At 4:03 p.m. on September 13, 1996, rap star Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) died from gunshot wounds he received on September 7 while riding in the passenger seat of a BWM driven by former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight on the Las Vegas strip. Shakur was twenty-five years old and left behind a complicated legacy that remains a top of discussion in rap music culture. I remember with vivid clarity the shock that was felt when his death was announced and have always believed that a part of the rap music genre died with him that day. Officially his murder is listed as unsolved and an open case by the Las Vegas Police Department. Off the record, it has been alleged and believed that Crips gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson (1974-1998) pulled the trigger of the gun that ended Shakur’s life. The case is filled with rumors, mysteries, and chilling facts. Journalist Cathy Scott stepped into this murky world to set the record straight on Shakur’s murder.
Anderson was never charged by Las Vegas Police for Shakur’s murder but the physical altercation between the two earlier that night at the MGM Grand Hotel did provide a highly probable motive. He had been attacked and beaten by an entourage composed of Shakur, Knight, and affiliates of Death Row Records, who were visiting Las Vegas to attend 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 see it. After the shooting on the strip, Anderson was questioned but not detained by police. In interviews following the rapper’s death, he maintained his innocence, and any secrets he did have went with him to his grave when he himself died from gunshot wounds on May 29, 1998. For a more thorough examination of Orlando Anderson’s story, I recommend Lolita Files’s ‘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 that was seized. The information is based on the work of former Compton Gang Unit detectives Tim “Blondie” Brennand and Robert Ladd.
It should be noted that no “smoking gun” exists 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 and chronology of the events that night, the subsequent investigation, and the relevant murder of rapper 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 things that I learned here that I had not previously known. Further, Scott does not subscribe to any conspiracy theories, thus removing any trace of bias in the book. She is the investigative reporter relaying to the reader what she discovered.
Before discussing the murder, the author sets the stage by exploring the background of Death Row Records and its founder. Readers who have watched the documentary ‘Welcome to Death Row‘ will be familiar with the label’s history and the role of convicted drug dealer Michael “Harry O” Harris. The documentary is far more extensive in the amount of information provided but Scott includes the right amount here to provide an overall picture of how Suge Knight accumulated power in the American music industry. The life of Tupac is also discussed and anyone who has not seen the film ‘Tupac Resurrection‘, should view it either before or after reading this book. In 1995, the lives of Knight and Shakur crossed paths when the CEO offered Tupac a way out of prison. Contrary to widely held belief, Suge Knight did not bail Tupac out of jail but did facilitate the move. The truth about who bailed him out can be found in this New York Times article. Before their meeting was over, Tupac promised that he would put Death Row on the map. He did not exaggerate.
On September 7, 1996, Shakur attended the short-lived boxing match between Tyson and Seldon. While walking through the lobby, his entourage spotted Anderson standing by himself. The story that has persisted over the years is that Trayvon Lane whispered something in Tupac’s ear that caused him to take off running towards Anderson. Investigators later learned that Anderson was part of a group that had assaulted Lane and taken his Death Row chain and medallion and the Lakewood Mall in July 1996. To this day there is speculation regarding what Lane said since he has never given interviews and Shakur is deceased. What is clear is that Tupac was intent on getting to Anderson. Following the assault at the MGM, all hell broke loose as shots were heard on the strip. Police rushed to the scene to find Shakur and Knight wounded. The author goes through the events minute by minute capturing the chaos that ensued. She also reveals that multiple cars did chase the white Cadillac seen by witnesses but there is no further mention of what happened as a result. Finding witnesses willing to talk proved to be a challenge for investigators but one member of the rap group “The Outlaws” named Yafeu Fula (1977-1996), did tell detectives that he was able to see the shooter’s face. The lost opportunity to utilize his knowledge is an additional tragedy in the book and his fate will leave readers speechless.
There was one part of Scott’s discussion of Orlando that did stand out with regard 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 surprising turn of events in the case hours before his death. Anderson was no saint, but it is hard to answer the question as to who he really was. The facts presented by Scott stand in contrast to the street reputation of “Baby Lane”. On the A & E show ‘Who Killed Tupac‘, his brother and cousin adamantly stated that Anderson did not shoot Shakur. While reading the book a sense of gloom overcame me due to the story serving as an example of the black-on-black violence that continues to plague inner-city neighborhoods. The author is mindful of this and includes statistics that are sobering. As relayed 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.
After Shakur was admitted to the hospital, the level of craziness continued to escalate. Due to Shakur’s notoriety, the hospital found itself a target of the press, prank callers and enemies of the slain rapper. In the years since this book was published, YouTube has become a powerful platform for video presentations and multiple people affiliated with Death Row Records have spoken publicly about the events in Las Vegas. Kenya Ware was a stylist for the record label and Shakur. She spoke with him shortly before the shooting and stated in interviews that as they sat on the Las Vegas strip stunned, passing cars continued to taunt the Death Row entourage. It is not clear if Scott knew this at the time, but she does recall discussions she had outside the hospital with more than one person who told her that they knew who did it and the shooters were not from Las Vegas. That explains the retaliation shootings discussed in the book that erupted across Compton, California in the wake of Shakur’s death.
Inside the hospital, the scene was somber and tense. Scott brings the past alive and discards anything that is hearsay. Her possession of the official autopsy report placed her in a position to stick to the facts of how the rapper died. Stories about Tupac’s final days at the hospital are endless and filtering truth from fiction is a challenge. However, she sticks to the facts and keeps the story streamlined and void of useless gossip. In doing her due diligence as a reporter, Scott spoke to hospital personnel who revealed the absurd phone calls they received. After Shakur died, the number of calls increased, and what the callers were in search of speaks volumes about human nature. Afeni Shakur (1947-2016) had flown to Las Vegas after learning her son was shot and endured days of agony before the end came for him. But she might not have known at the time that her work on behalf of her son was just beginning. Scott discusses Afeni’s actions after her son’s death and her contributions to his legacy. Sadly, Afeni passed on May 2, 2016.
The elephant in the room is the feud between Shakur and Wallace but the author refutes any claims that Bad Boy Records CEO Sean “Puffy” Combs played a role in Shakur’s death. In fact, the entire book is filled with clarifications of long-running rumors with no basis in fact. One rumor is the belief that Suge Knight orchestrated the hit. I never believed the theory nor did the author. Knight, who is serving a twenty-eight-year prison sentence on unrelated charges, has always denied being behind the shooting. She also puts to rest conspiracy theories that claim Shakur is alive after having faked his own death. This book was published in 2002, nine years before the publication of former Los Angeles police officer Greg Kading’s ‘Murder Rap‘ in which Orlando Anderson’s uncle Duane “Keefe D” Davis reveals how Shakur was allegedly killed. Scott was not aware of these claims at the time she wrote this but further complicating matters is that Davis’s claims are unable to be verified as the three other people whom he said were in the car are deceased. Personally, one part of Davis’s story that always bothered me was if he participated in the murder, then why were there no attempts on his life that we know of? And why haven’t Las Vegas police arrested him if he is confessing to being part of the murder? I do not know if Scott will publish a follow-up to his book or a revision addressing Davis’s claims, but if she does, it will be an enjoyable read. Kading has made a name for himself on the matter, but I strongly recommend readers listen to a podcast called ‘The Dossier’ which focuses on the murder of Christopher Wallace and its connection to Shakur’s death.
In recent years, interest in the murders of both rappers has increased and it is remarkable that more than twenty years later, we are still talking about their lives. Both are tragedies in which two young men died far too young. I will never forget the sense of loss felt when their deaths were announced and the realization that rap feuds had moved from the records to the streets. On one of the busiest nights of the year on one of the busiest streets in the country, Shakur was shot and killed in front of hundreds of witnesses, yet his murder remains unsolved as the television show of the same name shows. We may never know the full truth about the shooting that took his life, but this is the story of his murder as it happened in September 1996. Highly recommended.
“I’m not saying I’m gonna change world. But I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world. So keep your head up. Do what you gotta do. And then inside of you, I’ll be reborn“. – Tupac Amaru Shakur