Tupac Shakur, a product of New York and Baltimore streets who was once the world's most famous rap star, has been dead six years, and still his murder remains officially unsolved. But a yearlong investigation by the Los Angeles Times suggests Shakur was killed by members of a California gang, just hours after the rapper attacked one of their own, in a hit paid for by Shakur's rival, Notorious B.I.G.
Investigators at the Times uncovered evidence that the shooting was carried out by a Compton, Calif., gang called the Southside Crips. Orlando Anderson, the Crip whom Shakur had attacked, fired the fatal shots. Las Vegas police discounted Anderson as a suspect and interviewed him only once, and then briefly. He was later killed in an unrelated gang shooting.
The murder weapon was supplied by New York rapper Notorious B.I.G., who agreed to pay the Crips $1 million for killing Shakur. Notorious B.I.G. and Shakur had been feuding for more than a year, exchanging insults on recordings and at award shows and concerts. B.I.G. was gunned down six months later in Los Angeles. That killing also remains unsolved.
Before they died, Notorious B.I.G. and Anderson denied any role in Shakur's death.
This account of what they and others did that night is based on police affidavits and court documents as well as interviews with investigators, witnesses and members of the Southside Crips who had never before discussed the killing outside the gang.
Fearing retribution, they agreed to be interviewed only if their names were not revealed.
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in 1971 into a family of black revolutionaries and named after a martyred Incan warrior. Growing up in tough neighborhoods and homeless shelters in New York and Baltimore, he exhibited creative talent and was admitted to the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he studied ballet, poetry, theater and literature.
Shakur's debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, sparked a political firestorm. The lyrics were filled with vivid imagery of violence by and against police.
Despite his fame and stature in the entertainment industry, Shakur never put what he called the "thug life" behind him. During a 1993 concert in Michigan, he attacked a local rapper with a baseball bat and was sentenced to 10 days in jail. In Los Angeles, he was convicted of assaulting a music video producer. In New York, a 19-year-old fan accused Shakur and three of his friends of sexually assaulting her.
While on trial in that case, the rapper was ambushed in a Manhattan recording studio, shot five times and robbed of his jewelry. Shakur later said Notorious B.I.G. and his associates were behind the attack.
Shakur was serving a 4 1/2 -year prison term on the sexual abuse charges when he was visited by Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records in Los Angeles. Knight offered to finance an appeal if Shakur would sign a recording contract with Death Row. The two struck a deal and Shakur was released from prison on a $1.4 million bond.
On Sept. 7, 1996, Shakur went to Las Vegas to attend a championship boxing match between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand Hotel. Shakur arrived around 8:30 p.m., accompanied by armed bodyguards from the Mob Piru Bloods, a Compton street gang whose members worked for Knight's Death Row Records. Shakur and Knight sat in the front row, smoking cigars, signing autographs and waving to fans.
After the fight, as they were walking through the hotel lobby, one of Shakur's bodyguards noticed a member of the rival Southside Crips lingering near a bank of elevators. The man was Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, 21, who had recently helped beat and rob one of Shakur's bodyguards at a mall in Lakewood, Calif.
Shakur charged Anderson and began punching him. His bodyguards jumped in, pounding and kicking Anderson to the ground. Knight joined in, too - just before hotel security guards broke up the 30-second melee, which was captured by a security camera.
Shakur and his entourage stomped triumphantly across the casino floor on their way out of the hotel. A bruised and shaken Anderson gathered himself off the floor in front of dozens of startled onlookers. MGM security guards and Las Vegas police tried to persuade him to file a complaint against his assailants, but he declined.
Bruised and angry
Later, from his hotel, Anderson called other Crips to meet him at the Treasure Island hotel. By the time he arrived, more than a dozen gang members had gathered. The topic of discussion: Who gets to pull the trigger?
According to people who were present, the Crips decided to shoot Shakur after his performance later that night at Club 662, a nightspot just opened by Death Row Records. For the Crips, the beating of Anderson was an affront warranting swift and fatal retaliation. Still, they thought, why not make a little money while they were at it? They decided to ask Shakur's biggest enemy to pay for the hit.
The gang quickly arranged a rendezvous with Notorious B.I.G., who was also in town. Shakur and the Brooklyn rapper, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, had once been friends. Of late, Wallace had been aligning himself with the Crips, sometimes using them as bodyguards, and had prodded them to kill Shakur, promising to pay handsomely for the hit.
The Crips sent an emissary to Wallace's penthouse suite at the MGM. According to people who were present, the envoy explained the gang was prepared to kill Shakur but wanted $1 million for its efforts. Wallace agreed, with one condition, a witness said. He didn't just want Shakur dead. He also wanted the satisfaction of knowing the fatal bullet came from his gun.
Just after 11 p.m., Anderson and three other Crips piled into a 1996 white Cadillac and drove off to the nightclub where they planned to hit Shakur.
As they drove up the Strip, the driver saw a caravan of cars up ahead on the left. Leading the convoy was Knight's black BMW. Shakur was in the passenger seat. They were alone in the car. The Crips decided to strike immediately.
The white Cadillac raced up on the convoy and pulled up beside the BMW. Shakur didn't notice; he was flirting with a carful of women in a lane to his left.
"I saw four black men roll by in a white Cadillac," said Atlanta rapper E.D.I. Mean, who was in the vehicle right behind Shakur's. "I saw a gun come from the back seat out through the driver's front window."
Bullets flew, shattering the windows of the BMW. Shakur tried to duck into the rear of the car for cover, but four rounds hit him, shredding his chest. He would die six days later.
While police investigated at the scene, Anderson and his fellow Crips returned to their hotel, then took to the highway, staggering their departures so as not to attract attention. By sunrise, they were across the California state line.