More than 20 years ago, beloved West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur was shot down in Las Vegas, marking the death of a great and the end of an era. While he was tragically taken from us too soon, the 25-year-old Shakur has had an active post-mortem, headlining at Coachella in holographic form and sparking some of the greatest conspiracy theories in pop culture history.
The question of who killed Tupac—a trusty conversation topic across college dorm rooms and Twitter feeds—has gone unanswered for over two decades, but not for lack of trying. One well-worn theory is that the FBI shot Tupac, and were also responsible for Biggie Smalls’ murder six months later. Less cynical fans would like to think that Biggie and Tupac, while enemies by the end of their short lives, have been reunited in fake death and are enjoying a permanent vacation in a secluded town in New Zealand. If the idea of two of America’s greatest rappers denouncing their fame and fortune to become unemployed Kiwis sounds far-fetched to you, you’re not alone. Former LAPD cop Greg Kading believes that Sean Combs hired a million dollar hitman to take out Pac, and that Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, who was in the car with the rapper the night he was murdered, retaliated by ordering the attack on The Notorious B.I.G.
Then again, some backseat detectives believe that Knight was actually responsible for Tupac’s murder himself, with rumors swirling that the rapper was planning to leave Death Row Records and start his own label. Controversial former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller, now deceased, confirmed in a 2015 interview that Suge Knight “unquestionably put the hit out” on Shakur, adding, “I think Suge got what he deserved.”
While Knight emerged physically and legally unscathed from the two ‘90s shootings, he’s currently facing life in prison after a 2015 Compton hit-and-run. According to a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “Following an altercation on Thursday outside a Compton restaurant, Knight allegedly was driving his truck when he ran over two men standing in the parking lot.” While Knight’s lawyer has said that the incident was unintentional, Knight's other colorful crimes include repeated parole violations, aggravated assault, and second-degree robbery, not to mention numerous traffic violations.
Tupac and Biggie aren’t even the only rappers that Knight has been accused of ordering a hit on. In the summer of 2016, Eminem’s former bodyguard claimed that Suge Knight tried to have his boss killed at the 2001 Source Awards, adding, “That was our first encounter with Suge Knight and his henchman.” Then there’s the strange, spooky conspiracy theory that Knight killed N.W.A. founder Eazy-E by infecting him with lethal injections. The accepted narrative is that Eazy-E fell victim to AIDS-related complications just a month after his diagnosis. Fans looking to explain away the rapper’s rapid and unexpected decline felt validated by a Jimmy Kimmel Live! interview, during which Suge Knight chattered on about how easy it is to poison someone with contaminated blood. “If you shoot somebody you go to jail forever,” he mused. “So they got this new thing out…they get blood from somebody with AIDs and then they shoot you with it. So that’s a slow death, an Eazy-E thing, ya know what I’m saying?”
So when Suge Knight came forward on this week to announce that he had cracked Tupac Shakur’s case, his claims were met with a healthy degree of skepticism. In addition to being all sorts of untrustworthy—not to mention murderous—it could be in Knight’s interest to shift attention over to a new suspect. It’s also important to note that Suge Knight keeps switching up his story. In 2014, he told TMZ that Tupac was actually alive, saying, “Why you think nobody been arrested if they said they the one that killed Tupac? Because Tupac not dead. If he was dead, they’d be arresting those dudes for murder. You know he’s somewhere smoking a Cuban cigar on an island.”
But when the man who was in the car with Pac says he knows who did it, you’ve got to listen. According to a signed affidavit written by Knight’s attorney Thaddeus Culpepper, “Knight has known for many years that Reggie Wright Jr. [the former Death Row Records security chief] and his ex-wife Sharitha were behind the murder of Tupac and attempted murder of Knight.” The theory goes that Sharitha was attempting a Death Row Records coup, and knew what she stood to inherit if Knight was forcibly taken out of the picture. Sharitha allegedly enlisted the help of Wright Jr., and the rest is highly-disputed history.
According to The Daily Mail, Knight’s admission was inspired by a new documentary, Tupac Assassination: Battle for Compton. The documentary also claims that Suge Knight was the true target of the Las Vegas shooting. Co-director Richard Bond explains that while “we were working on the movie, we gave the salient points of the book (Tupac: 187 The Red Knight) to Thaddeus Culpepper, who read them to Suge Knight.” Now, Knight is more or less confirming that those “salient points” are true.
A spokesperson for the film told Music News that, “Not only did Knight confirm the events as portrayed in Compton, which portray Knight was the intended target and Shakur as collateral damage, as true, but also goes on to allege that these 1996 events may have been the first in a history of attempts on Knight's life, culminating in the recent attempted killing of Knight at the 1OAK Club in Los Angeles, where Knight was shot six times.” This is a double-duty confession for Knight—if he claims that he was the actual target back in 1996, it could bolster his argument that he was the victim of a second murderous plot (the 1 Oak shooting) in 2014.
In 2016 court papers, Knight alleged that Dr. Dre hired gunmen to shoot him at the 1 Oak nightclub in West Hollywood during Chris Brown’s pre-VMAs party. Knight was shot six times during the incident—when asked for a response by TMZ, Dr. Dre insisted that the claim was “ridiculous.” His representative responded to Dr. Dre’s suit with an even sassier comment: “Given that Dre has had zero interaction with Suge since leaving Death Row Records in 1996, we hope that Suge’s lawyer has lots of malicious prosecution insurance.” So while there’s a strong argument to be made that the hip-hop community would love to shut Suge Knight up, there’s no definitive proof that Dre (or Sharitha and Wright Jr.) actually took matters into their own hands.