On March 9, 1997, Christopher Wallace was gunned down in a brutal drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, CA on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax.
On April 6, 2011, the FBI released close to 300 pages of classified documents detailing their civil rights investigation surrounding his murder case.
Having closed the case in 2005, the FBI saved the city of Los Angeles from a costly civil suit brought on by the mother of Biggie Smalls, Ms. Voletta Wallace. With no new suspects it looks like Hip-Hop’s greatest mystery will continue to remain unsolved.
But thanks to pressure applied through the Freedom of Information Act and the publicity from being featured on Anderson Cooper 360, the FBI has finally released their invesitgative files allowing the public an opportunity to scrutinize the circumstances enveloping Biggie’s gruesome murder. With the heavily redacted documents now available online, the conspiracy theories driving the failed civil case into the murder of the world’s greatest rapper have returned. The case, itself, illustrates the tragic story of unabated corruption pervading a police force, senseless gang violence in South Central LA, one man’s dogged pursuit to unearth the truth, and the void it left in a genre of music still gripping with its identity in mainstream America.
Bringing those responsible for the brutal crime should be the goal of any further inquiry. As a fan, one can only pray that one day justice will be served.
On March 8, 1997, Christopher Wallace, better known by his stage name The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls, had just presented Toni Braxton with a Soul Train Music award. His very presence on stage elicited a smattering of boos from the polarized audience. The self-proclaimed rap phenomenon was embroiled in a bitter East Coast-West Coast rap feud that had finally taken a turn for the worse. Rival rapper Tupac Shakur was gunned down and killed just six months prior to this night, and few could have predicted that the feud was destined to end in a matter of hours. At the mercy of another fiery hail storm of unforgiving bullets.
After leaving the awards show early, Biggie spent the last few hours of his life doing the two things he enjoyed most — party and bullshit. Wasting away the night socializing with Hip-Hop’s elite at the VIBE after-party at the Peterson Automotive Museum, Biggie must’ve let go of the chaos around him and let the good times sink in. Just for a moment.
According to witness testimony, the DJ unabashedly spun Biggie tracks — no doubt looking to honor the rap superstar in the room. This caused a number of guests to voice some displeasure. Things like that happen when known gang members are invited to industry events, especially during a time of increased tension in a locale where Biggie was not king. 2Pac was considered The Second Coming in LA and residents will let you know that every chance they get.
When the party is cut short by the fire department, citing “safety concerns”, guests start trickling out. Strange that there was no police presence, even though protocol maintains that officers be present when the fire department is called in. For anyone who’s ever partied in California, you know the party doesn’t end even though the doors close at 2. So the schmoozing spilled out onto the sidewalk as cars pulled up to pick up guests looking to head out to the next after-after-party. Not one to ever shy away from crowds, Biggie is last seen taking pictures, laughing, and conversating with female fans outside the museum doors. He is then approached by two men in suits — most assume they are members of the Nation of Islam. They’re wearing suits and bowties. No one seems to think twice of this brief encounter.
Biggie then hops into his SUV with three members of his entourage. His is the middle car in a 3-car caravan. Mentor and friend, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, is also part of that caravan of SUVs.
7 casings from a 9mm Luger would be found at the crime scene. An asthma inhaler, size 13 shoes (naw mean?), and 3 extra-large condoms are found on Biggie’s persons. I’m sure Biggie Smalls would’ve preferred No Rubbers.
In a matter of minutes, Biggie would be shot dead by what witnesses describe as “a black male with light complexion, a football shaped head with receding hairline and light mustache, in a dark blue suit with bluish green bowtie” driving an SS Impala. This description of a black male in the dark suit and bowtie would become the only solid description in the hunt for Biggie’s killer. The identity of this man and motive for killing would be up for debate — a debate that continues to his day.
Whether you’re chilling on the corner, hanging out on the stoop, or whispering quietly over a game of spades, “Who Shot Biggie Smalls?” is a question rap fans have asked for years. Conspiracy theorists, journalists, documentarians, and music fans everywhere have a number of popular theories. None of them have put them together in what might to be the most plausible explanation for one of the most heinous crimes committed in pop culture.
To understand the mismanagement of the murder trial of one of rap’s most popular stars, you must examine the toxic climate in which the murder took place.
No story of Biggie’s death is complete without mentioning former friend and bitter rival Tupac Shakur. On November 30, 1994, Tupac Shakur was robbed and shot five times by two masked gunmen in camo gear in the lobby of a NYC recording studio. Tupac would survive but publicly accused Biggie Smalls and Bad Boy CEO Puff Daddy of orchestrating the hit. This would forever fracture the relationship between the two — leading to a war of words and half-threats.
The next day, Tupac would be charged with sexual molestation by a woman accusing him and his mates of a gangbang in a hotel room a year prior. Tupac maintained his innocence but would be sentenced to 1½ – 4½ years in prison, of which he would serve only 11 months. Enter Suge Knight.
Suge Knight was a former UNLV Rebel football player and NFL replacement player. He was born in Compton, back when it meant something to be born in the hood where gang life was omnipresent. He was known to be gang-affiliated. Suge Knight was a big man and few dared to cross him. Ask Vanilla Ice or Eazy E how he handled negotiations. In 1991, Suge Knight formed Death Row Records. He would help release seminal classics such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and Snoop Dogg’s “Doggstyle”.
In August 1995, Suge Knight would publicly ignite a feud with East Coast label Bad Boy Records with this declaration aimed at Sean “Puffy Daddy” Combs:
“Anyone out there who wanna be a recording artist and wanna stay a star, but don’t have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancing, come to Death Row.”
Just a month later, the FBI lists the death of known Bloods member and Death Row associate Jake Robles in an Atlanta club as a significant event in the timeline of Tupac Shakur’s final moments, since it changed the nature of the feud with Puff Daddy. Before it was just about business, but now with the death of Jake Robles, a close friend to Suge Knight, the rap feud turned personal.
When Tupac’s sexual assault case was up for appeal in October 1995, Suge posted his $1.4M bail in exchange for three records under the Death Row label. With Suge whispering in his ear, Tupac went on a one-man lyrical warpath fanning the flames to the bi-coastal rap feud.
In 1996, a scuffle broke out between the warring entourages at a Soul Train Music Awards Show. Guns were brandished but no shots fired.
As the violence escalated so did the money piling up. Rap was at a fever pitch, finally being recognized as something more than just a few angry black kids talking over a beat.
In 1996, Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight would attend the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon heavyweight championship bout. It would be over before it even started.
On September 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur died of complications due to the gunshot wounds suffered six nights prior.
Las Vegas detectives offer this as the only plausible explanation for Tupac’s death — he was shot by members of the Southside Crips at the urging of Orlando Anderson. The FBI files would agree as much.
After the Tyson bout, Tupac went down to the casino’s lobby with his crew where they spotted Southside Crip member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson. In a fierce display of loyalty, Tupac chased after Orlando and joined in the vicious stomping of the known gangbanger. Supposedly, Tupac had reconciled with Suge Knight just hours earlier, agreeing to remain on the Death Row label after fulfilling his initial promise to release three records and this would prove to be the final opportunity to demonstrate his unwavering loyalty to Suge Knight. According to the Las Vegas detectives tasked with finding Tupac’s killer, the attack was in retaliation to a past incident — Orlando Anderson had snatched a Death Row chain from a Bloods member.
Suge Knight made sure you knew about his gang affiliations, hiring known members of the Piru Bloods as part of his security teams — not surprising considering he grew up with most of them. It would be this link to criminal activity that would follow Suge Knight like a shadow. It would be this allegiance to the Bloods that would prompt Tupac and his crew to jump Orlando Anderson and almost stomp him to death. In hindsight, they probably should’ve killed him. Because in a matter of hours, the violent life that Suge Knight never escaped came chasing after him, claiming the life of one of Hip-Hop’s luminaries.
Bloods and Crips waged a brutal war on the streets of LA for much of the Crack Epidemic. Separated by something as simple as the colors of the rags they waved, these two warring factions would commit some of the most heinous crimes to ever be committed on American soil. Theirs was a brutal civil war and for someone growing up on the streets of Compton, it must have been hard to keep that sort of life out of your backyard. So Suge embraced it. He hired members of the Piru Bloods set he grew up with to run security for Death Row Records. It was his way of giving back and never forgetting where he came from in its own sick and twisted way.
Gang life permeated more than just Death Row Records. It would sink its claws into the very institution that was meant to protect and serve.
In 1997, Detective Russell Poole was tagged to lead the Internal Affairs investigation into officer Kevin Gaines. Kevin Gaines was a black LAPD officer who had been behaving erratically in the months leading up to Biggie’s murder. In 1996, an off-duty Gaines was arrested by officers outside a Hollywood Hills mansion.
The mansion was owned by the ex-wife of Suge Knight. Poole found that the 911 call was made by Gaines himself and that the altercation was a failed attempt at securing a lawsuit. Poole had enough to recommend Gaines’s termination from the force, but Internal Affairs director Bernard Parks told him to stand down. Days after Christopher Wallace was killed in the drive-by shooting, Kevin Gaines would be shot dead. By a fellow off-duty police officer.
Thus would begin Detective Poole’s personal mission to bring down the LAPD’s CRASH unit.
According to the civil suit filed against the LAPD by the mother of Christopher Wallace, Suge Knight and several CRASH unit officers with ties to the Bloods gang were responsible for the murder and subsequent cover-up of Biggie Smalls. Much of that suit is based on Detective Poole’s own investigation into the RAMPART scandal. The FBI files acknowledged Poole’s claims, but ultimately discredited much of it — which would explain why the suit ultimately fell short.
Unfortunately for the family of Biggie Smalls, Det. Poole may have fingered the wrong man (or men). For years the Wallace suit fingered disgraced LAPD officer David Mack and his college buddy Harry Billups, better known as Amir Muhammad, as co-conspirators. Poole had suspected Billups as part of the killing because of a 1997 prison visit to Mack, but that proved to be nothing more than a hunch. Even a wired informant drew up blanks. In 2004, Billups was dropped from the suit due to a lack of evidence.
But Poole held on to his theory, which was based on a substantial amount of testimony from unreliable sources (read: incarcerated felons and Pulitzer winning journalists– chronic fabricators). His theory alleged that Suge Knight had ordered the hit on Tupac after he threatened to leave Death Row Records, which was already feeling the loss of Dr. Dre and The D.O.C., and expose their drug dealing operations. With a security detail made up of vicious gang members moonlighting as LA’s Finest, it was entirely possible to kill Tupac, blame it on Biggie, then kill off the competition without raising an eyebrow. Just blame on the senseless culture of gangbanging.
But then there was the simple fact that Suge Knight was driving the car with Tupac in the passenger seat. Would a man dead set on amassing as much money and power as possible risk his own life? Poole certainly thought so.
That may have been a tough pill to swallow, but Poole was on to something in implicating David Mack. 11 months after Biggie’s death, David Mack would be arrested for his part in masterminding a bank robbery. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Normally when a cop is sentenced to hard time they’re expecting the worst, fortunately for Mack, he had a couple of buddies in the pen who welcomed him with open arms. It would only be a matter of months before he renounced his LAPD blues and traded them in for the familiar red of the Bloods.
In the search for evidence following Mack’s arrest, investigators found a Chevy SS Impala parked in his garage, the same make and model that was described by eyewitnesses as the vehicle Biggie’s killer drove off in. Also found in a garage described as a “shrine to Tupac” were 9mm handguns, radios, police scanners, and German Gecko ammo.
Probably the most damning piece of evidence was the discovery of that particular ammo: Gecko 9mm bullets — rare armor piercing bullets, the same type of bullets used in Biggie’s murder. Bullets so rare that they were sold in just two places in all of the United States. Apparently this wasn’t enough to warrant an arrest or interrogation.
And if you think about it, it wasn’t enough for the LAPD to even order a simple ballistics test. By the end of his investigation into the culture of corruption that penetrated the ranks of LAPD’s RAMPART division, Poole was being brushed aside, told to follow orders, and ultimately forced into resignation. A cop, who had already earned his bones through good police work, was being told to hold the company line by a superior looking to reach the top. Poole’s commanding officer Bernard Parks would be named Chief of Police, 5 months after Biggie’s death. He would lead the LAPD through the most significant police corruption case to ever be levied against a major crime unit, accusing over 70 police officers of gross misconduct. Parks knew that the only way to survive would be to cover as much of it up, blame it on the few bad seeds like David Mack and Rafeal Perez, and hope no one batted an eye. What he couldn’t foresee was the coming shitstorm that would be 140 civil lawsuits costing the city of Los Angeles more than $125 million in settlements.
Why charge disgraced officers David Mack with the death of Christopher Wallace? They had already arrested him for a bank robbery and shown the world that he was, indeed, a crooked cop. Why go through the PR nightmare that would have been inevitable had the investigation gone through? Why risk damaging an already fragile police department by exposing all the dirty little secrets that Internal Affairs could unearth? Why?! Because it would’ve been good police work. And the LAPD was content with hoping it would disappear. Politics is a game, and the FBI were pros at it. They knew they had enough to make a case, but that wouldn’t have been being a team player. So they made it disappear.
To this day, the first Monday after what would have been Christopher Wallace’s 39th birthday, no one has been arrested for the killing of The Notorious B.I.G.