What’s behind the investigation into Tupac Shakur’s murder?

Almost three decades after the rapper was killed in a drive-by shooting, Las Vegas police have revived the case.

Rapper Tupac Shakur in 1996 [Frank Wiese/AP]

An investigation into the unsolved murder of Tupac Shakur, widely known as 2Pac, has been revived after authorities in the US state of Nevada served a search warrant this week in connection with the rap star’s death on September 7, 1996.

Here’s what’s to know about the rapper’s murder and the investigation into the most infamous fatal shooting in hip-hop history:

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What is new about this investigation?

The search warrant was executed on Monday in the city of Henderson, located on the outskirts of Las Vegas in the state of Nevada.

Las Vegas homicide detectives and prosecutors had determined they had enough information to proceed with a court-authorised search, an official briefed on the investigation told US-based ABC News.

The search was conducted with Las Vegas Metro PD SWAT present at about 10pm local time (05:00 GMT).

ABC News described the scene as loud, with police using bullhorns and bright lights.

The news network also stated that investigators searched for computers, laptops and articles about Shakur and his death.

The evidence collected will now be presented to a Las Vegas grand jury.

Citing the continuing investigation, a police spokesperson said he couldn’t provide further details on the latest development in the case, including whether a suspect has been identified.

What happened the night Shakur was killed?

September 7, 1996: The 25-year-old rapper was travelling in a black BMW driven by Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight in a convoy of about 10 cars, apparently headed to a nightclub, after watching Mike Tyson knock out Bruce Seldon in a championship fight at the MGM Grand. Police said no one else was in the car with them.

Mike Tyson
Defending WBA champion Bruce Seldon (L) fends off WBC Champion Mike Tyson (R) in the first round of their title match at the MGM Grand Gardens in Las Vegas, on September 7 1996 [Reuters]

A white Cadillac with four men inside pulled alongside the BMW while it was stopped at a red light at an intersection near the Las Vegas Strip, and one person opened fire, riddling the passenger side of Knight’s car with bullets, police said. Sitting in the passenger seat, Shakur was shot four times, at least twice in the chest.

Knight was grazed by a bullet fragment or shrapnel from the car.

September 13, 1996: Shakur was pronounced dead at 04:03pm local time (23:03 GMT) at University Medical Center in LA. The hospital says he died of respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest.

Tupac 1996
Marion Knight arrives at University Medical Center in Las Vegas after Tupac Shakur’s death was announced, on September 13 [Reuters]

What happened in the initial investigation?

1996: Las Vegas police have said the initial investigation quickly, stalled partly because witnesses refused to cooperate.

After no arrests were made, speculation and theories abounded.

2002: An LA Times investigation suggested the shooting was carried out by a Compton gang called the Southside Crips to avenge the beating of one of its members by Shakur a few hours earlier.

October 2018: Knight is sentenced to 28 years in prison for running over and killing music executive Terry Carter.

Ahead of the trial, Knight claimed that he was the real target of the drive-by that killed Shakur and that his ex-wife and the former Death Row Records security chief were behind the shooting.

2018-2019: ABC News reported that an official at the Las Vegas police department said detectives re-engaged in the case after a Netflix documentary aired called “Unsolved: The Tupac and Biggie Murders” in 2018, and the book “Compton Street Legend,” by Duane Keith Davis, aka Keffe D, who has said he is one of two living witnesses to the shooting, came out in 2019.

July 17, 2023: A search warrant is issued in connection with the case.

How was his rivalry with the Notorious BIG connected?

Six months after Shakur was killed, his rap rival the Notorious BIG, with whom he was feuding, was also fatally shot, on March 9, 1997.

That shooting is widely believed to have been connected to Shakur’s murder and also remains unsolved.

Both rappers had been at the centre of the infamous East Coast-West Coast rivalry, which primarily defined the hip-hop scene during the mid-1990s.

The feud was ignited after Shakur was seriously wounded in another shooting during a robbery in the lobby of a midtown Manhattan hotel.

Tupac had openly accused BIG and Sean “Diddy” Combs of having prior knowledge of the shooting, which both vehemently denied.

Diss tracks were seemingly delivered to drive home their ferocious points. Shakur released the aggressive single Hit ‘Em Up, which took aim at BIG, who responded with Who Shot Ya?, a record that was received as a taunt. However, BIG claimed the song was not directed towards Shakur.

Why are people still interested in the case?

Shakur remains one of the most iconic figures in hip-hop. The fact that his death remains unresolved has fuelled multiple conspiracy theories among fans and added layers of intrigue to any developments in the case.

Despite a professional music career that only lasted five years, he sold 75 million records worldwide, including the diamond-certified album All Eyez on Me, which was packed with hits including California Love (Remix), I Ain’t Mad at Cha and How Do U Want It.

People gather to attend the posthumous unveiling of rapper Shakur’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California, on June 7, 2023 [Mario Anzuoni/Reuters]

Shakur has had five number one albums including Me Against the World in 1995 and All Eyez on Me in 1996, along with three posthumous releases: 1996’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, 2001’s Until the End of Time and 2004’s Loyal to the Game.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies