymous with West Coast hip-hop, he was born in New York City. His parents were both members of the Black Panther Party.
2Pac’s late mother, Afeni, became pregnant with her son while on bail. According to NBC News, she had actually been charged, along with other members of the Panthers, for conspiring to bomb police stations and department stores in New York City, and although the charges were later acquitted she had spent 11 months in jail.
2Pac’s father, Billy Garland, lost contact with the rapper when he was 5 years old. They wouldn’t reunite until 2Pac was 23.
In 1996, 2Pac told writer Kevin Powell in Vibe magazine that "I thought my father was dead all my life. I felt I needed a daddy to show me the ropes and I didn't have one."
A single mother with two children, Afeni moved the family often and struggled financially. They eventually moved to Baltimore, and 2Pac enrolled at the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts. He met his lifelong friend Jada Pinkett Smith there and called the time “the freest I ever felt.”
Just this year, Jada opened up about her relationship with 2Pac on Sway’s Sirius XM show, admitting that she met him when she was dealing drugs.
“I've been having kind of an existential crisis around Pac because I was coming out, he was coming in, and there was a point at which we met. And then we kinda were going our separate ways. And I just felt like, 'OK, God, one day you're going to do for Pac what you did for me, which is, you saved me.' And that just never happened for him," she said.
[Photo: Getty Images]
The family moved to Marin City, California, and Afeni succumbed to crack addiction, according to NBC News.
At 17, 2Pac met a woman named Leila Steinberg, who would help him eventually get his foot into the music industry in 1990 as a roadie and dancer for the hip-hop group Digital Underground known for “The Humpty Dance.”
He made his recording debut in 1991 on “Same Song,” from the Nothing but Trouble soundtrack. He signed to Interscope Records and released his debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, in 1991. The album was heralded for taking on topics like racism, violence and police brutality, especially on tracks like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Trapped.”
As 2Pac’s mom said, she was “in the heyday of using” and wasn’t aware that her son was becoming famous.
She once told the Associated Press: "Someone told me that Tupac was on The Arsenio Hall Show, and I thought they were lying."
She got clean a year later, after 2Pac confronted her.
Who was Notorious B.I.G.?
Christopher Wallace was born May 21, 1972 in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. He was the son of Jamaican parents, Voletta Wallace, a preschool teacher, and George Latore, a welder and small-time politician.
Biggie was a good student but dropped out of high school. By the age of 12, he started selling drugs.
"I used to sell crack," he told the New York Times. "My customers were ringing my bell, and they would come up on the steps and smoke right here. They knew where I lived; they knew my moms."
As a 17-year-old, he was arrested for selling crack and spent nine months in jail in North Carolina before making bail. Despite his legal issues, the upstart — who stood at 6-foot-3 and was 280 pounds — started making noise in the New York City hip-hop scene.
He was featured in The Source’s famed Unsigned Hype column and caught the ear of a young executive named Sean “Puffy” Combs. When Combs started his Bad Boy Records in 1993, Biggie was his flagship artist.
[Photo: Getty Images]
Biggie released his debut Ready to Die in 1993, which is a coming-of-age narrative of a young, black man in Brooklyn. The album produced the breakout singles “Juicy” and “Big Poppa,” showcasing Biggie’s lyrical skills and ability to be a ladies man, too.
He started seeing success but feared death and violence.
"I'm not paranoid to the point where —" he told the Times. "Yes, I am. I'm scared to death. Scared of getting my brains blown out."
East Coast vs. West Coast Beef
As rising rappers around the same time, 2Pac and Biggie were once friends. They met in 1993 on the set of “Poetic Justice.” 2Pac was coming from the West and Biggie from the East.
“We just clicked off the top and were cool ever since,” Biggie told Vibe.
That all changed, however, on November 30, 1994, when 2Pac was shot at Quad Studios in New York City. Biggie and Puffy were in the same studios during the time of the incident, and 2Pac felt that they knew it was going to happen to him.
While 2Pac was in jail for 11-and-a-half months on charges of sex abuse, Biggie released the song “Who Shot Ya?” which many — including 2Pac — thought was a direct diss.
“It came out too quick. It was just tasteless,” 2Pac told Vibe. When asked if he knew who shot him at Quad, Pac said he did.
“I know, but it ain’t nothing to speak on,” he said.
Biggie and Puffy dismissed the notion that they were involved with the Quad shooting.
Biggie said that he thought he and Pac were friends prior the accusations, saying, “I can’t believe he would think that I would shit on him like that.”
The simmering feud became a full-blown beef. 2Pac, now signed to Death Row Records, went on the attack against Biggie, Puffy and the East. Death Row Records head Suge Knight joined in, taking aim at Puffy especially.
At the 1995 Source Awards in New York City, he infamously got on the mic and dissed the label head/producer.
“To all you artists out there, who don't wanna be on a record label where the executive producer's… all up in the videos, all on the records, dancin'... then come to Death Row!” he said.
A major part of the East Coast-West Coast feud involved Faith Evans. The singer, signed to Bad Boy Records, was married to The Notorious B.I.G. When the two were estranged, Faith inadvertently got into the middle of the beef.
Following “Hit ‘Em Up,” in which Pac said he slept with Faith, Biggie seemed to confirm the affair. On the track “Brooklyn’s Finest,” he rapped, “If Faye had twins, she’ll probably have two Pacs.”
An infamous photo of Faith and 2Pac also circulated, in which the two seemed cozy. In an interview with Vlad, Faith cleared the air years later and said that nothing happened. She said in 1996, she went to the studio to work on a song with Pac. She was to be paid $25,000 for the track, but she said that he asked her for oral sex.
"[He asked] in a very surprising and offensive way for sure. By that time it was pretty clear to me, it seemed to me that that was kind of like a plan," Evans explained.
On September 7, 1996, 2Pac was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Pac had attended the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson boxing match with Suge Knight at the MGM Grand. Prior to the incident, Pac was spotted attacking Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, a Crips gang member from Compton, California, in the MGM Grand lobby.
As MTV News reported, 14 shots were fired. Pac was hit four times, twice in the chest, once in the arm and once in the thigh. Suge (who was driving the car) was mildly injured by some bullet fragments. Following the shooting, he floored it and drove away to safety.
Pac was taken to the hospital after sustaining four bullet wounds. He spent a week in the hospital on a respirator in critical condition. 2Pac was 25 years old when he died.
[Photo: Getty Images]
As MTV shared, authorities believed that the incident may have been gang-related. Vegas police got in touch with the Los Angeles Police Department, regarding two other shootings that happened in LA that same week. Vegas authorities were also in touch with the NYPD since Pac had been shot there two years prior.
Following Pac’s murder, Biggie and others encouraged an end to the East Coast-West Coast feud. On his Life After Death album, Biggie recorded an ode to the West called “Going Back to Cali.” He even filmed the video for his single, “Hypnotize,” in LA.
A month later, on March 9, 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. Following the Soul Train Awards, Biggie, Puffy and their entourage were headed to an after-party at the Petersen Automotive Museum when a car pulled up beside Biggie’s vehicle and shot him.
Biggie’s car had been at a stoplight, and he had been riding shotgun. Puffy was in the car ahead.
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Salon reported, “The driver, a black male in a suit and bow tie, rolled down his window and fired seven shots from a blue steel 9mm semi-automatic into the green SUV's front passenger door.”
As MTV News shared, the rapper was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the same car and pronounced dead shortly after. Biggie was 24 years old. Salon states that there were “a dozen witnesses and hundreds of clues.”
Hip-hop mourned the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie. In 1997, friends of the two publicly squashed the beef.
Puffy and Snoop Dogg (who was signed to Death Row) came together on the set of the "Steve Harvey Show" to declare a "truce."
At the time, Puffy told MTV, “I think what you can expect from this, is, you can see a little bit more unity as far as east coast rappers and west coast rappers and producers. So, hopefully, you'll see more collaborations and more of a network.”
Despite the fact that 2Pac and Biggie are two of the most high-profile rappers of all time, to this day, their murders remain unsolved.
To hear about the conspiracy theories surrounding their slayings and more, listen to episode 62 of “Martinis & Murder,” “The Unsolved Murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.”
[Photos: Getty Images]
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