Culture: Cameras Roll to Try and Catch a Killer; Mike Davies Raps with Documentarist Nick Broomfield

The Birmingham Post (England), June 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

Culture: Cameras Roll to Try and Catch a Killer; Mike Davies Raps with Documentarist Nick Broomfield


Byline: Mike Davies

'I f this had been some ordinary drive-by shooting by some inexperienced gang-bangers we would've solved it a long time ago. You've got to think to yourself 'Who could do this and get away with it?'.' - Ex-LAPD Detective Russell Poole.

On September 8 1996, Tupac Shakur - one of the most popular of the 90s rappers - was riding home through Las Vegas when a car pulled alongside his and 13 shots were fired. Five days later Shakur died of his wounds.

Six months later, fellow rapper Christopher Wallace aka Biggie Smalls aka The Notorious BIG, was shot dead in a similar incident. Dozens witnessed the Tupac hit, at least seven people saw the face of Wallace's killer. To date no-one has been charged with either murder.

The popular street theory was that the two men were victims of the so-called Rap wars. Tupac hit on the orders of Sean 'Puffy' Combs, boss of Bad Boy records on the West Coast while Small's death was revenge by Combs' rival, Suge Knight, the head of Death Row records on the East.

The theory stood until Russell Poole, chief investigator of the Biggie murder, resigned from the LAPD claiming he'd been ordered to drop the case after concluding that Knight was responsible for both murders (at the time of his death, Tupac was owed more than $10 million in unpaid royalties and planned to quit the label). And that LAPD officers who worked for him had been involved in the shootings to make them look like gangland slayings.

Suddenly the killings took on wider political implications and piqued the interest of British documentary maker Nick Broomfield.

Although he'd had enough the music business while making his Kurt and Courtney documentary about the suicide Kurt Cobain, Poole's allegations cast the story into an irresistible new light.

'I'd been asked before to take on the project,' admits Broomfield, a sort of cross between Oliver Stone and Louis Theroux, 'but I wasn't interested in doing a biography. Then when it became political I felt all the ingredients were there to make an amazing story.

'It's a classic tale with all the elements of Greek tragedy. Two great friends who become mortal enemies, different camps of people jostling for power like those dramas of vying kingdoms. The world hasn't changed much, it's just become more complicated with mobile phones and Uzis.'

But a white documentary maker going into the heart of gang territory? It was never going to be a smooth ride.

'I knew it wouldn't be easy,' he says with mild understatement. 'It's a very closed world and a number of people associated with it and this story in particular have been killed.

'We were under a lot of pressure by Death Row who wanted exact details on what we were doing. If you wander in not knowing what you're doing and asking questions it can be dangerous. But if you're with the right people who have respect in the community then nothing will happen to you.'

Alongside Poole, Broomfield's documentary, Biggie & Tupac, features interviews with close associates of the two rappers, witnesses and former cops implicated in their deaths.

Kevin Hackie, an ex cop who was one of Shakur's bodyguards, alleges the FBI had both men under surveillance and, like Poole, names the hitman in the Biggie Smalls' shooting, linking him to Knight and claims the LAPD were aware of his identity. David Mack, another excop and a member of a Bloods street gang who owned a car identical to the one carrying Smalls' killer, was apparently present at a meeting with Knight when a hit was allegedly taken out on Smalls.

It's sensational stuff, but that Suge Knight was involved isn't going to come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the LA rap scene. …

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