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Death of Biggie

By Emily Brochu
On March 1, 2019

This March 9th will mark the 22-year anniversary of the death and murder of Brooklyn rapper Christopher Wallace, better known to fans as the Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls. Just six months after his former mentor-turned-rival Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting, the same fate found Biggie while on his way home from a party in Los Angeles in 1997. He had been in Los Angeles promoting his upcoming album, Life After Death, and was stopped at a red light around 12:45 am when a dark-colored Chevrolet Impala SS pulled up beside Biggie’s SUV and hit him four times with a 9mm blue-steel pistol. One of the shots was fatal: it entered his right hip, hitting his colon, liver, heart, and the bottom lobe of his left lung before stopping in his right shoulder area. Despite being rushed to a nearby hospital, Biggie was pronounced dead at 1:15 am. He was 24 years old.

The world of rap was stunned. In just six months, two rappers in a feud with one another were both killed in drive-by shootings and there was not enough evidence to know who either of the killers were, assuming they were different people. Rumors circulated in New York and Los Angeles newspapers, numerous books were written, documentaries were haphazardly slapped together, and lawsuits were filed. The Los Angeles Police Department was under investigation for the alleged involvement of some of their officers, Biggie’s family was suing for “wrongful death claims,” and rappers everywhere were mourning the sudden loss. Rap legend Nas commented that the death of both rappers was “nearly the end of rap.”

Well, rap didn’t end and neither did the investigation of Biggie’s death. To this day it remains a mystery, but there are plenty of people who have been accused in numerous conspiracies.

One of the most popular theories has its roots in 1993 when the two first met. Biggie reportedly slept on Tupac’s couch when he was in California, and Tupac always visited Biggie when he was in New York City. In 1993 Biggie wasn’t a well-known rapper outside of Brooklyn, but Tupac had already gone platinum and established himself as an actor; naturally Tupac fell into a role as a mentor for Biggie. Early in their relationship, when Biggie was signed to Bad Boy Records under Sean Combs aka “P. Diddy” or “Puffy” or “Diddy,” Biggie feared the label wasn’t well-known enough for his debut album Ready to Die to succeed. He asked Tupac to be his manager but Tupac declined the offer, telling Biggie to stay with Diddy and Diddy would make him a star.

That same year in Nov. Tupac was arrested for the alleged rape of 19-year old Ayanna Jackson. At the time of the arrest, he was found in possession of illegal guns whom Tupac claimed belonged to Biggie. One of the men arrested with Tupac was Haitian Jack, a powerful socialite who had welcomed the West Coast rapper into his NYC circle. Tupac later name-dropped Jack saying he had set him up in the Jackson case.

While the rape trial was still ongoing in November 1994, Tupac was in New York City’s Time Square at Quad Records to record with rapper Little Shawn who held close ties with Biggie’s manager, Diddy. While approaching the elevator three men attacked Tupac: he was shot, beaten, and robbed before he pretended to be dead and the offenders fled the scene. While Biggie and Diddy, who were both in the building, deny any knowledge of the set-up, Tupac claimed he knew he was targeted and suspected his two supposed friends. A New York police officer said Tupac was attacked for name dropping Haitian Jack in the Jackson case. Tupac always believed Biggie had set him up. It didn’t help that Biggie released his track “Who Shot Ya” shortly after, in which he expresses loyalty to the East Coast and the Bad Boy group.

Tupac ended up being convicted in the Jackson case and was serving his 1 ½ to 4 ½ year sentence when a reliable visitor, unnamed, went to visit Tupac and urged him to believe Biggie knew about the Quad Records shooing. At the same time, Tupac signed to Death Row Records, headed by Suge Knight, who promised to help Tupac get out of prison as soon as possible. After 9 months Tupac was released in October 1995.

People close to Tupac claimed he was different after prison; he was more menacing and dark. While Tupac was in prison Biggie’s career had heightened with the release of Ready to Die. Both rappers were becoming increasingly famous and loved by fans and their East Coast vs West Coast competition was taking on more life. It did not help the situation that both Death Row and Bad Boy Records were adding fuel to the fire for more publicity. 

In October 1996 Tupac was killed following a fight between Tupac’s entourage and Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, a man who had robbed one of Death Row’s members. Due to their rivalry and rumors from the Quad Records attack on Tupac, fingers were pointed at Biggie and his crew on the Each Coast. They immediately denied these claims saying that Biggie was in the studio that night recording his song “Nasty Boy.” Documents and computerized invoices suggesting that he was working in a New York recording studio the night of Tupac’s death were produced by his family, but there were no dates on the documents and the New York Times deemed the evidence “inconclusive.”

Biggie’s family and associates denied any and all involvement with Tupac’s death, but Tupac’s fans and close friends always suspected he was behind the murder, whether he was in New York or not. It’s no surprise that when Biggie was shot and killed March 9th, 1997 the East Coast turned to the West Coast for blame, specifically Knight. Knight was Tupac’s close friend and it’s easy to imagine Knight seeking revenge for Tupac’s death which some say made it look as though the East Coast had won.

Lengthy investigations that seek to answer some of rap's most asked questions seem to always resurface with even more questions. There are holes in Tupac’s and Biggie’s stories that perhaps will never be filled. Did Biggie set up Tupac at Quad Records? Did Biggie have people in LA the night Tupac was killed? Was Biggie even in New York the night of Tupac’s murder? Was Biggie’s assassination a response from Tupac’s loyal group?

Other conspiracies raise questions of the New York and Los Angeles police departments being involved. Another version of the story places Suge Knight as the killer. A different version says Tupac shot himself at Quad Records to set Biggie up, while other people claim they were random muggers. Despite more than two decades of interviews, investigations, books, movies, and articles there is no named killer for Biggie Smalls.

It’s interesting to imagine what his music would sound like if he had survived today, and what he would have made of today’s rising stars, and if these rappers would have the same opportunities if Biggie was still here. How would Biggie feel about the “mumble rap” movement? What about J. Cole? Drake? Cardi B? Travis Scott?

We’ll never see his evolution as an artist in the 20th century but we’ll always have his projects to remanence on. His two studio albums, Ready to Die and Life After Death still influence artists and listeners today; Biggie’s unique flow and ability to tell a story set him apart from the other mainstream rappers during his time. There was no one like Biggie before him and there will never be anyone quite like him again. His gruff voice found elegance on punchy beats, his lyrics found understanding in a new rising generation, and his legacy will continue to live on as long as rap music is till bumpin’.

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