Tupac Shakur Lived by the
Mic and Died by the Gun

© Brandt Hardin

Tupac Shakur was admired for being extraordinarily handsome, extraordinarily intelligent, and extraordinarily pissed off. On September 13, 1996, with five studio albums under his belt and a dozen bullets under his skin at the age of 25, ‘Pac was pronounced extraordinarily dead. Fifteen years later, his high ideals and low brow gangsta swagger continue to inspire the world’s disenchanted to raise up out of despondency—or at least, to raise up their weapons.

Tupac did time in prison before he was even born. His mother, Afeni Shakur, a radical Black Panther, was released just a month before she went into labor. She was acquitted for her alleged part in a Panther bombing conspiracy, but his grandfather (also a Black Panther) was convicted of murdering a school teacher and his stepfather spent four years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. ‘Pac came up from revolutionary fire on both the East and West Coast. It only makes sense that he would climb out by becoming an actor, a ballerino, and an aspiring rapper during his years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. After his debut with Digital Underground in 1990—who took him on as a roadie, then a dancer, then a rapper—it wasn’t long before all eyes were on him.

At different times in his life, every man shows multiple faces to the world. Browsing through the hundreds of photos taken during ‘Pac’s life, we see every possible persona: Happy Tupac, Sad Tupac, Silly Tupac, Pissed Off Tupac, Sly Tupac, Romantic Tupac, Gangsta Tupac, Guilty as Hell Tupac, Intellectual with Spectacles Tupac, Reborn in All White Tupac, Confused Tupac, Concerned Tupac, Indifferent Tupac, and of course, the Always Thoughtful Tupac.

It’s hard to say what Tupac was thinking when he fumbled and dropped his loaded pistol during a skirmish at a Marin City music festival in 1992, which allegedly went off and fatally wounded six year-old Qa’id Walker-Teal as he pedaled his bicycle down the street.  Once the weight of the matter had sunk in, it was never far from his conscience. He was less apologetic about the 1993 incident in Atlanta when his driver nearly hit two off-duty police officers as they crossed the street with their wives. The cops confronted Tupac aggressively and so the rapper popped a cap in one of their asses—literally. Having spent his early years being beaten down by life’s little insults, it was a triumphant moment indeed.

Every gangsta rapper talks about “comin’ from the real” and “bein’ real.” Not content to be lumped in with the average G, Tupac left the East Coast fold and signed with the infamous Death Row Records on the West Coast, proclaiming himself to be “the realest.”

“We’re just being who we are,” he maintained. “It’s beyond good and evil. It’s Thug Life.”

Thug Life was so near to ‘Pac’s heart, he had the words tattooed on his stomach with a bullet in place of the “i.”  Jon Pareles—sounding like the biggest cracker on the cheese plate—described Tupac’s position thusly in The New York Times: “In some raps, Mr. Shakur glamorized the life of the ‘player,’ a high-living, macho gangster flaunting ill-gotten gains.”

To hear Tupac tell it on his later records, you’d think he left a pile of dead gangstas in his wake that would stack to the moon. His unique style is so impassioned, so convincing, so enthralling, that it is hard to listen without feeling the youthful desire to unleash total violence on your enemies. One envisions Wrathful Tupac, Blood-soaked Tupac, Absolutely Invincible Tupac.

Despite such brash claims, Tupac’s gangsta bona fides were called into question by ostensibly “realer” detractors. Was he a true G or just a former ballerino playing out his violent fantasies in a campy performance of The Thugcracker? While in prison on sexual assault charges, Not Guilty as Hell Tupac did a bit of backpedaling, telling Vibe magazine:

“This Thug Life stuff, it was just ignorance. My intentions was always in the right place. I never killed anybody, I never raped anybody, I never committed no crimes that weren’t honorable—that weren’t to defend myself.”

The years spent as Accused Sodomite Tupac—from the date of the alleged rape in late 1993 to his release from prison on appeal two years later—were to become a dramatic turning point in the rapper’s state of mind. Tupac claimed to be the victim of an opportunistic set up by a “dumpy” groupie; his accuser claimed to be the victim of a humiliating gang rape instigated by the rapper. No one but God can judge ‘Pac at this point, but the jury found him guilty of sexual abuse.

On November 30, 1994, the day before Tupac’s sentencing for sexual assault, he walked into Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan where Biggie Smalls and Puffy Combs happened to be upstairs. Two gunmen in army fatigues drew on Tupac and his crew, demanding their jewelery. Tupac refused, so one of the men popped five bullets into him. One of the shots went straight through his nutsack. Bloody and confused, Tupac found himself upstairs with Biggie and Puffy. Tupac later claimed that the two were completely aloof toward him before the ambulance arrived, as though they were surprised that he made it upstairs. Until his death two years later, Tupac suspected that the East Coast rappers were somehow involved in the shooting.

Despite Tupac’s pitiful, bullet-riddled, wheelchair-bound presence in the courtroom the next day, the judge sentenced him to hard time in Riker’s Island Prison—where he became the first artist to have an album reach #1 while behind bars with Me Against the World. He wound up serving only nine months before his appeal, but it was long enough for the rapper to recover his potency and return to his radical roots. He immediately began recording All Eyes on Me with Death Row Records upon his release on bail.

“What I learned in jail is that I can’t change,” Tupac told a KMEL interviewer in April 1996. “I can’t live a different lifestyle—this is it…All I’m trying to do is survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle that they gave me. I’m just trying to make something good out of that.”

Despite the relentless violence of tracks like “Hit ‘Em Up”—in which he promises to rain bullets on Biggie Smalls and the whole of the East Coast in a Rambo-esque tirade—Tupac would redeem himself to liberal observers by trying to help ghetto kids turn their lives around through mentoring and organized sports. As his social consciousness and dramatic delusions of grandeur gained momentum, he began to refashion himself as a militarized revolutionary icon.

“I’ll follow any great man, black or white,” he stated in his last interview. “I’m gonna study him, learn him, so he can’t be great to me no more…

“[I'll take] the discipline, the seriousness, and the bond that the Mob has, take the enthusiasm, the morals, and the principles that the Black Panthers had…take the ‘all of us as a team’ that the police have…[take the] ‘whatever we got to do to be Number 1” that the United States has…

“That’s what makes me unstoppable…

“I didn’t get that power from guns, because there’s no guns in jail, I got that power from books, and from thinking, and by strategizin’—that’s what I want little niggas to see…

“When the East Coast, and the West Coast, and the Middle Americans get together we got power…and that’s when we closer to Armageddon…

“I’m the future of Black America.”

On September 7—coincidentally, the birthday of Buddy Holly—Tupac attended a Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with Death Row founder Suge Knight. After the fight, Tupac and his entourage spotted an alleged Crip “Orlando” Anderson in the hotel’s lobby, who had supposedly robbed one of their homies at a Foot Locker some time earlier. Anderson immediately became the guest of honor at a Death Row boot party.

'Pac's final photo op

Satisfied that justice had been served, Tupac climbed into Suge’s BMW and set out for Club 662 followed by a convoy of riders. A photographer snapped the famous last photograph—Do I Know You, Muthafucka? Tupac—about twenty minutes before a white Cadillac pulled alongside the convoy and peppered Suge’s BMW with hot lead. Suge made it out with a flesh wound on his dome, but bullets slammed into Tupac’s hand, leg, and torso, shredding his right lung. After fighting for his life for six days, ‘Pac no longer had to wonder if heaven has a ghetto.  His murder stirred up various accusations of police cover-ups, conspiracy theories, and false leads, yet his killers still remain at large.

The media unleashed a sensationalist frenzy that put the national spotlight on gang violence—stoking the mythical rivalry between the East and West Coasts—and exalted a new rock star martyr to the right hand of Elvis Presley. Three weeks later, Death Row released the first of eight posthumous ‘Pac albums under the pseudonym Makaveli, entitled Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory. The tracks were written and recorded in three days and then mixed over the next four days. The album’s cover is perhaps the most brazen facsimile of the Christ image ever produced by pop culture, given the circumstances. Surrounded in mystique and subject to endless synchronistic interpretations, Don Killuminati sold 664,000 copies in its first week and over four million to date.

Tupac’s story continues to inspire various disillusioned and angry youths across the globe with his tragic mythos and fierce lyrical skill, which keeps him enshrined as another secular Son of the digital God. His meteoric rise and abrupt fall reveal the grinding contradictions between empathic idealism and the craven animal impulses that arise in every human heart.  His own ideas on the nature of good and evil are poignant:

“I’m the religion that to me is the realest religion there is…I think that if you take one of the “O’s” out of ‘Good’ it’s ‘God,’ if you add a ‘D’ to ‘Evil’, it’s the ‘Devil’…

“The bible tells us that…because [God's chosen] suffered so much that’s what makes them special people. I got shot five times and I got crucified to the media. And I walked through with the thorns on and I had shit thrown on me…I’m not saying I’m Jesus but I’m saying we go through that type of thing everyday. We don’t part the Red Sea but we walk through the hood without getting shot. We don’t turn water to wine but we turn dope fiends and dope heads into productive citizens of society. We turn words into money. What greater gift can there be?”

It’s easy for uptight folks to write Tupac off as a failed messiah, a whining hypocrite, a narcissistic fruitcake, or a wannabe warlord, but we’ll let him have the last word on his legacy:

“[If] you saw a rose growing from concrete, even if it had messed up petals and it was a little to the side, you would marvel at just seeing a rose grow through concrete. So why is it that when you see some ghetto kid grow out of the dirtiest circumstance and he can talk and he can sit across the room and make you cry, make you laugh, all you can talk about is my dirty rose, my dirty stems and how I’m leaning crooked to the side—you can’t even see that I’ve come up from out of that.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

2Pac ShakurDear Mama
1995

Eazy E: A Straight G Killed By HIV

© Jeffrey Bertrand

To hear him tell it on his records, Eazy E was a ghetto-blasting geyser spewing bullets and semen in every direction. If Eazy wanted to screw in a lightbulb, he could just wrap his dick around it and let the world turn around his balls. And if some studio-gangsta criticized this method, E would pop a cap in that ass.

Eazy E succumbed to AIDS on March 26, 1995 at the age of 31, but his legacy lives on through brutal, bitch-slapping gangsta rap and various microscopic organisms. He was a set-claiming hero for alienated black youth, a jheri-curled Casanova for rap-lovin’ starfuckers, a total embarrassment to African American moral authorities, and for the suburban white community—the musical equivalent of a PCP-laced joint smoked in a highschool bathroom stall. A few days after he passed away, the mayor of Compton, Omar Bradley, officially declared Eazy to be “Compton’s favorite son.” After all, E had made his downtrodden LA suburb a household name.

The story of Eazy E’s rise from a neighborhood Crip to the Godfather of Gansta Rap reads like a paranoid Ku Klux Klan pamphlet: shifty Jewish investors, gun-toting black thugs, a conservative white police state, an American society in perpetual decline.

It all starts with $250,000 of drug money that Eazy had stashed away for a rainy day. After securing the added capital of Jerry Heller—a Jewish entrepreneur from the Valley—Eazy E founded Ruthless Records. Their first endeavor was Niggaz Wit Attitude, featuring Dr. Dre droppin’ phat beatz, Ice Cube weaving blow-ya-mind rhymes, and Eazy E’s whine on the mic. N.W.A.’s first major release came in 1988. Straight Outta Compton blew the doors open for gangsta rap to sweep across America, and the album has sold over two and a half million copies to date.

N.W.A.’s most notorious track, “Fuck tha Police,” was so incendiary that the FBI sent a letter requesting that the label cease distribution immediately. The lyrics are both an indictment of police brutality against minorities, and a bloodthirsty hate anthem with more rhyme than Reason. Ice Cube’s fury struck a chord with black kids slugging it out in American ghettos—and wouldn’t you know it, even sheltered white teenagers were rapping along:

A young nigga on tha war path,
And when I’m finished,
It’s gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops dyin’ in L.A!
Yo, Dre, I got somethin’ ta say…

Fuck tha Po-lice!

According to Dr. Dre, it was Jerry Heller’s management that tore N.W.A.’s brotherhood apart: “[Heller] picked one nigga to take care of instead of taking care of everybody, and that was Eazy.” When Dre tried to leave Ruthless to form Death Row Records with bodyguard-turned-thug-4-life, Suge Knight, he was refused. But Suge doesn’t take “no” for an answer. This is the man who once dangled Vanilla Ice from a 4th-storey balcony by his ankles, and went on to become a suspect in Biggie Smalls’ murder, among other nefarious activities.

After Knight threatened both Jerry Heller and Eazy E’s mother, Heller got the Jewish Defense League involved. The FBI was soon to follow. In the end, Dre was released to Death Row Records in 1991, under the condition that a portion of his profits would go to Heller and Eazy E. The duel was on, to be settled on the mean streets of MTV.

Bolstered by his affiliation with Suge Knight and Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre recorded the track “Fuck Wit Dre Day,” in which he promises to inflict various forms of oral and anal rape upon his former homie, Eazy E, even going so far as to threaten murder. To add insult to, well, insult, Dre also says “Yeeeah” and “Heeell Yeeeah” in a much more manly fashion than the helium-voiced E could possibly muster.

What Eazy E did muster was an entire EP dedicated to calling Dr. Dre out as a “studio-gangsta” and the most despicable of deviants, reviled by gangsta and preacha alike: a “faggot.” One who will be sucking Eazy’z nutz, if Eazy has his way about it.

The album’s title says it all: It’s On  (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa. The sleeve features photographs of Dr. Dre from the early 80s, wearing a lacy white ensemble and what appears to be lipstick and dark foundation. Like many hyper-masculine icons, Dre apparently went through a fruity spell, and Eazy E wasn’t about to let him forget it. The knock-out track, “Real Muthaphukkin G’s,” not only claims that the supposedly gat-packin’ Dr. Dre has never put in true criminal work, he is not even from Compton. Ouch.

And so the feud wore on. Eazy’s EP sold over two million copies. Dre’s The Chronic sold three million. Eazy smoked weed like it was good for him, buzzed from ho to ho like a honeybee on hydraulics, and filled his mansion with ghoulish clown statues and Chucky dolls. Dre advertised weed like the black Marlboro Man, put ho after ho in his videos, and filled various mansions with his chart-topping protégés.

Eazy became reasonably concerned that he might be killed by one of his gangsta rivals, and had even gotten word that his name was on some White Power hit-list. He was constantly ducking into the shadows—where he would find yet another “bitch” to offer her body to his insatiable appetite. Say what you will, at least the man was true to his lyrics.

Eazy E spread the love like Johnny Appleseed chewing a mouthful of Viagra. But as with many earthly delights, this ho-fucking free-for-all would eventually take its toll. Eazy was admitted to the Cedars Sinai Medical Center on February 24, 1995 with a wracking cough.

If there is any hard evidence of Intelligent Design—however malevolent—it has to be the AIDS virus. Its molecular structure is so devious, so simple and yet so effective, it’s no wonder that conspiracy theorists believe the government created HIV in a laboratory to eradicate black people (along with junkies, gay men, and vampires.)

A dirty needle, a torn anus, maybe even a cut mouth kissing a busted lip—the transmission is so pleasure-specific, you’d think the infernal Powers That Be didn’t want us to have too much fun. One drop of bad blood, an infected splat of semen, a swarming vaginal secretion, and that’s it. You’re the walking dead. The little germs devour your white blood cells like microscopic cop-killers. Before long, you can’t shake a chest cold. Most AIDS victims die of pneumonia.

The virus itself is so sleek, you’d think the Germans made it. One glycoprotein-dotted lipid bilayer, two little protein sheaths, and some viral RNA tucked inside with reverse transcriptase enzymes to get the ball rolling. The glycoproteins attach to the T-cell’s membrane, and the viral probe enters the cell’s cytoplasm. The reverse transcriptase copies the RNA into DNA, which is inserted into the cell’s genome—where it waits patiently. Maybe it’s a day. Maybe it’s twenty years.

An HIV brigade making a break from a withering T-cell

When it comes time to rock n’ roll, the little strip of tainted DNA begins cranking out new viral RNA strands. These genetic freeloaders clothe themselves with the T-cell’s own components, then flood out into the bloodstream, looking for fresh white blood cells. When the virus has reproduced beyond the host T-cell’s capacity, the cell collapses. But that’s okay. There are plenty more T-cells where that came from. Until there aren’t. That’s when the whole organism dies. So long as this unfortunate individual had an opportunity to go raw dog one good time, the HIV strain will sally forth to slay the next victim.

Upon learning that his pneumonia was the result of AIDS, Eazy E was faced with a choice. He could die quietly of “natural causes,” or he could go public with the news. He had to know that such a stigmatized disease would provoke vicious rumors—and strike terror in horny groupies from coast to coast—but ten days before he died, Eazy came forward with his final message:

“I may not seem like a guy you would pick to preach a sermon. But I feel it is now time to testify[...]

“I’m not saying this because I’m looking for a soft cushion wherever I’m heading, I just feel that I’ve got thousands and thousands of young fans that have to learn about what’s real when it comes to AIDS. Like the others before me, I would like to turn my own problem into something good that will reach out to all my homeboys and their kin. Because I want to save their asses before it’s too late.

“I’m not looking to blame anyone except myself. I have learned in the last week that this thing is real, and it doesn’t discriminate[...]”

Eazy E had every reason to be concerned. According to statistics compiled by the international charity organization, AVERT, African Americans are afflicted with sexually transmitted diseases in far greater proportions than any other race. The numbers are stunning.

A recent analysis by the CDC found that 48% of black women and 39% of black men suffer from genital herpes in America, compared to 21% of women and 11.5% of men overall. Black Americans have 8 times the levels of chlamydia and 18 times the levels of gonorrhea as compared to whites.

Blacks make up only 13% of the US population, and yet out of the half million Americans who have died from AIDS, nearly 40% were black. Just over a million people are living with HIV in America (1 in 300,) of which about half are black. Blacks comprise over half of all new HIV and AIDS diagnoses in America—which means the problem is growing.

According to a 2005 study by the CDC, nearly half of gay and bisexual black men in five major US cities are HIV positive (Including NYC, San Francisco, and LA.) African Americans also seem to contract HIV through heterosexual sex at much greater rates than other races. Of those living with HIV, 22% of black men contracted the virus through high-risk heterosexual contact (comprising two-thirds of all straight-sex contractions,) and 85% of black women were infected this way. In fact, AIDS is the leading cause of death among young black women ages 24-35.

AVERT cites poverty, poor health care, and unemployment as likely causes of these disproportionate infection rates. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest one more factor: promiscuity. Popular folk wisdom has long alleged that blacks are endowed with stronger libidos than whites, though liberated white folks have been trying to catch up for decades.  The statistics seem to confirm that notion.

Fact: In a completely monogamous (or exclusive polygamous) society, sexually transmitted diseases would have no way to survive. Without mixing and matching genitalia, they could not spread. Alternatively, if condoms were always used—every time—a few germs might pop through, but infections would be reduced to isolated instances. Thus, the campaigns for safe sex and/or total abstinence.

The only problem: Slippery sensations are exponentially dulled by awkward rubber sheaths, and the last American to sleep with just one person was your old Aunt Fanny. Simple as that. We chase the fleeting pleasures of Life in the face of Death—or at least some very nasty sores.

On the day of Eazy E’s funeral, the mayor of Compton declared the occasion “Eazy E Day.” In the year after Eazy’s death, Ruthless Records became the first indie label to outsell the majors. A ghetto martyr was glorified. Despite every lame assertion that art only imitates life, I assert that admirers also imitate artists, oftentimes slavishly. It is an identity feedback loop.

© Brandt Hardin at DREGstudios

One quarter of black LA gang members interviewed by the Minority AIDS Project said they did not care if they got HIV because they were just going to die young, anyway. I’m reminded of Eazy’s tales of valor on “Eazy Duz It”:

Well, I’m Eazy E, I’ve got bitches galore.
You might have a lot of bitches, but I’ve got much more.
With my super-duper poop comin’ out the shoot,
Eazy E, muthafucka’s cold knockin’ the boots.

[...]

Gettin’ stupid, because I know how,
And if a sucka talks shit,
I’ll give him a
{>POW<}

Eazy E was the Godfather of Gangsta Rap and the biological father of seven children by six different women. It is uncertain how many women he infected before he died.

For better or worse, Eazy’s cultural progeny have spread across the nation. You’ll find them in any urban center, along with various rurbans bangin’ in the backwoods. The gangsta meme continues to spread like viral bandanas, so perhaps we can look forward to an Age of Real Muthaphukkin G’s.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Real Muthaphukkin G’s1993

Biggie Smalls Said You’re Nobody
‘Til Somebody Kills You

Courtesy of Randy Key

It is dawn on Biggie Small’s deathday, and I’m sitting in the safest place in St. Louis, MO—just in case you care. I’ve been climbing in an unfamiliar arena ceiling for days now, 100′ in the air.  Steel beams and rough company.  Most people consider this to be a dangerous occupation, but apparently my walk to the hotel was the riskiest move I’ve made all night.

The television blares in the hotel lobby—the news shows a S.W.A.T. team kicking in doors in south St. Louis. A well-dressed, effeminate white man talks about how the neighborhood is really coming together through “community activism.”  Thugs wave guns at the news crew.  The two hotel security guards shake their heads in disdain.

I point to the screen and ask the motherly night clerk, Kay, “What would happen if I took a pleasant evening stroll down that street?”

“Boy, you betta not let the sun set on yo’ white ass down there.”

According to my guardians—two large black men with big flashlights and security badges—St. Louis has the # 1 murder rate in the U.S.A.  “Why do people kill each other so much?” I ask.

“You know.  Fool ganstas.  Drugs. Husbands killin’ wives.  Wives killin’ husbands.  Stoopid shit.”  My sleepy-eyed protector shrugs and sips his coffee.

This #1 status is a slight exaggeration. According to FBI statistics, St. Louis is actually just behind New Orleans in the bloody competition for “most bullet-sprayed city.”  However, East St. Louis—when considered as its own entity—is leaps and bounds beyond NOLA in the murder race, with 101.9 people murdered for every 100,000 in 2006.  (The national average is about 6 in 100,000.)  Morticians must get a lot of overtime around here.

“Yeah, people take fools to tha East Side to kill ‘em,” the security guard explains, ”and they bring they dead bodies and dump ‘em ovah here.”

“That’s what happened to my nephew,” says the night clerk, Kay. “He thought he was livin’ the life.  Drugs, gangs, you know.  They drove him into East St. Louis.  He felt that hot lead and he jumped out that car—right outta his shoes.”  Kay shakes her head sadly.  “He can’t see no mo’. Shot seven times in tha face.  But he still with us.”

Kay is paid to be nice to me, but after a couple of hours of conversation, I’m pretty sure she would be nice to me anyway.  She brings me my own urn of coffee, which is not bad for hotel brew.  She knows I have to go to work after I write this, and tells me, “Stop chattin’ and get typin’!”

It’s hard to end a conversation with Kay.  She knows more about dead rock stars than anybody I have met in months.  We talk about Sid Vicious’ murderous temper tantrum, and the brutal shooting of squeaky clean (accused rapist) Sam Cooke.  Kay talks about the Day Michael Jackson Died, and how shocked she was that the late Farrah Fawcett was immediately booted out of the spotlight the moment the King of Pop hit the hospital.  And of course, Kay is well-versed in the canonical teachings of the patron saints of the East and West Coasts, whose lyrics meet like ram horns in the Midwest.

“There’s two kinds of people: those who love 2Pac, and those who love B.I.G.”

I would have said, “And then there’s me,” but that’s not completely true.  My first deathday article was about the Notorious B.I.G., entitled “The Death Day of Biggie Smalls.”  Man, what a clever headline.

Biggie was a bright kid—an honor role student who made his mother proud.  Then he started hawking hubs, sporting furs and fedoras, and spittin’ dope rhymes.  Smart, ambitious, and fat as all hell, he soon metamorphosed from Christopher Wallace to the Notorious B.I.G.  Harlem star-maker, Sean “Puffy” Combs, got a hold of him, and B.I.G. became 350 pounds of bold lyrics and brash suicide trips.

Maintaining the morbid themes of his debut album, Ready to Die, Biggie’s posthumous release features a number of precient songtitles, such as “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” “Last Day,” “Niggas Bleed,” and of course, “You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You)”. At 24 years-old, Biggie became a self-created emblem for ghetto violence.

Biggie represented Brooklyn at the height of the East Coast-West Coast rap wars during the 1990s. On March 9, 1997, he was killed in a hail of bullets at an L.A. intersection—six months after his friend-turned-rival Tupac Shakur was gunned down in a similar fashion. While accusations have been hurled at everybody from Suge Knight to the FBI, his murderers remain at large.  Maybe thugs were hired by Deathrow Records.  Or maybe his murder was the result of composing too many death songs—a manifestation of his morbid imagination, like in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, but bloodier.

I ask Kay what she thinks happened to Biggie.

“I think Puffy Combs had him killed.  That’s just my opinion. But Puffy be sleazy, the way he continued to capitalize on Biggie’s death.  Then he got caught up in that club shoot-up with Shyne [one of Puffy's rapper protégés, who was convicted of the shooting while Puffy walked free].  Puff Daddy probably just had Biggie popped fo’ tha money.”

She has a point. Perhaps Biggie was just a big, black piñata full of dollar bills, and Puffy came swinging a stick with no blindfold.

I don’t know if it took a bullet to make Biggie a legend, but his death certainly seems fated in retrospect.  Even orchestrated.  I recently saw his image displayed at the acclaimed “Who Shot Rock n’ Roll?” exhibit when it passed through Columbia, SC.  Taken a few weeks before his death, the photograph features B.I.G. in silvery black-and-white, standing in funerary attire among a hundred thousand anonymous tombstones.  The message: Everyone dies, but celebrities get to keep their faces.  Would Biggie have faded into a featureless grave if his life had been spared?

Kay snatches up my printout of last year’s Biggie Smalls article and starts reading.  I’m apprehensive at first, but she loves it.  She even reads this passage aloud:

“Released two weeks after his death, Life After Death sold over ten million copies.  P-Diddy crawled out from that blood-splattered Californian intersection like an Alien chestburster and grew into a hype-spinning monster that still stalks the earth in search of more dollars.”

She especially loves the ending, and I’m thinking, thank God somebody does.

“As long as there are fools, they will imitate their heroes.  And as long as their heroes portray braggadocious murderers, fools will continue to kill each other like morons with sharp sticks.

“So I’m throwing on my cream suit and hat, and heading out to the club.  I’ll love it when you call me Big Poppa.  And if you point a gun at me, I suppose I’ll throw my hands in the air, like I’s a true player.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen