S1: This podcast has language that some people might find offensive.
S2: On June 23rd, 1996, four LAPD officers went to the headquarters of Death Row Records to verbally admonish the record label, the officers that issued that warning at the behest of death throes neighbors in the suburban enclave of Tarzana. There have been complaints about armed gang members coming and going. There were increasing reports of assaults, auto thefts and armed robberies.
S1: This might have been a particularly observant neighborhood watch or it could have been a case of racial profiling. But it was true that death row had become a hangout for gangsters and not just the bloods.
S3: That label had Shug Night Road with there’d be Crips on one side on couches and, you know, Bloods on the other side because Snoop was Crip affiliated at that point.
S1: That’s Lee Savage, co-director of the documentary Welcome to Death Row.
S3: And there’d be a donnybrook. It was this thing of violent episodes. And there’s this sense that, oh, well, to be authentic and to authenticate this music, we need to have, you know, the real genuine articles that we’re talking about in this music in that, you know, here in the mix.
S2: Reggie. Right. Death Row’s head of security says those tough guys served a purpose that people always ask me, why do you deal with it?
S4: How, though, gang guys are and all that you needed because you can’t have your security guys going to walk up to the club in New Orleans or wherever. Hey, where’s the weed at? Or go get that chick number for me. I went to Hollender plus gutter niggas recognize going to dos when they notice them. Some other do that. Look, that penitentiary Lil are usually really this time with the herd who they were.
S5: They now they would run up on niggas right now, you know, tho- those were were bothered about it.
S1: When he signed with death row, Tupac Shakur publicly embraced that gangsta ethos. He got the letters Amobi B tattooed on his right triceps. He said it meant money organization in business, but some people took it to refer to the mob. Peyroux, a faction of bloods from Compton. It was 1996 and Tupac was the biggest star in hip hop, but death-row was starting to fall apart.
S2: Snoot was on trial for murder in a case stemming from an altercation near his house three years earlier after he was acquitted that February. He started to distance himself from the gangster life.
S1: The month that the Snoop’s acquittal, Dr. Dre announced that he was leaving death row. He’d grown weary of the violence surrounding should, and he wasn’t eager to work with some of the label’s newer artists, including Tupac.
S3: Dre, at some level, just was not that hard on Tupac. So I think that’s where it’s like to back to back Tupac. And it’s it suddenly shows he’s just obsessed with Tupac and it just it Reb.. Dre the wrong way.
S1: Tupac came to feel the same about Dr. Dre. He was bothered that Dre never showed up at Snoop’s trial. And he thought Dre didn’t do enough to support Death Row and its beith with bad boy records. Reggie Wright says Tupac would constantly remind his death row colleagues that Dre wasn’t a good label mate.
S4: He was the one that pointed things out to us. He was the one who was like a disloyal father.
S6: Oh, I don’t want to be around him.
S2: I villanelle. Tupac’s resentment of Dre became increasingly obvious. Death Throes publicist George Price says that the first draft of the art for Tupac’s follow up to all eyes on me showed Dre getting sodomised.
S7: Acid should have. I’m sorry, man. I’m not going to allow you to put that out. I took all that shit off of there.
S1: Tupac put that same kind of homophobic taunting into the next single. He was planning to release toss it up, steal.
S8: Date, the July date, shall we get the salad? Steph.
S1: Now, you got Dr. Dre address death row smear campaign in October nineteen ninety six. Issue of vibe. He said it’s just a lot of negative bullshit. So from here on out. Death row records don’t even exist. Dre.
S9: It seemed like Tupac and death row were going to ride together. Everyone else be damned. That’s how it looked from the outside at least. But even as Tupac was calling out Dre for disloyalty, he was making his own moves away from death row. In nineteen ninety six, Tupac formed his own production company, Euthanasia. He was making plans to start a label under his new stage name, Machiavelli. He also spent much of that spring and summer filming two movies, gridlocked and gang related. He told people in the film business that he wanted to start working on different kinds of projects. A Western starring young black actors in a movie about the uprising led by enslaved preacher Nat Turner. Here’s Allison Samuels, who covered hip hop for Newsweek.
S10: I think he knew death row was going to be a roadblock for him because none of the major studios, those people aren’t gonna deal with that. You know, I’ve seen enough shit with them. Go on and meet somebody up. You don’t know. And nobody is going to do business with you.
S9: That the surest sign that Tupac was considering a different direction came on August twenty seventh nineteen ninety six. That’s when he fired death-row attorney David Kenner. Kenner was a former defense attorney who’d made his name representing drug traffickers. He came to power a death row by attaching himself to Shug night. Kenner got sugar and death rose artists out of a bunch of legal jams, and he came to play a big role in the label’s day to day operations.
S10: You knew he was the power in some ways, you know, he was definitely the guy who made things work.
S11: It was Kenner who had engineered Tupac’s release from prison. But first to Puckett signed a contract with Death Row, an agreement that also made Kenter his legal representative. Once he was on the outside, Tupac grew frustrated with that arrangement. One of his other lawyers later said Kenner was less than transparent about money Tupac was owed. The final straw came when Kinnard denied Tupac access to some music he’d been working on in the studio. That’s when Tupac fired him.
S12: A move that some friends and outside observers considered Rasche to cut ties with David Kenner, as Tupac did, was a very big deal.
S10: You knew that was that first strike and it was a big strike to say I’m an out.
S13: Death Rose publicist George Price says he came to believe that Tupac’s loyalty only went so far.
S14: Tupac was honored to start his own company and that’s why he was doing what he was doing with death row to make that money that he needed. That’s the only thing that sugar and I would differ on, because, you know, he wanted to say that they were such close friends. And I believe that should really thought that was the case. But it was not the case as far as two parties concerned to cop who is using death row as a means to an end in less than two years.
S12: Tupac had been shot five times, got convicted of sexual abuse and been locked up in a maximum security prison. He’d become increasingly paranoid, defensive and hostile. He’d also released two number one albums and become the most famous rapper in the world.
S11: It often seemed like Tupac couldn’t think more than one second ahead. But he also appeared to understand on some level that he couldn’t keep acting that way forever. He had to make a decision about what kind of career he wanted to have and what kind of life he wanted to live.
S15: In the summer of 1996, he was increasingly essential to the survival of death row records and increasingly ready to strike out on his own. He was on the verge of making a choice. And then he went to Las Vegas.
S16: What happened in two puncture cause final hours? How close was he to quitting the gangsta rap life? And how would one last reckless act come to define his legacy? This is slow burn. I’m your host, Joel Anderson. This is Episode 6 till somebody kills you.
S1: In 1996, Mike Tyson was close to finishing his comeback. Tyson had been convicted of raping 18 year old Desmarais Washington in 1992. He’d served three years. Now he was out and on a mission to win back the three championship belts he’d lost back in 1990. He’d regained one title by battering Frank Bruno in March 1996. Now, six months later, he was making a run at another one by going up against Bruce Selden. It wasn’t going to be that big a challenge. Selden was far from the best heavyweight in the world. That was probably Lennox Lewis. But Tyson, it paid Lewis $4 million to stand down. He was doing what it took to get back on top. Tupac Shakur saw Tyson as a kindred spirit. They both had tough childhoods. And those experiences had made both of them into fighters. At the height of their careers, they’d gone to prison after a jury found them guilty of sexual violence. They both saw themselves as victims. Where should Knight push Tupac to go to Vegas to see the title fight? Tupac rearranged his schedule so he could go. There was nothing he loved more than seeing Mike Tyson beat somebody up. Sugg had roots in Vegas. He’d gone to school and played football at you and Elvi. He’d bought a mansion there with his music business money, a house he’d seen in the movie Casino. It was two doors down from where Mike Tyson lived, every other place that we went to.
S17: You know, we knew it was work, but Vegas was just a place that we came to relax and enjoy.
S1: That’s the R&B singer Danny Boy. He was part of the crew of death row affiliates who made the trip.
S17: All the shit homies. We were probably a hundred as some cars deep the night of September 7th.
S1: Nineteen ninety six was a big one for Shug. He was running a nightclub in Vegas Club 6 6 2 and there was gonna be a party there after the fight. The rapper Craig Mack was scheduled to perform his Reggie Wright again. Craig Matt was like a signing party is when we signed the Devil East death-row East with Sugar’s expansion plan, his attempt to move in on Puffy’s turf. Craig Meck had a hit a couple of years earlier with Flavor in your ear. It was on badboy Boogie had a verse on the remix signing Craig Mack the death-row would be a coup and a statement of purpose. It’s not clear how firm these death-row East plans really were.
S13: Craig Mack, who died in 2018, said the reports that he’d sign with sugar were premature. But if Sugar was trying to beat his East Coast rivals, Reggie Wright assumed they were on safe ground on the West Coast with the last name was on him, I was getting in trouble with Vegas. When Mike Tyson walked to the ring to face Bruce Selden, there was a new Tupac song bumping from the speakers at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The track was called Let’s Get It On, and it featured a promo for the party at 6 6 2 single Laslo Tyson Jewish.
S18: So we got watch his boys finish and then we go all go forty six six Mos Def.
S19: So Tyson, get that boy. Hey, let’s get it on.
S20: In the blue corner tonight, challenging for the title, please welcome the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Introducing the one and only player. My.
S21: Tupac was right. The fight didn’t last long. Tyson knocked Selden down twice in the first round and the ref stopped the bout after just one hundred and nine seconds.
S1: As soon as it was over, fans started chanting, Fix, fix, fix.
S22: Check out his new heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson. The fans at their reaction. A very unpopular victory here for Mike Tyson.
S1: There’s no evidence that Selden took a dive. Not everyone in the arena was disappointed with what they’d seen. Tupac’s bodyguard, Frank Alexander, said Tupac was thrilled by the fight and jumping around hysterically 50 blows. I counted them, Tupac told his entourage. Then Tupac in the death row crew headed for the floor of the MGM Grand. Some of the people in that death row group were members of the Bloods. One was a guy named Trayvon Lane. A couple of months earlier, Lane had been jumped by a group of Crips in a footlocker at a mall. They’d taken his chain, which had a diamond covered death-row pendant.
S23: At the casino, Lane spotted one of the guys who’d attacked him in the shoe store. He pointed them out, the two pock.
S24: Tupac had a history of acting incautiously. He started fights and menaced gangsters and hitmen. He’d released a track in which he’d violently threatened a long list of prominent East Coast rappers.
S25: But now, flush with success and hide from the Russia of the Tyson knockout, he did something as reckless as he’d ever done. His Reggie right.
S26: I hate that part showing his loyalty took off and did what he did.
S24: With two-pack’, did it chase after the kripp who’d stolen Trayvon land pendant? His name was Orlando Anderson.
S27: He was 22 years old.
S24: You can see the blurry footage from the MGM security cameras on YouTube.
S28: Tupac appears from the left in a flash, having already landed a punch. He then follows up with a kick as his crew joins in pummeling Anderson. Poch should not have been that close to the action. That’s Alex Allonzo, a sociologist who studies gangs in L.A..
S29: He’s your number one artist and you’re walking around with him like he’s a member of my PI.
S30: In addition to one down that way, in that moment, Tupac was no longer a performer. He was a gangster. Casino security broke up the beat down in the death row crew hustled out of the casino. Tupac was still pumped. I took him out faster than Tyson. He boasted to Frank Alexander as they walked back to their hotel for Poch. Alexander wrote in his memoir Braggin After a Fight was like having a smoke after sex. Tupac and his team stopped at the hotel that stopped his shoes house. Finally they headed to Club 6 6 2. Tupac rode in the passenger seat of Sugar New BMW 750. They were blessed in Tupac’s new album so loud that a bike cop told them to turn it down. It about 11:17 PM should stopped his car to a red light. Frank Alexander was in the car behind them. He watched as a white Cadillac rolled up next to sugar BMW. Then he saw an arm come out of the Cadillacs window.
S31: Then a 40 caliber Glock pistol.
S32: Tupac Shakur was riding in this black BMW when the gunfire erupted. Shakur was shot several times in the chest. The driver, his record producer, was grazed in the head.
S31: Witnesses say Tupac tried to scramble over his seat to dodge the gunfire, but he wasn’t able to escape. He got two bullets in his chest, one in his leg and another in his hand.
S33: Sig wasn’t seriously hurt. He fought the BMW and made a U-turn into traffic, sending vehicle scrambling across the road. The shooter’s car pulled off and made a right turn. When the smoke cleared, it was gone.
S1: Danny boy, it already made it to Club 6 6 2 for the afterparty, he was waiting on the death row contingent to arrive.
S17: Shooting them wasn’t there in a time. I thought they should have been there either. And then one of the homies kind of liked his blessing. And, you know, through the security, you know, shielding him just got killed up on Strew.
S34: And that’s when everything became crazy.
S1: Sugar was actually treated and released not long after the shooting. But Tupac was in intensive care.
S35: Rapper Tupac Shakur remains in critical condition this morning at a Las Vegas hospital after he was shot repeatedly over the weekend.
S36: He is severely injured internally. He has multiple gunshot wounds to the chest.
S1: Investigate on the morning of September 8th. Tupac underwent emergency surgery. His mother, Afeni, rushed to his side. Friends and supporters, including Tyson, Jasmine Guy and Jesse Jackson, were there to. One family member told a reporter that Tupac would pull through. After all, he’d survived a shooting before.
S17: You know, he was he was just he was in bad shape, but you don’t think that he was he’s gonna die.
S2: What? Tupac was in the hospital. There were rumors about possible gang related retaliation.
S34: People making threats, saying that they would not finish what he started.
S1: A bad boy employee reported getting a death threat and some bad boy artists canceled appearances in Compton. There was a flurry of gang related violence with at least three people killed. It was just a hint of the warfare that was coming. Cygnet gave a brief statement to Las Vegas police. He described the casino fight as mere pushing and shoving.
S37: He downplayed rumors that the East Coast, West Coast beef might have played a role in the attack, though he did tell police that death row may have been a target because we sell more records.
S38: On a second day at the hospital, doctors operated on two-pack’ again, this time to remove his right long after that operation. He momentarily opened his eyes, raising hope that he might make it on September 12th. Tupac started convulsing violently. His doctors were afraid he’d hurt himself, so they put him into a coma.
S39: On September 13th, six days after he was shot, two-pack’ had to be resuscitated several times. His mother, Afeni, eventually told the doctors to stop trying.
S40: This is deal to marketing and public relations director for University Medical Center. This message is being recorded at approximately 5:15 on Friday, September 13th. Tupac Shakur passed away today at University Medical Center at approximately 4 0 3 p.m..
S1: Kevin Powell had been keeping vigil in Vegas when Tupac died. He wandered out of his hotel in a daze.
S41: Those mad people out there was a lot of Hummer’s I was playing Tupac’s music. I had some liquor. I went to that corner and I poured liquor on the ground and I’m just crying and I was drunk.
S42: I remember anything else.
S13: Most mainstream news outlets told the story of a young man destined for an early death.
S43: Good evening. A controversial rap artist has led a troubled existence, has lost his fight for life gangster.
S35: He had already survived one near fatal shooting, but he couldn’t survive a second rap star Tupac Shakur died last night after a brief life in a rough business. He was 25.
S41: Allison Samuels said it was a challenge to get our editors at Newsweek to see Tupac as something other than a gangsta rapper.
S44: I think they still didn’t understand this. This is going to be someone this is a legend and they wanted him in all the gang Natanya and just sort of looking at it was like, no, we’re gonna have him looking wonderful, nice. They’re beautiful pictures of him. So I was able to go through and just make sure, you know, we did this very respectful tribute to him.
S41: The AP story about Tupac’s death quoted the rapper Heavy D. I hope this is a wakeup call for a lot of us, he said.
S1: Orlando Anderson, the man Tupac in the death row crew beat down at the MGM Grand Casino, has long been considered a suspect in Tupac’s murder, although he was never charged. You’ll hear about the murder investigation in a later episode. Anderson himself was shot and killed in a gang dispute at a Compton carwash two years later.
S11: If Anderson was the shooter, that suggests that Tupac’s death was just another incident in a long sequence of violence and reprisals within the West Coast gang world, that it had nothing to do with rap music, really.
S15: Plenty of more intricate theories flourished in the wake of the murder. One of the most widespread holds that Shook Knight was involved that he saw Tupac pulling away from death row and refused to allow it. Knight himself has always denied that he had anything to do with Tupac’s killing. There were also rumors centering on death rows feud with bad boy records, rumors suggesting that Biggie and Puffy might have had Tupac’s blood on their hands. Next week on Slow Burn, going back to Cali.
S45: Slow Burn is a production of Slate Plus in this week’s bonus episode, you’ll hear an extended interview with Lee Savage, who co-directed the documentary. Welcome to Death Row. It co-wrote the movie Straight Outta Compton. He gave us an inside look at Should Tupac Dre and the Rise and Fall of death row. Slow Burn is produced by me and Christopher Johnson with Editorial Direction by Josh Levine and Gabriel Roth. Sophie Sommer Grant is our researcher.
S16: Our mix engineers are Jared Paul and Paul mounty. Don Will composed our theme song, The Artwork for Slow Burn by Lisa Larson Walker special thanks to Slate’s Child 2, Gary Johnson, Chris Melaniphy Lowe and Lou Allison Benedikt and Jared Hope.
S45: You can find a full list of books, articles and documentaries used to research this episode on our show page. And by the way, we created a playlist on Spotify to go with this season. We’ll be updating it each week with new episodes and songs about Tupac, Biggie and their collaborators. Check it out every week at the link in the show notes. Thanks for listening. Peace.