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Who Killed Tupac?

Image Credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: A photograph of Tupac Shakur from the 1993 film Poetic Justice

With the news, that Las Vegas Police have charged 60-year-old Duane "Keffe D" Davis over the rapper's 1996 murder, we look back at one of Hip-Hop's most enduring murder mysteries.

He may have only been 25 years old when he was shot and killed, but Tupac Shakur was the biggest name in rap music and a global superstar. Smart, charismatic, handsome and talented, he was not only a huge celebrity at the time of his passing, but a civil rights champion as well. In death, he became nothing short of a cultural icon.

Discussions, rumours, gossip and conspiracy theories have surrounded Tupac’s unsolved murder almost from the second that the gunshots rang out. It’s a case that’s saturated in intrigue and mystery, one that’s kept rap fans and true crime buffs talking in the 27 years since it happened.

Recent breakthroughs have seen police reopen the cold case and got the conversations around Tupac’s murder flowing once more.

The beef

The music industry can be a cut-throat place and that’s no less true than in the machismo-led world of hip-hop.

Packed full of financial disputes, contract rows, jealousy and one-upmanship, rap has played host to plenty of fierce rivalries in its time: Ice Cube vs. Common, Dr. Dre vs. Eazy-E, 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule, Jay-Z vs. Nas. However, no feud has ever matched up to the scale of Tupac vs. The Notorious B.I.G.

Both from New York City, Tupac and Biggie started off as friends, with Tupac mentoring the younger man and letting him stay at his LA home whenever Biggie was in town. However, when Tupac was robbed and shot five times by unknown assailants in 1994, he - for some reason - blamed Biggie and accused him of ‘setting him up’. He also named other members of the East Coast rap fraternity, further stoking the fires of the West/East Coast rap rivalry.

The Notorious B.I.G. released the song ‘Who Shot Ya?’ in 1995, some months after the attack. Shakur saw it as a dig at his shooting. In response, he released a diss track titled 'Hit Em Up’. The feud was set and escalated from there, leading - many believe - to murder.

The shooting

On the evening of 7th September 1996, Tupac was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He had been attending a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. After the fight, Tupac and his entourage were involved in an altercation with another group in the hotel's lobby.

Later that night, Tupac and his friend, Death Row Records boss Suge Knight, were driving around the city when they stopped at a red light. A white Cadillac sedan pulled up alongside them and an unidentified gunman from inside the car fired multiple shots. Tupac was shot four times, with bullets hitting his chest, arm and thigh. Suge Knight, who was driving, was grazed in the head by a bullet fragment.

After the shooting, Tupac was rushed to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where he underwent surgery and remained in critical condition for six days, before eventually succumbing to his bullet wounds on 13th September.

The theories

While police worked the case with some diligence, no strong evidence ever really emerged, leaving them unable to identify, apprehend or charge anyone in the case of Tupac’s murder. Given the beef with the East Coast rappers (and some inevitable, inescapable involvement in the Bloods vs. Crips gang warfare), plenty of people had their thoughts as to who was behind the fatal shooting.

The popular belief is that Tupac’s rivalry with The Notorious B.I.G. was central to his murder. People close to Tupac must’ve thought so, only in March 1997, Biggie himself was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The perp was never caught but is generally believed to either be a friend of Tupac’s or someone in the employ of one.

One popular theory is that a known LA gangbanger called Orlando Anderson was responsible for Shakur’s killing. Not only had Anderson had previous with Tupac and Suge, the men had actually come to blows earlier that night in a hotel lobby.

Some industry insiders say the murder could’ve been an inside job, pointing the finger at the other man in the car, Suge Knight. The rap mogul is currently serving a long-term sentence for voluntary manslaughter, so has criminal credentials. Did he have the motive, though?

More outlandish theories surrounding Tupac’s death include the popular, although not widely-held, belief that he may have faked his death to escape celebrity. Another is the FBI was behind it, wanting to end the bloody East/West Coast dispute.

The latest suspect

While Tupac’s murder will always weigh heavy on the rap community and will likely never be forgotten, it has dropped down the list of priorities for Las Vegas Police in the past near-three decades. However, the cold case warmed up in the summer of 2023.

The name of Duane Keith Davis, aka 'Keefy D’, who has now been charged with the murder will be familiar to anyone who's ever followed the case. The former South Side Compton Crips gang member has long talked of having been in the car that the bullets came from. However, Keefy, now 60, has never gone far enough as to name the gunman. He was recently the subject of a search warrant carried out by Nevada Police concerning the Tupac Shakur murder case.

Investigators were also looking for ‘notes, writings, ledgers, and other handwritten or typed documents concerning television shows, documentaries, YouTube episodes, book manuscripts, and movies concerning the murder of Tupac Shakur’ the warrant detailed. Clark County Police also searched computers and other electronic storage devices, including iPhones, tablets, CDs, thumb drives, audio recordings and external hard drives.

A Nevada grand jury has now indicted Davis on one count of murder with a deadly weapon.