When I think of the murder of rap star Tupac Shakur (1971-1996), I not only think of the brutal manner in which he died but also of his enormous potential as an actor and possibly more in a career for which the sky was the limit. At only twenty-five years of age, Shakur had lived an incredible life and even reading about it today results in my constant amazement at his rise to stardom. I have always believed that a part of the rap industry died that day, never to return. At the time of his death, Shakur was the highest selling rapper and a titan of the industry. When he told Marion “Suge” Knight that he would “put Death Row on the map”, he did not exaggerate. Officially, his murder remains unsolved and is an open homicide within the Las Vegas Police Department (“LVPD”). Shakur’s murder remains a mystery but journalist Cathy Scott decided to take a look at the killing of Tupac Shakur.
Detectives in multiple police departments have long believed that the man who fired the shots that took Shakur’s life was Orlando Anderson (1974-1998), a member of the South Side Crips in Compton, California. And although he was never formally charged in the murder, his name is forever linked to the crime as a result of a physical altercation earlier that night at the MGM Grand Hotel. Anderson had been attacked and seriously beaten by an entourage composed of Shakur, Knight and affiliates of Death Row Records in town that weekend for the Mike Tyson – Bruce Seldon boxing match. The incident was captured on camera and the footage is widely available on the internet for those who have yet to watch it. Compton police officers familiar with Anderson, believed that he was certainly capable of murdering Shakur and that he would have no hesitations in shooting anyone who had disrepected him. Further, detectives in the gang unit have always felt that the shooting was direct retaliation for the earlier altercation. The LVDP declined to charge Anderson with murder due to lack of evidence. And whatever secrets Anderson did keep went with him to his grave.
It should be noted that no “smoking gun” exist here in the book. If it had, Scott would have certainly been heralded as the person who finally revealed the truth. Instead, the book is a thorough examination of everything that happened that night, the following investigations and a look at the lives of Tupac, Suge Knight and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) whose death on March 9, 1997 seemed to indicate that it was open season on rappers. Interestingly, I found that although I have followed the Shakur case since the shooting, there were a few things that I learned here which I had not previously known. Further, Scott does not subscribe to any conspiracy theories, thus removing any trace of bias or insanity in the book. She is simply the investigative reporter, relaying to the reader what she has discovered.
In my perception, the crux of the book is the investigation by the LVPD. Shakur’s murder is perhaps the most notorious crime to take place on the Las Vegas. However, in spite of the location of the shooting and the extensive number of witnesses, no one was ever charged with the murder. Scott shows the early mistakes made by the LVPD and interactions between the department and the Compton Police Department and even the New York City Police Departmet which still had a vested interested in any information gleaned that could help in its own investigation of the 1994 shooting at Quad Studios in which Shakur was critically injured. The faulty investigations and lack of cooperation from potential witnesses combined to ensure that Shakur’s murder would never be solved. Further, the one witness who could have been useful, Yafeu Fula (1977-1996), was himself murdered two months to the day that Shakur died, taking with him any information he had about the death of his best friend and rap’s brightest star.
As I read the book, I began to see that the biggest threat to Tupac’s life were the very people he was surrounded by. As shown in the book, Suge Knight, who had once played for the Los Angeles Rams, had embraced the criminal culture and Death Row Records had evolved into a haven for off-duty cops and gang members. For Shakur, turning over a new life soon became a pipe dream. Las Vegas was his destiny and in the final act, blood was spilled and a young man lost his life to sheer insanity. However, to understand Tupac in death, we must understand his life and Scott provides a good discussion of his early life that began on the streets of New York City and took him all the way to California. The role of his mother Afeni Shakur (1947-2016) is also discussed both prior to and after his death. Other figures important in Shakur’s life are also part of the story to varying degrees. Yet Scott never loses her focus on Shakur who is the main subject.
Another area of the book I found intriguing was the financial affairs of Death Row. Putting aside the well-known story of Michael “Harry-O” Harris, Scott also reveals a few interesting facts about the company’s founding and its finances which had resulted in an investigation by federal authorities. What is evidently clear is that there was far more taking placed behind the scenes at Death Row than fans could have ever known at the time. Its CEO is known as a shrewd businessman, having risen from the streets of Compton to becoming the CEO of a record company that became a juggernaut. His fall from grace is nothing short of mind blowing.
To be expected, high focus is placed on Anderson and while Scott does not reveal anything goundbreaking, what she does present is food for thought. For a more thorough examination of Orlando Anderson, I do recommend Once Upon a Time in Compton, which provides a more detailed analysis of the raids by the Los Angeles Police Department and Compton Police Department on Anderson’s homes and the evidence tht was seized. The information is largely based on the work by former Compton Gang Unit detectives Tim J. “Blondie” Brennand and Robert Ladd. There was one part of Scott’s discussion of Orlando that did stand out with regards to the lawsuit filed by Anderson against Shakur’s estate and Afeni’s countersuit. Both were pending at the time of Anderson’s death but there had been a surprise turn of events in the case literally hours before his death.
In the years that have followed his murder, rumors of Shakur having faked his own death can still be found online and through social media. He has joined Elvis, whom many people continue to proclaim is still alive and well somewhere. I believe Scott puts the rumors of Shakur being alive to rest for good. His death is surely a tragedy but far from being a staged event. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. I could not help feel while reading that part of what makes Shakur’s death so tragic, is that it comes across as another case of the deadly system of black on black violence that has endured for far too long. Consider these facts revealed by Scott:
Statistics show that black-on-black gun violence has been the leading cause of death for black youths 15 to 19 years old since 1969. From 1987 to 1989, the gun homicide rate for black males 15 to 19 increased 71 percent. Of the roughly 20,000 murders committed each year in the U.S. between 1991 and 1995, 50 percent were cases involving black victims.
Twenty-five years have passed since Shakur’s death but the issue of black on black crime has not subsided as we can see by the violence in the streets of places such as Los Angeles, Compton, Watts, Chicago, Houston and even New York City. It is like a festering wound that can never heal and reminds me of my old neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn, which saw its own deadly cycle of black on black crime. I truly hope the future brings a much needed change that will see less young black men dying in the streets of America. For those in search of solid and theory free information on the killing of Tupac Shakur, this is a good place to start and a must-have for any reader familiar with the case.