Slow Burn: Biggie and Tupac

Season 3: Episode 1

Against the World

Tupac and Biggie were friends. Then Tupac was ambushed in a New York recording studio, and everything changed.

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About the Show

In its first two seasons, Slow Burn looked back at two of the biggest stories of the late 20th century—the Watergate scandal and the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Season three tackles another: the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. The story takes place at a moment when hip-hop was taking over pop culture, and a former theater kid from the Bay Area and a one-time crack dealer from Brooklyn were changing the music forever. They went from friends to enemies. And they ended up victims of a deadly rivalry between two rap scenes.  

How is it that two of the most famous performers in the world were murdered within a year of each other—and their killings were never solved?

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  • Joel Anderson is a staff writer at Slate and the host of Season 3 of Slow Burn. Previously, he worked as a reporter on sports, culture, and politics for ESPN and BuzzFeed News.

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Episode Notes

On the first episode of Slow Burn’s third season: How a violent robbery severed Tupac’s friendship with Biggie Smalls and sparked a bicoastal beef that consumed the world of hip-hop.

In November 1994, while on trial for sexual abuse, Tupac Shakur is shot five times in a New York recording studio. In the aftermath, he starts to suspect that his erstwhile friend Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls, might be involved. It was the start of a beef that would consume the world of hip-hop and end with both men dead.

Sources for This Episode

Books: 

Coker, Cheo Hodari. Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G., Three Rivers Press, 2003.  

Dyson, Michael Eric. Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, Basic Civitas Books, 2001.

Guy, Jasmine. Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary, Atria Books, 2004.

Johnson, Fred L., III and McQuillar, Tayannah Lee. Tupac Shakur: The Life and Times of an American Icon, Da Capo Press, 2010.

Parker, Derrick with Diehl, Matt. Notorious C.O.P.: The Inside Story of the Tupac, Biggie, and Jam Master Jay Investigations From the NYPD’s First “Hip-Hop Cop,” St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

Westhoff, Ben. Original Gangstas: Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the Birth of West Coast Rap, Hachette Books, 2017.

Video: 

Ayanna Jackson on Meeting 2Pac, Sexual Assault, Trial, and Aftermath,” VladTV. Feb. 13, 2018.

Articles:

Brown, Ethan. “The Score,” Vibe, December 2005.

Bruck, Connie. “The Takedown of Tupac,” the New Yorker. June 29, 1997.

Carlson, Peter. “The Gangsta Rapper’s Radical Mama,” Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2003.

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Rapper Tupac Shakur Robbed, Shot in N.Y.,” Washington Post, Dec. 1, 1994.

James, George. “Rapper Faces Prison Term for Sex Abuse,”  New York Times. Feb. 8, 1995.

Johnson, Cory. “Sweatin’ Bullets: Tupac Shakur Dodges Death but Can’t Beat the Rap,” Vibe, February 1995.

Marine, Craig. “When a Prodigal Rap Star’s Homecoming Took a Tragic Turn, an Angry Community Was Left to Wonder—Where Is Justice?” San Francisco Examiner, March 14, 1993.

Marriott, Rob. “Tupac Shakur 1971-1996: Ready To Die,” Vibe, November
1996.

Powell, Kevin. “The Vibe Q: 2Pac Shakur,” Vibe, April 1995.

Ruskin, Zack. “Tupac Shakur’s Life in Marin,” Marin Magazine, Aug. 23, 2019.

Westhoff, Ben. “How Tupac and Biggie Went From Friends to Deadly Rivals,” Vice, Sept. 12, 2016.

Season three of Slow Burn is produced by Joel Anderson and Christopher Johnson. Mixing by Jared Paul. Research assistance from Sophie Summergrad.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

The Two Sides of Tupac

Lawyer Shawn Holley discusses what it was like to defend Tupac.