On September 13, 1996, hip-hop star Tupac Shakur died six days after being shot by an unknown gunman in Las Vegas. He was just 25 years old.
Tupac Shakur, also known by his stage names 2Pac and Makaveli, is still considered one of the greatest rappers of all time, nearly three decades after his untimely death in 1996. In the years since his murder, Shakur has been cited countless times as an inspiration for modern musicians. But the young rapper’s life was anything but glamorous.
Shakur was born in Harlem to a single mother who moved her family around a lot as she struggled to support them. Eventually, the family relocated to California, where the future rapper began dealing crack. But after getting his start in the music business as a dancer for Digital Underground, Tupac Shakur quickly rose to fame as he started putting out his own music.
Unfortunately, his career was short-lived and riddled with controversy and violence. Between his debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, in 1991 and his demise in 1996, Shakur became embroiled in conflicts with other prominent rappers like Notorious B.I.G., Puffy, and Mobb Deep, and Shakur’s connection to Suge Knight’s Death Row Records undoubtedly put a target on his back.
This is the story of Tupac Shakur’s death — and the mysteries that remain.
The Turbulent Rise Of A Rap Legend
Tupac Shakur was no stranger to chaos. His mother, Afeni Shakur, was a fiery political activist and a prominent member of the Black Panther Party — and she was facing a 350-year jail sentence while pregnant with her son.
But even though she had been accused of conspiring to kill police officers and attack police stations, the actual evidence against her was thin. And Afeni Shakur demonstrated her true strength and knack for public speaking when she defended herself in court and eviscerated the prosecution’s case.
Unfortunately, Afeni Shakur’s life only seemed to spiral from there. She gave birth to her son, Tupac Amaru Shakur, in Harlem, New York, on June 16, 1971. Then, she fell into a series of bad relationships and moved her family around numerous times. By the early 1980s, she had become addicted to crack cocaine. And after moving to California, her teenage son walked out on her.
Although Tupac Shakur and his mother would later reconcile, their temporary split marked the beginning of a new chapter for the future rapper.
By 1991, Shakur had transitioned from a Digital Underground roadie to a top-selling rapper in his own right — in large part due to the way his lyrics gave a voice to Black Americans. His music also flipped the bird to oppressive establishments that had long discriminated against people of color.
But while Tupac Shakur was making a name for himself on the charts, he was also making headlines for numerous controversies in his personal life. In October 1993, Shakur was involved in an incident during which he shot two white off-duty police officers — though it was later revealed that the cops were drunk and Shakur had likely shot them in self-defense.
That same year, Complex reported, Shakur was also accused of rape by a then-19-year-old Ayanna Jackson, a crime for which Shakur was eventually sentenced to prison. While he was behind bars, Tupac Shakur met record producer Marion “Suge” Knight, who offered to pay his $1.4 million bail as long as Shakur agreed to sign with Knight’s label, Death Row Records.
This deal, however, heightened tensions between the West Coast-based Shakur and his East Coast contemporaries, as Knight had known affiliations with the Bloods gang. Perhaps most notable, the New York rapper Notorious B.I.G. had ties to the Southside Crips, a rival gang of the Bloods.
And on November 30, 1994, while Shakur was working on his third album, Me Against the World, in a Manhattan recording studio, two armed men approached Shakur in the lobby of the building and demanded that he hand over his belongings, according to HISTORY. When he refused, they shot him.
Shakur was later treated at a hospital but went against his doctors’ advice and checked himself out shortly after his surgery, convinced the robbery had been set up to kill him. Specifically, Shakur accused the Notorious B.I.G. and Puffy of organizing the attack, heightening the East Coast/West Coast rivalry.
This rivalry and Shakur’s link to Suge Knight — and therefore, the Bloods — is the root of several prominent theories around Tupac Shakur’s death, with many believing that the Notorious B.I.G. paid to have Shakur killed.
But of course, the whole story behind Tupac Shakur’s murder has never been definitively proven. And the Notorious B.I.G. died in an eerily similar fashion — just six months after Shakur’s demise.
The Drive-By Shooting That Killed Tupac Shakur
On the night of September 7, 1996, famed boxer Mike Tyson easily defeated Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in under two dozen punches. In the crowd were Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight. Hyped up after the match, Shakur was heard shouting, “Twenty blows! Twenty blows!”
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it was right after this match that Shakur spotted Orlando Anderson in the lobby, a member of the Southside Crips who had caused trouble for a Death Row Records member, Travon “Tray” Lane, earlier that year. Within moments, Shakur was on Anderson, knocking him flat on his back and then strutting out of the building.
Just two hours later, Shakur was bleeding from four bullet wounds.
Shakur had been riding shotgun in a black BMW driven by Suge Knight on their way to Club 662 in Las Vegas to celebrate Tyson’s successful match. But as the car idled at a red light on Flamingo Road and Koval Lane, a white Cadillac pulled up alongside the vehicle — and someone inside the Cadillac suddenly opened fire. At least 12 shots rang out through the air.
While one bullet grazed Knight’s head, four struck Shakur. Two .40 caliber bullets hit the rapper in the chest, one hit him in the thigh, and one hit him in the arm. Shortly thereafter, Shakur spoke his final words to a police officer who asked him who shot him. The rapper’s response was this: “F**k you.”
Shakur was rushed to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada and given emergency surgery. Doctors soon announced that Shakur’s chances of recovery were improving. But six days after he was shot, on September 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur succumbed to his wounds and met his death.
The main question now was this: Who killed him?
The Unsolved Mystery Of Tupac Shakur’s Death
All these years later, people still debate who murdered Tupac Shakur.
“It depends on who you talk to,” journalist and film producer Stephanie Frederic told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Frederic has worked on several projects about Shakur’s life, including the biopic All Eyez on Me.
“If you ask the Las Vegas police department, they’ll tell you it’s because, ‘Well, the people who know aren’t talking.’ When you talk to the people who do know, they’re like, ‘Oh, that situation is handled,'” she explained. “There’s too many dirty details, too many people who will come under fire, too many secrets that will probably get out, that shouldn’t be out.”
Frederic, who was outside the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada while Shakur was being treated, described the scene as “chaotic.” Celebrities and community organizers visited, drivers passing by blasted Shakur’s music with their windows down, and multiple people tried to assure one another that Shakur would survive the shooting — he’d been shot before, after all.
Of course, Shakur didn’t survive, and despite the multiple witnesses who saw the Cadillac pull up and open fire, no one talked — including the Death Row Records entourage who were driving near Knight and Shakur.
But several years later, in 2018, a former Crip named Duane Keith Davis claimed that he was in the Cadillac on that fateful night, along with his nephew Orlando Anderson and two other members of the Southside Crips. Davis denied being the one who shot Shakur but refused to give up the triggerman due to “the code of the streets.”
However, research from former LAPD Detective Greg Kading alleges that Davis was the one who was initially hired to kill Shakur under orders from Puffy (who denied these accusations), and Anderson was purportedly the one who actually pulled the trigger (he died in a gang shootout in 1998 and was never formally charged in connection with Tupac Shakur’s death).
There are, naturally, countless theories as to what really happened that day and who actually killed Tupac.
Some people suggest that Notorious B.I.G. ordered the hit on Shakur. Others say evidence points to Anderson and a simple desire for revenge. Yet others claim that the government had Shakur killed due to his family’s ties to the Black Panthers and his talent for uniting Black Americans. More outlandish theories claim Shakur never died and is, in fact, still alive and in Cuba today.
Perhaps the truth will forever remain elusive, or perhaps not.
Tupac Shakur may have died in 1996, but he lives on, in some form at least, through his music — and there’s something powerful in that.