On Me Against the World, the 1995 album from Tupac Shakur, the prodigious rapper foretells his death. "I'm having visions of leaving here in a hearse/ God can ya feel me?/ Take me away from all the pressure/ and all the pain/ show me some happiness again," he raps on "So Many Tears." Eighteen months later, while riding in the passenger seat under the iridescent glow of the Las Vegas strip with Marion "Suge" Knight at the wheel, Tupac was gunned down and mortally wounded. Or was he?
Here's how his death supposedly went down. Just past 11 p.m. on September 7, 1996, at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane (then just a few steps from the Maxim Hotel), Tupac and Knight were idle at a red light when a white Cadillac rolled up to the passenger side and opened fire. Tupac, whose career had been on a steep ascent since getting out of prison the year before, was hit four times; one bullet critically punctured his lung. Knight, for the most part, was unharmed.
The drive-by shooting was reported to be gang-related, spurred by a physical altercation involving Tupac, Knight, and Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, a Crip gang affiliate from Compton, the night of September 7. (A 2011 investigation by the FBI showed several threats were also made on the rapper's life by the Jewish Defense League).
Dr. Ed Brown, the Clark County coroner investigator, determined Tupac's death a homicide. " I found no apparent life signs," he detailed in his report, "and trauma was observed to the right hand, right hip and right chest under the right arm, apparently caused from gunshots.'' Tupac was pronounced dead at 4:03 p.m. on Friday, September 13, 1996.
But if the old saying is true, legends never truly die—perhaps quite literally in Tupac's case.
The Most Common Questions Surrounding Tupac's Death
- The picture above, said to be the last photo taken before the shooting, raises two interesting questions: If Tupac was shot on 9/7/96, why does the photo indicate it was taken on 9/8/96?
- Why are there no keys in the car's ignition?
- 14 shots were fired, four of which hit Tupac. Knight, who is a considerably large man (around 6'4, 260 pounds) was not hit once. He was said to have sustained minimal injures from bullet fragments, but no serious wounds were recorded. Did Knight mastermind the shooting? (Believe what you will, but nobody's luck is that good.)
- Since being shot at Quad Recording Studios on November 30, 1994, Pac wore a bullet-proof vest almost everywhere. It seems odd, on such a high profile night, that he'd forego protection.
- The BMW from the photo does not match the BMW from the police investigation video.
- The shooters were never found. As one former Outlawz member noted in a 2014 National Geographic documentary that explored Tupac's still unsolved murder, "This is America. We found Bin Laden." So why has it been so difficult to find the men who shot Tupac? What are the police not telling us?
- The streets of Las Vegas are typically jam-packed—with an assortment of cars, people, and entertainers trying to earn a living. Tupac was shot two hours after the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon fight, and the streets, the strip especially, were likely congested with traffic that night. And yet, nobody spotted the white Cadillac?
- The official coroner's report lists Tupac as 72 inches tall (6 feet) and 215 pounds. But the rapper's driver's license identifies him as 5'10 and 168 pounds.
- Afeni Shakur (Tupac's mother) and medical staff are the only people who saw the rapper once he was admitted into the hospital. Years later, in a video interview, Afeni says, "In the end, he chose to leave quietly." What did she mean by "leave quietly"? Was she implying Tupac had a hand in his removal from the spotlight?
- Tupac was reportedly cremated, and the man who cremated him retired after doing so. He has not been seen since, which, at the very least, is a little suspicious.
- Since Tupac's death, seven albums have been released under his name, more than when he was alive. (All the tracks were said to be recorded before his death, but that seems questionable at best.)
So, Is Tupac Really Dead?
Here are some facts:
- In December 2014, President Obama restored "full diplomatic relations with Cuba," easing "restrictions on remittances, travel and banking" between the US and Cuba.
- Tupac's aunt is Assata Shakur, the political activist and former Black Liberation Army member who escaped prison and fled to Cuba after she was convicted for the 1977 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper. She has been living in Cuba since 1984, where she was granted political asylum.
- Kendrick Lamar's new album To Pimp a Butterfly, released March 16 (1 + 6 = 7!) of this year, features a conversation between the two rappers on the final track, "Mortal Man."
- Powerade's new "Rose From Concrete" campaign uses Tupac's vocals.
You're thinking, what does all of this have in common? Tupac's continued existence on this earth.
Proof Tupac Is Alive (and Most Likely Living in Cuba)
Tupac was the consummate rap artist: overflowing with steely bravado, wildly intelligent, beloved by those who knew him best, and lyrically assertive and self-aware on tape. A platinum-selling political provocateur, he was a true rap iconoclast. His legend, even before the night of September 7, was already written into the history books. He was, as Vibe editor Alan Light said in November 1996, the only rapper who "had come to embody all contradictions and confusion that have grown up around hip-hop."
Pac was a public enigma—a man you could never grasp completely, even as he stood right in front of you. "[H]is life was about juggling plums while bullets nipped at his ankles," Danyel Smith wrote in the introduction to the 1997 book, Tupac Shakur. "It was about defiance, women, paranoia, ego, and anger—and going out in a blaze of what he imagined to be glory." No musical artist—not Jay Z, Eminem, or Kanye West—has captured the attention of the public quite like Tupac, who played both villain and hero with a certain tattooed aplomb. Even now, he is your favorite rapper's favorite rapper (see: Kendrick Lamar). So it is understandable, maybe even expected, that fans believe Tupac, arguably the biggest cultural and artistic force of the last 25 years, is still alive. Not even bullets could stop this larger-than-life man.
So, my theory: Overwhelmed by fame and seeking "happiness again" (as he yearned for on "So Many Tears"), Tupac faked his death and fled to Cuba to stay with his aunt, Assata. Free from the reach of American media and 90's rap beef, Tupac knew he'd be safe and go mostly undetected in the one place the US government wanted nothing to do with. As the rapper began to re-emerge last year—anticipating Obama's move to open diplomatic channels to Cuba before the end of his presidency—Tupac put monetary safeguards in place. After 18 years away, the rapper's funds were nearly depleted, so he sold audio rights to Interscope (the label that released Lamar's album) and Coca-Cola (the company that owns Powerade) to ensure his financial survival. It all makes perfect sense, really.
As more details have emerged in the last decade, fans and conspiracy theorists have scrutinized September 7, 1996 and the series of events surrounding the shooting with greater resolve. Maybe celebrity really was too much to bear, many have speculated, and Tupac faked his death (In a 2012 radio interview, Knight suggested that Tupac was still alive. "Nobody seen Tupac dead," he said). Maybe the police are covering up some bigger truth none of us can handle. Or maybe it was Knight who masterminded the attack, hoping to profit from the rapper's passing. Whatever the answer, one certainty persists: the night's events did not happen as we've long been told.
This is Illuminati Month on Black Bag, in which Gawker locks itself in the woodshed and breaks out the red yarn to explore its favorite conspiracy theories. Image by Jim Cooke, source photo via Getty.