Music

How Tupac’s Death Affected Biggie

The Notorious B.I.G., in a coat and top hat, holding a microphone in his arm
Notorious B.I.G. performing at Meadowlands, New Jersey, on June 29, 1995.
David Corio/Redferns

On the night of Sept. 13, 1996, Christopher “Biggie” Wallace was in a recording studio in New York. It was about a week since Tupac Shakur had been attacked in Las Vegas, and Biggie and his crew still figured Tupac would pull through.

“He always lived,” said Nashiem Myrick, one of Biggie’s producers. “It’s not the first time he had got shot.”

Myrick was in the studio with Biggie all the time, and they weren’t doing anything all that special on Sept. 13. But everything changed when they heard the grim news out of Vegas.

“I had the TV on … and when they said Pac just died, we was, like, silent,” Myrick said. “Couldn’t believe it. Wow, Pac died. Unbelievable.”

Biggie’s then-estranged wife, Faith Evans, says that she got a call from him that night. She described his voice as “low and small.” He was crying, and seemed afraid. “Something ain’t right, Faye,” he told her. “Shit got fucked up somewhere along the way. But that was my nigga.”

Biggie was clearly hurt by Tupac’s death. He was also scared to realize that Tupac’s money and security guards hadn’t protected him from the violence of the streets.

At the same time, Biggie wasn’t exactly mourning his former friend. Tupac had told the world that Biggie and Sean “Puffy” Combs were involved in the shooting at Quad Studios. Tupac had also boasted about sleeping with Biggie’s wife and fantasized, in his lyrics, about killing Biggie and everyone around him. No matter the bond they’d shared when times were good, Biggie wasn’t going to forget the bad stuff.

Biggie told a friend that he wasn’t going to Tupac’s service. It turned out he couldn’t have gone even if he’d wanted to. Two days after Tupac’s death, New York police arrested Biggie and his friend Lil’ Cease for marijuana possession. The cops took their Lexus, and when they got it back, the car wouldn’t drive. The dealership gave them a new ride: a Chevy Lumina.

The next day they took the Lumina on the New Jersey Turnpike. Cease was driving, and Big was in the passenger seat. It was raining and Cease lost control of the vehicle. The car jumped a barricade, and Cease’s face hit the steering wheel, shattering a bunch of his teeth. Biggie fractured his leg in three places and had to be cut out of the van.

Biggie spent much of the next two months at a rehab facility. He also started seeing a therapist and talking to God. Biggie decided that he needed to slow down and change his life.

Even before the accident, Biggie had started thinking beyond his hometown. He’d left his beloved Brooklyn for a quiet gated community in Teaneck, New Jersey. Now 24 years old and a platinum-selling artist, he already had a young daughter, and Faith was expecting his son. He wanted to buy his mother a home in the Poconos. He’d teamed up with an old friend to start a record company, Undeas Entertainment. He’d learned from watching Puffy that the real money was behind the scenes.

If Biggie wanted to secure his future, there was still one huge thing he needed to accomplish. He had to make his peace with the West Coast.

No one had been charged in Tupac’s shooting, and rumors were rampant about who might be responsible. Some blamed the South Side Compton Crips. Others blamed Bad Boy, specifically Biggie and Puffy.

All the speculation had made Biggie somber and withdrawn. He told one music writer: “It’s not worth it anymore. That’s why I just stay in the muthafuckin’ house.”

The only way he could squash the beef, Biggie thought, was to do what he did best. He ended up recording a California anthem—a tribute to the West Coast sound. “Going Back to Cali” would be one of the best-known tracks he ever made. He and Puffy also made another move, setting up a splashy promotional trip to Los Angeles.

That turned out to be a huge mistake.

How did the hip-hop world change in the months after Tupac’s death? How did his killing reignite a gang war in L.A.? And why did Puffy and Biggie risk everything by going to the West Coast?

This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity. Subscribe to Slow Burn Season 3: Biggie and Tupac now on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And to hear the interviews we just couldn’t fit into the main episodes, join Slate Plus.