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The Notorious B.I.G.: Theories And What Really Happened

Events | March 9, 2020

American rapper Notorious B.I.G. attends the 1995 Billboard Music Awards, New York, New York, December 6, 1995. (Larry Busacca/WireImage/Getty Images)

In the early morning hours of March 9, 1997, the sound of gunfire rang out in Los Angeles. Moments later, Christopher Wallace, known in the music world as the Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls, lay dead with four bullet wounds from a drive-by shooting. The murder remains unsolved 23 years later.

Because of the intense rivalry between the East Coast and West Coast hip-hop scenes and the suspicion of gang involvement, Biggie's murder was connected to a similar incident six months earlier in which fellow rapper Tupac Shakur was killed, and their deaths sparked a litany of conspiracy theories. Let's look at the death of the Notorious B.I.G. and the theories about who may have pulled the trigger. 

A native New Yorker, the Notorious B.I.G. defined the East Coast hip-hop sound. (eastnewyork.com)

Who Was Biggie Smalls?

Christopher Wallace was a Brooklyn rapper who was instrumental in reviving the East Coast hip-hop sound. After he emerged as Biggie Smalls in the early '90s and later as The Notorious B.I.G. after signing with Sean "Puffy" Combs's Bad Boy Records, East Coast hip-hop began to outshine the West Coast sound that was dominated by Dr. Dre and his Death Row Records label. Like his friend-turned-rival, Death Row star Tupac Shakur, Wallace had a few brushes with the law in his youth but was not the gangster that he made himself out to be in his music. Both were more poet than thug.

Biggie and Tupac were friends for a short time. (biography.com)

Preceding The Murder

Wallace met Shakur, who was already a star, in 1993 at the Los Angeles home of a known drug dealer. Shakur initially took Wallace under his wing, but the friendship soon turned into a professional rivalry. In late November 1994, Shakur was non-fatally shot at a New York recording studio during what has been determined to be a botched robbery, but he was convinced that Wallace and Combs were behind the attack. This started an intense feud between the two that tragically ended on September 7, 1996, when Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Because of their very public and very heated falling out, many people believed that Wallace was involved in the murder. He always denied it, and there were certainly other credible suspects, but the murder of Tupac may have put Biggie in the crosshairs. 

Biggie's murder occurred about six months after Tupac's killing. (netsdaily.com)

The Murder Of The Notorious B.I.G.

When Wallace's business took him to Los Angeles in February and March 1997, the mood in the city was understandably tense. Fearing for his safety, he had resolved to keep his public appearances, including the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards on March 7, but he made sure he was surrounded by bodyguards even in that extremely public forum. The next night, he attended a party hosted by music magazine Vibe, leaving shortly after midnight. Wallace and his crew piled into two vehicles to return to their hotel, but along the way, a car pulled up alongside the car in which Wallace was sitting in the front passenger seat. The driver of this car rolled down his window and fired a pistol at Wallace, striking him four times. Wallace died a short time later at the hospital. 

The murder of Notorious B.I.G. is still unsolved. (latimes.com)

Who Killed Biggie?

More than two decades after the event, we're no closer to nailing Biggie's murderer than we were that fateful night. Since it occurred just six months after Tupac's death, many people assumed that he was killed in retaliation, but that's just the beginning of the theories.

Suge Knight, the head of Death Row Records, has been linked to Biggie's murder but has never been charged. (cbsnews.com)

Was Suge Knight Involved?

Suge Knight, the C.E.O. of Death Row Records, has been fingered for both Tupac's and Biggie's murders. According to this conspiracy theory, Knight arranged the murder of Tupac, the most successful artist on his roster, to prevent him from switching labels. He then supposedly had Biggie killed as a distraction. According to some theories, Knight wasn't involved in Tupac's murder at all, but he thought Biggie was, so he had him killed in retaliation. Whatever the case, Knight has never been charged in connection to either murder, and he's currently serving 28 years on an unrelated manslaughter charge following a long career of arrests and convictions, so it's not like the authorities are shy where he's concerned.

According to some theories, the Los Angeles police were involved in Biggie's shooting. (govserv.org)

The Los Angeles Police Department

Another conspiracy theory holds that Biggie was killed by members of the Los Angeles Police Department under the direction of Suge Knight. Several L.A. police officers had side hustles working security for Death Row Records, and the lead investigator of Biggie's murder, Officer Russell Poole, went public with his belief that the murder was carried out by these officers. Poole died in 2015 while writing a book about the two murders, which seems like it should be suspicious, but Suge Knight's powers don't appear to include inducing heart attacks.

Biggie associated with gang members. (starnewsonline.com)

The Bloods And The Crips

Both Tupac and Biggie were involved with gangs, and the gritty lyrics of their songs spoke to gangsters, so some believe the murders of Tupac and Biggie were gang-related. They suggest that gang members may have shot the high-profile celebrity targets as part of an initiation rite or were hired by others, like Knight, to execute the murders. In 2007, when L.A.P.D. investigators asked a member of the Crips named Duane Keith Davis if his gang responsible for Biggie's death, he responded "That one wasn't us." The investigators took this to mean that the Crips were involved in Tupac's death, but Davis could have just been referring to the many, many incidents involving the Crips in their long history of shootings.

Biggie with P. Diddy, Sean "Puffy" Combs. (abcnews.go.com)

Could Sean Combs Have Been Involved?

According to yet another conspiracy theory, Sean "Puffy" Combs, later known as P. Diddy, was behind the murder of his close friend and collaborator. As the head of Bad Boys Records, Combs allegedly found Death Row's sales figures following Tupac's death too tempting to resist, so he arranged for his own star rapper's murder to promote his upcoming album. Investigators have found no evidence to support this theory, and Combs has certainly never admitted to involvement in the murder of such an apparently dear friend, but another theory holds that Combs was actually the intended target of the person who killed Biggie. If so, that person is very bad at murder. Combs wasn't even in the same car.

Tags: 1990s | crime | murder | music

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.