The murder of rap icon, Tupac Shakur, in Las Vegas remains unsolved
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“I’m not saying I’m going to rule the world or I’m going to change the world. But I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world and that is our job.”-Tupac Shakur, during an MTV interview in 1994
It has been 25 years since the death of rap superstar, Tupac Shakur. On September 7, 1996, at 11:15 pm, Shakur was a passenger in a 1996 black BMW driven by Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records. Both men were on their way to Club 662 when the vehicle stopped at a red light near Koval Lane and Flamingo Road just outside the Las Vegas Strip. Suddenly, a white Cadillac appeared beside them and opened fire.
Shakur died six days later at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada hospital. He was 25. Before the shooting, Shakur had attended the Mike Tyson and Bruce Shelton fight at the MGM Grand. Accompanying the rap icon was Suge Knight and members of Shakur’s hip-hop group “The Outlawz”—along with other friends.
Shakur started his music career in 1990 with the Oakland-based hip hop group, Digital Underground before venturing out as a solo artist. From 1991 to 1996, Tupac Shakur was the brightest star in hip hop and gangsta rap music. He released four platinum albums during his lifetime with another seven albums released posthumously (also going platinum). To date, Shakur has sold over 75 million records worldwide. He recorded songs that have become classics: “Dear Mama,” “California Love,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Hit ‘Em Up” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” Shakur had also transitioned his music career into films; starring in six movies—with three of the six films released posthumously: Bullet, Gridlock’d and Gang Related.
The famed rapper came from very humble beginnings. Shakur was born in Harlem, New York, on June 16, 1971. His mother, Afeni Shakur, a political activist and former Black Panther, raised him and his sister, Sekyiwa, on her own. The family struggled for money, moving several times and at times staying in shelters. Eventually, they moved to Baltimore; where the young Tupac attended the Baltimore School of the Arts where he studied poetry, jazz, acting and ballet.
Shakur was known to be a voracious reader who loved the arts. He was intelligent, articulate and introspective. These attributes made others jealous; as rapper 50 Cent recalled in an article he wrote about Shakur for Rolling Stone in 2010: “[Actor] Laurence Fishburne told me once that he didn’t like Tupac. He told me it was because Tupac was so much smarter than everyone around him. He said he didn’t like the way Tupac behaved because he knew that Tupac knew better.”
But Shakur was also a myriad of contradictions. He advocated about social issues: poverty, drug addiction and civil rights for African Americans. His song, “Dear Mama” was poignant and dedicated to his mother—who passed away in May 2016 at age 69. Yet, his song, “I Get Around,” boasted about his sexual conquests. As well, in an October 1995 interview with MTV host, Tabitha Soren, Shakur admitted in his early 20s, he associated with gang members, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. He also projected a defiant, tough-guy image to the media—a mantra he referred to as “thug life.” The media focused more on Shakur’s “bad boy” persona rather than focusing on his music.
Over time, the image Shakur conveyed would get him into trouble with the law. In February 1995, The New York Times reported Shakur was sentenced to one-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years in prison for sexually abusing a fan. Shakur only served eight months before he was released on bail pending an appeal of his conviction. Suge Knight posted Shakur’s bail at $1.4 million with the agreement the rapper signed with Death Row.
Shakur’s charisma and good looks drew women, while his bravado and outspokenness drew enemies. And in the world of hip hop and gangsta rap, to hate one another was the norm. It was all part of the image to sell records and make money. In the 1990s, the East Coast and West Coast rivalry dominated the rap music industry. At the centre of the rivalry was rapper Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace). He was part of Bad Boy Records in New York, founded by Sean Combs (P. Diddy). Tupac Shakur was part of Death Row Records in Los Angeles founded by Suge Knight. Preceding the rivalry, Wallace and Shakur had been friends.
But the friendship soon ended after Shakur was shot multiple times in an attempted robbery in November 1994. Shakur had been inside the lobby of Quad, a Manhattan recording studio before being shot by two young African American men. Shakur believed the Notorious B.I.G. and P. Diddy—who were both upstairs— were behind the shooting. No one was ever charged. Shakur later spoke about the shooting in the same October 1995 MTV interview: “That situation with me is like what comes around, goes around. Karma, I believe in karma. I believe in all of that. I’m not worried about it. You know, they missed. I’m not worried about it; unless they come back.” Sadly, someone else did.
Shakur’s murder near the Las Vegas Strip has never been solved. In 2006, the Shakur murder case was reinvestigated by LAPD—as part of the murder of Notorious B.I.G. in March 1997. In September 2021, Greg Kading, a retired LAPD detective, gave an interview to the television station, KTNV, in Las Vegas. Kading believes Shakur was murdered by Orlando Anderson; a member of the Southside Compton Crips gang in Los Angeles. In addition, Kading states that Anderson’s uncle, Duane “Keefe D” Davis, confessed to police in 2009 that he was in Las Vegas the night of the shooting and had given his nephew the gun. “The strength of the lead was really based on Keefe D’s confession about being involved in the murder and giving a gun to his nephew Orlando,” Kading said. He revealed this information in a book he wrote in 2011 entitled, Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations.
Before the shooting, video surveillance footage captured Shakur, in the MGM lobby following the Mike Tyson fight, getting into an altercation with Anderson. Shakur’s entourage immediately comes to his aid and assaults Anderson. The impetus for revenge had been set. “If you beat up a guy like that, you better have your head on a swivel because he’s going to come back looking for ya, and that’s exactly what happened,” said retired Las Vegas Metro Police sergeant, Chris Carroll in a September 2021 interview with KTNV. Anderson was later killed in an unrelated shooting in May 1998.
Chris Carroll was on bike patrol duty; and the first policeman at the scene following the Shakur shooting. He recalled when he arrived, it was chaos. He remembered Suge Knight trying to approach him, but another cop intervened so Carroll could focus on Shakur sitting in the passenger seat (Carroll was not aware at the time the passenger was Shakur). Carroll stated when he opened the passenger door; Shakur had slumped out of the car: “So, I grabbed him with my left hand lowered him to the pavement, and I could see immediately that he had been shot multiple times. There was a lot of blood all over his torso. I knew he was in bad shape.”
Carroll then attempted to get Shakur to speak, and obtain any information about what had happened. Carroll noticed blood was coming out of the rapper’s mouth. “I looked at him and asked, ‘[Who] shot you?’ He was trying to get breath together, and I thought I was actually going to get some cooperation,” he said. Then Carroll remembers Shakur staring at him for a few seconds before saying—what turned out to be the rapper’s last words, “Fuck you!” Shakur’s eyes then rolled back as he began to gurgle before losing consciousness. He went into surgery at UMC, but never regained consciousness. Shakur was taken off life support six days later.
Twenty-five years after Shakur’s death, some Las Vegas residents say the shooting of Shakur ultimately changed the perception of Las Vegas being a safe place. “This was a drive-by shooting, where he was murdered on The Strip,” said Mark Hall Patton, a retired Clark County historian. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen in Las Vegas, and it was something that really shook up the community and shook up the image of being in Vegas.”
But despite the violent manner in which Shakur died; it will not overshadow his legacy or the impact he made with his music—which continues to resonate with fans worldwide. He has received numerous posthumous honours. In March 2002, Shakur was inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. In December 2010, Rolling Stone named Shakur in its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In April 2017, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—in his first year of eligibility. Notably, the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, Inc. (TASF) was established by Afeni Shakur in 1997. Its mission and goals are to bring quality arts training to young people that include the following disciplines: acting, vocal technique, creative writing, poetry and spoken word, dance and stage set design.
Like James Dean, Shakur died young and tragically. He was taken away at the prime of his career at age 25; ensuring his immortality. Certainly, his death ultimately robbed the public of an even greater body of work in both music and film. Shakur’s fans can only wonder what could have been, and perhaps his legacy could be interpreted as one of promise unfulfilled.
Michael “Mike P” Perry, a local DJ at Hot 97.5 in Las Vegas, says Shakur was the voice for his generation. “The reason why [Tupac’s legacy] had lasting power is because he connected [with people],” he said in an interview with KTNV. “When you speak from the heart, and you speak the truth—you connect with people. And I think his greatest attribute was his ability to communicate—and show a side of unselfishness.”
Lastly, Greg Kading states that although there will not be any judicial justice for the murder of Tupac Shakur, there is indeed some closure. “If you are looking for closure, all the facts and the evidence are there to give you a clear understanding of what happened and why it happened,” he said. “And then the fact that Orlando Anderson died in the same manner that Tupac died, it’s almost the perfect justice.”