The music world was rocked in the late 1990s when rap superstars Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. were gunned down about six months apart. The killings came at a moment marked by intense rivalry between their competing record labels. Both rappers were the top artists for their record companies. Many said the murders were a sign music feuds had gone too far.
Shakur was killed first, in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on Sept. 13, 1996. At the time, the 25-year-old superstar’s Death Row record label had been feuding with its competitor, Bad Boy. Six months later, Bad Boy’s Christopher Wallace — better known as the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls or Biggie — was killed in a similar fashion. The rapper was fatally shot in a drive-by as he was leaving a music industry party in Los Angeles.
The two superstars had been friends when both were signed under Bad Boy, according to the FBI, which investigated Biggie’s murder but closed the case in 2005. The pals grew distant after Tupac landed in jail over convictions that included rape, and Biggie rose in popularity. Tupac later switched over to Death Row.
It’s unclear whether the rivalry played a role in either killing. Both cases stumped police, in part because of uncooperative witnesses. The murder mysteries amassed their own collection of theories, including an unproven one that claims both rappers are still alive and faked their own deaths.
Family and friends of the megastars are still mourning. In March, on the 20th anniversary of Biggie’s death, Sean “Diddy” Combs paid tribute to his late friend in an Instagram video. “On this day we’re going to reflect on him because we miss him,” he said. “And 20 years later, time heals all wounds, but this one ain’t healed yet.”