Grow­ing up in the late 90s Dre 2001 era, Big­gie and Tupac were spec­tral fig­ures whose pres­ence haunted the music­al land­scape.  Changes and I’ll Be Miss­ing You were still being played on MTV and older kids would draw Big­gie and Tupac in their high school art­work. Broth­ers and cous­ins would talk about Hyp­not­ize and Hit Em Up. Hear­ing stor­ies of the murders was a rite of pas­sage and at that young age, listen­ing to Big­gie and Tupac were signs that you were a Hip Hop con­nois­seur.

This was also the era of the inter­net and file shar­ing, (Remem­ber when mp3 down­loads could take 30mins plus!), Ques­tions such as was it spelt 2pac or Tupac? And What was the best search term for find­ing music by Big­gie?, Occu­pied my young mind.

Geo­cit­ies art­icles, FAQs and inter­net for­ums spread many con­spir­acy the­or­ies as to who was respons­ible for the murders. Was it the rel­at­ively mys­ter­i­ous Death Row label boss Suge Knight? There were also rumours of Tupac’s sur­viv­al. The­or­ies such as Black Haze being Tupac could be read about and assessed in minutes. Oth­er ideas such as Tupac hid­ing in Cuba with his aunt Assata were much harder to veri­fy and only added to their plaus­ib­il­ity

‘The Sev­en Year the­ory’ was the big one. Watch­ing Tupac’s music videos, attent­ively, study­ing lyr­ics and even revers­ing parts of tracks would reveal clues point­ing towards a the­ory that Tupac, fed up of the lime­light and the com­mer­cial­isa­tion of music, faked his death and would return sev­en years later to save music.

TV shows at the time would occa­sion­ally cov­er the murders in light hearted con­spir­acy the­ory seg­ments. Arm­chair experts would come in with ques­tions as to how the dan­cer appear­ing behind Tupac in a posthum­ously released music video could wear train­ers that were released after Tupac’s death?  Said dis­cus­sions would also provide some nug­gets of wis­dom such as Tupac being influ­enced by Itali­an philo­soph­er Machiavelli who fam­ously said The best way to get rid of your enemies is to con­vince them that you have died”, appar­ently.

It’s 2002 and aside from await­ing the release of the fol­low up to Dre 2001, hope of Tupac’s return is in the air, being the talk of school play­grounds the world over. Chan­nel 4 is about to screen a doc­u­ment­ary by Brit­ish Film maker Nick Broom­field, titled “Big­gie and Tupac” The Nation news­pa­per ran a head­line “The doc­u­ment­ary that may have finally solved both murders”. Was it the tit for tat Big­gie killed Tupac so Tupac’s men killed Big­gie? Who did it? Will they be charged? Will it be revealed the Tupac secretly sur­vived?

The film caused mass fan­fare and fol­lowed the “Rus­sell Poole The­ory” (Also out­lined in the 2003 book LAbyrinth co-writ­ten with Ran­dall Sul­li­van). Accord­ing to the the­ory, Suge Knight had Tupac killed for his music roy­al­ties (Tupac was appar­ently plan­ning to leave the label) and that Knight also had Big­gie killed to make it look like both murders were the res­ult of gang viol­ence. Both murders were, accord­ing to the the­ory, car­ried out by cor­rupt LAPD officers who often moon­lighted as secur­ity for Death Row.

The doc­u­ment­ary fea­tured a fam­ous inter­view with Knight from pris­on and his Mes­sage to the kids. adding to his gang­ster myth­os.

Broomfield’s film was cri­ti­cised for its lack of real evid­ence, only testi­mon­ies from less than cred­ible sources, such as The Book­keep­er, him­self a felon who was sen­tenced for imper­son­at­ing a law­yer.

Ulti­mately noth­ing came of the doc­u­ment­ary. A wrong­ful death law­suit that fol­lowed the film’s release, from Biggie’s moth­er Voletta Wal­lace against the City of LA failed and for a new gen­er­a­tion of fans the second com­ing of Tupac in 2002 became 2009 (Anoth­er 7 years because 2002 wasn’t safe for the return appar­ently) everything seemed to fade away.

Poole’s the­ory had also evolved, Knight was him­self now the vic­tim of a con­spir­acy the­ory to have him killed and/or imprisoned and then to gut Death Row records (Val­ued at 25million dol­lars in 90s money). This went some­way to explain­ing a prob­lem with Poole’s ori­gin­al ver­sion, why would any­one order a hit by gun­fire on the per­son sit­ting next to them in a car? This didn’t help Poole’s alleg­a­tions of LAPD involve­ment and he would be regarded as a fringe con­spir­acy the­or­ist, obsessed with uncov­er­ing some­thing that didn’t exist.

Murder Rap was released in 2011 and was the work of Retired police detect­ive Gregg Kad­ing who was part of the task force set up to find evid­ence to defend the City of LA in the Wrong­ful Death suit. Murder Rap des­troyed the Poole the­ory with testi­mony from South­side Crips gang mem­ber Keefe D and some rev­el­a­tions about some key wit­nesses that Poole had relied on. Accord­ing to Kad­ing, Tupac was killed by Crips due to the Orlando Ander­son alter­ca­tion earli­er that even­ing (And an alleged bounty which was hanging in the air) and Biggie’s murder was then ordered by Knight in revenge.

Whilst Murder Rap seemed to have swung the pen­du­lum away from the Poole the­ory and police cor­rup­tion, it had some issues. The testi­mon­ies it relied on could have equally been false and Kading’s status as a Retired police officer was a major prob­lem, with his the­ory regarded by many as cooked up in order to exon­er­ate the police.

2012 would fea­ture some­what of a Tupac return in holo­gram form. Per­form­ing dur­ing Dr Dre’s set at Coachella with some fringes of the inter­net ask­ing why the hologram’s stage talk and “Big up Coachella!” soun­ded so real­ist­ic?

Poole passed away in 2015 his repu­ta­tion in tat­ters. Earli­er this year Vlad TV through its Deep­dyve series on the murders, claimed to put the final nail in the coffin of Poole’s the­ory.  Releas­ing the audio of the 1997 inter­view with the inform­ant Michael Robin­son that first brought for­ward the name Amir Muhammad (A friend of sus­pec­ted dirty cop Dav­id Mack) and star­ted off Poole’s the­ory. The Deep­dyve video showed that Robinson’s testi­mony was unre­li­able and Poole had clutched at straws whilst dis­miss­ing oth­er straws.

It is here that we come to this year’s doc­u­ment­ary Last Man Stand­ing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Big­gie & Tupac. With Suge Knight’s 2018 incar­cer­a­tion for 28 years, more people are now talk­ing and Broom­field is rein­vest­ig­at­ing the murders, hop­ing to clear Poole’s the­ory and repu­ta­tion.

The new faces include former Death Row employ­ees and oth­er fig­ures of the scene who have appar­ently kept secrets for nearly 25 years.

Open­ing with shots of 2002 show­ing a SWAT Team raid on the Death Row offices. We learn that Death Row by then was bank­rupt and a shad­ow of its former self, we are then treated to some testi­mony from Death Row pho­to­graph­er Simone Green dis­cuss­ing the early days of the label.

A brief bio­graphy of Suge Knight makes up the next seg­ment. This fea­tures some anec­dotes of Knight’s child­hood and foot­age of Knight as an Amer­ic­an foot­baller rap­ping with his friends and foot­age of Knight as com­munity act­iv­ist, host­ing the annu­al Death Row Single Mother’s Day. We are also told of Knight’s hir­ing of indi­vidu­als who were newly released from pris­on. This is shown in par­al­lel with testi­mony of former employ­ees refer­ring to the cow­boy nature of Death Row, with Knight’s men being Blood gang mem­bers ready to beat any­one up and Knight hav­ing a piranha tank in his office, which he would occa­sion­ally glance at if the per­son he was speak­ing to was in trouble. The trans­form­a­tion from child to gang­ster is a motif that the film will return to in its descrip­tion of Tupac.

One cri­ti­cism of the film is that it seems to be unsure of what it wants to be. A bio of Knight?, a bio of Tupac?, a sequel to the 2002 doc­u­ment­ary, a gen­er­al com­ment­ary on the vic­tims of LA gang war­fare. There is much repeated foot­age and gen­er­al inform­a­tion that we have already seen before. Is the film’s con­flic­ted nature due to the lack of new evid­ence?

Key rev­el­a­tions how­ever include the FBI invest­ig­at­ing the LAPD fol­low­ing the alleg­a­tions in the 2002 film and some testi­mony point­ing to the involve­ment of LAPD chief Bern­ard Parks. Going into the spe­cif­ics here would spoil key ele­ments of the film. Essen­tially it is the return of the Poole The­ory with some old sus­pects and key fig­ures replaced with new ones.

We are then intro­duced to Pam Brookes, Broomfield’s con­nec­tion to the Death Row entour­age and Compton gang­sters. Broomfield’s request to speak to DJ Quik was shut down by Brookes as he was “Still in the life”.

Next we hear from Mob James a former Death Row employ­ee and Bloods gang mem­ber who recruited oth­er gang mem­bers for Knight. He reflects on the viol­ence and his regrets and in a poignant moment really opens up about his murdered broth­er Boun­try, Knight’s body­guard who had chased and exchanged fire with the Tupac shoot­ers on the night Tupac was killed .

Rev­el­a­tions about the treat­ment of women at Death Row mark anoth­er dark turn for this world. The rev­el­a­tion of Suge hav­ing Simone Green beaten up and the reg­u­lar occur­rence of set­ting up “girl fights” in the Death Row offices, and women being used for “…amuse­ment , enter­tain­ment and enjoy­ment.”, casts anoth­er shad­ow on the glam­our­ous world of West Coast Hip Hop.

It is around the half hour mark that the film becomes a bio of Tupac. The drama stu­dent, son of a Black Pan­ther who embraced the gang­ster life­style when he was released from pris­on. A sombre note in the film is when Broomfield’s voice over reminds us that Tupac will be dead in 11 months. Foot­age of a 17 year old Tupac from a 1988 High School inter­view dis­cuss­ing social issues “More kids are being handed crack than dip­lo­mas.”, is con­tras­ted by testi­mony of Tupac being ini­ti­ated into the Mob Piru Bloods and pho­tos depict­ing Death Row excesses and the treat­ment of women, adding to the film’s cau­tion­ary tale. Oth­er early foot­age of Tupac per­form­ing Pan­ther Power is also hark back to the fun Elec­tro days before Hip Hop went gang­ster and points to an altern­ate gang­ster free uni­verse where both rap­pers could have sur­vived and flour­ished. This is hin­ted at by Tupac’s pro­du­cer Tracy Robin­son, “If only Inter­scope (Death Row’s par­ent label) had got him out of jail.” and by oth­er inter­view sub­jects.

The Hol­ly­wood dream gone wrong is clearly the theme here and one that Broom­field has vis­ited in his pre­vi­ous films. Tupac’s trans­form­a­tion is part of the wider encroach­ment of gangs in the Hol­ly­wood world and the music industry which is also touched upon by some of the sub­jects. The men­tion­ing of the for­got­ten vic­tims of the gang war­fare that spilled out in the wake of Tupac’s murder also points to the wider prob­lem of gangs in soci­ety and the fail­ure of the sys­tem.

Stein­berg also coin­cid­ently man­aged Dav­id Mack, the LAPD Officer at the heart of Poole’s the­ory, dur­ing Mack’s days as an ath­lete. Stein­berg states that the mag­nitude of Death Row’s crim­in­al deal­ings could only have occurred with police involve­ment and that the mass amount of drugs com­ing into the area at the time could only have come from The police allow­ing stuff to come in.”

We are then re-told the story of the Big­gie and Tupac feud and its back­drop of East vs West Coast. The story of Biggie’s wife Faith Evans work­ing with Tupac (Part of a plot by Tupac accord­ing to an ex-girl­friend). And the infam­ous 1995 Source awards foot­age of Knight diss­ing Puffy on stage, again this seems like ground already covered but is vital for those who have not seen any of the pre­vi­ous doc­u­ment­ar­ies.

The film’s pace picks up with the casino foot­age from the night of the Tupac shoot­ing and testi­mony from Frank Alex­an­der, Tupac’s body­guard who was rid­ing in the car behind.

Every­one now claims to have known from the very begin­ning that it was Orlando Ander­son who fired.

The 1 hour mark fea­tures Murder Rap’s Greg Kad­ing and his ver­sion of events. I was actu­ally sur­prised to see Kad­ing giv­en the anim­os­ity between Kad­ing and Poole’s co-writer Ran­dall Sul­li­van regard­ing the mer­its of each the­ory.

Both the­or­ies agree that Knight ordered the hit on Big­gie from pris­on. They dif­fer in that for Kad­ing, no police were involved and it was just gang­sters where­as for Poole it was dirty cops. Kad­ing claims that Dav­id Mack and his alleged accom­plice, fel­low officer Rafel Perez didn’t work at Death Row where­as Broom­field claims that they did.

Judge Xavi­er Her­mosillo also provides insight about wit­nesses being intim­id­ated and threatened by the LAPD.  A new wit­ness is brought up who again men­tions the 5 officers at the heart of Poole’s the­ory. Her­mosillo also speaks of an incid­ent where he iden­ti­fied a woman in a photo of Mack and Perez which cir­cum­stan­tially points to deep­er police cor­rup­tion. We are also told about how the wit­ness intim­id­a­tion lead to LAPD being fined by a dis­trict judge for $1.1 mil­lion for con­ceal­ing evid­ence relat­ing to the case.

The final 20 minutes returns to foot­age of Suge Knight being released from pris­on in 2001 and the prob­lems he faced in sub­sequent years. We then get more testi­mon­ies about the night of Biggie’s murder fea­tur­ing new inform­a­tion claim­ing that cer­tain indi­vidu­als were seen there.

Fol­low­ing the premi­er of Last Man Stand­ing, a spe­cial event at Rich Mix with a Q+A from Broom­field, the offi­cial Murder Rap Face­book page blas­ted the film stat­ing that Amir Muhammed’s name (which Poole’s the­ory and Broomfield’s first film so heav­ily relied upon) was not men­tioned once and the ridicu­lous­ness of Broomfield’s pre-recor­ded Q+A with vet­ted ques­tions. Things which in them­selves do not actu­ally counter any of the points raised in the film. I anti­cip­ate the next pos­sible swing of the pen­du­lum in Kading’s response.

Last Man Stand­ing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Big­gie & Tupac, Dir­ec­ted by Nick Broom­field is released on July 2nd

By DJ Isuru

DJ Isuru is a music journ­al­ist and broad­caster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series fea­tur­ing the best in Asi­an Under­ground, the next party will be on Octo­ber 2nd at Pop­lar Uni­on.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.


DJ Isuru is a music journ­al­ist and broad­caster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series fea­tur­ing the best in Asi­an Under­ground.


DJ Isuru is a music journalist and broadcaster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series featuring the best in Asian Underground.