More than twenty years have passed since the deaths of rap stars Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace). The two rappers were both under thirty years of age and left behind grieving friends and family members who struggled to come to terms with such a sudden and tragic loss. Officially, both murders are still open investigations. Fans of the fallen artists have expressed shock that the murders have remained unsolved for so many years. Theories have been presented surrounding their deaths but no final conclusion had been reached. Following Shakur’s death, his mother Afeni successfully sued Death Row records for control of her son’s master recordings, unpaid earnings and royalties. The parties reached a settlement in August, 2013 in the amount of 2.2 million dollars. Wallace’s mother Voletta, commenced a wrongful death suit against the City of Los Angeles for her son’s death in 2002. On April 5, 2010, the Hon. Jacqueline H. Nguyen dismissed the suit without prejudice. On May 2, 2016, Afeni Shakur died from heart failure at the age of 69 without knowing the truth about her son’s murder.
Russell Poole (1956-2015) was an Los Angeles Police Officer for eighteen years before retiring in 1999 to form his own private investigation firm. He had been assigned to Wallace’s murder but found himself confronted with departmental resistance towards solving the murder. After retiring from the force, Poole became one of the most outspoken voices on behalf of solving the murder of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur. On August 20, 2015, Poole died while meeting with detectives to discuss the unsolved murder of Wallace. His death is also shrouded in mystery with the official cause of a “heart attack” falling under suspicion. Before his death, Poole had decided to collaborate with author Michael Douglas Carlin and filmmaker R.J. Bond to find the truth about Shakur and Wallace’s murders. Their efforts led to the book Tupac 187 and serve as the basis of the recently released Tupac Assassination III: The Battle For Compton. The documentary can been seen on iTunes and Amazon video and is being considered for Netflix at some point. I have seen the documentary and it does shed light on information that was previously widely unknown by many. And while definitely proof of guilt by any party is provided, the evidence trail leads in directions that the general public had never considered before. This composition, Chaos Merchants, is a collection of their notes as they formed what would serve as the basis for their book and the subsequent film. At 133 pages, it is a quick but engaging read. And even for those who believe they know all there is to know about the case, you might find something in here that you did not know before.
The biggest strength in this book is that it legitimately challenges the long-held narrative that after a fight at the MGM Hotel & Casino, Shakur was gunned down by Crips gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, who repeatedly denied shooting Shakur even making an appearance on CNN to clear his name. On May 26, 1998, nearly two years after Shakur’s death, Anderson was shot and killed during a violent confrontation at a car wash in the Compton section of Lost Angeles. Despite his repeated denials that he was the trigger man involved in Shakur’s shooting, many believed that he was in fact guilty due in part to the story put forth by former officer Greg Kading and Anderson’s uncle, Dwayne “Keefe D” Davis. But as we learn through Poole, there was more to the story than meets the eye.
The legacy of Russell Poole will live on throughout time as a result of his exhaustive efforts to find the truth and bring closures to these cases. With this book, he and Carlin have finally removed the lid on many secrets once held firmly in the grip of Death Row records and will have readers shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief. Alas, we are steps closer to the truth about the nights of September 7, 1996 and March 9, 1997.
Following the death of Tupac Shakur on September 13, 1996, his mother Afeni was tasked with becoming administrator of his estate and dealing with a staggering amount of litigation resulting from lawsuits filed against the late rap star and lawsuits on his behalf against Death Row records. Using the proceeds she was awarded through litigation, she established Amaru entertainment in her son’s memory. Her efforts are characteristic of the former revolutionary Black Panther. Tupac often talked about his mother to whom he was much closer than his biological father, Billie Garland. Her battles with crack cocaine addiction are well-known and Tupac himself discussed it on several occasions. In later years after his death, she had been drug-free for a number of years but sadly joined the ranks of African American mothers who have lost their children to the violence of the streets.
Jasmine Guy was a friend of Tupac’s and after his death became friends with his mother. This book is a collection of their discussions that occurred during their blossoming friendship. Afeni talks about her own life and as to be expected, her son’s short life and violent death. Guy visited Shakur’s home in suburban Georgia giving the book the feeling of two old friends sitting on a porch in the summer reminiscing about the days of yesteryear. Afeni’s story is a deep one, rife with tragedy, drugs, revolution, motherhood and redemption. She does not avoid the difficult topics and has come to terms with her past actions and inactions. As this point in her life, she comes across wise beyond her years, freely able to admit when and where she went wrong in life. She opens up to Guy and the result is a hidden literary gem that fans of the late star will come to appreciate.
Since Tupac’s early death, Afeni has been the voice of his legacy, keeping it alive for future generations. Sadly, on May 2, 2016, she passed away at the age of 69 from a suspected heart attack. Her voice has been silenced forever, but for those seeking to understand Afeni and the life she lived, this is her story in her own words.