Hip hop artist Tupac Amaru Shakur was a musical icon who took the '90s rap scene by storm. Most known for his lyricism, Shakur's songs stand the test of time. His tragic passing at age 25 cut short what should have been a highly successful music career. What's even more tragic is that no one has quite figured out why (or how) Shakur was slain. His case was a high-profile unsolved homicide. On September 7, 1996, Shakur and record producer Suge Knight were driving in a car along the Las Vegas Strip when the young rapper was fatally shot in a passing car. In a medically-induced coma, Shakur passed a few days later in a Nevada hospital on September 13. Who offed Shakur? There are plenty of theories about his passing, but which one is true?
In the mid-1990s, the West Coast hip-hop scene was led by Death Row Records head honcho Suge Knight and his marquee artist, Shakur. On the East Coast, Sean "Puffy" Combs ran the hit factory Bad Boy Records, whose flagship artist was The Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. "Biggie" or "Biggie Smalls"). The rivalry between the labels and artists ramped up throughout the mid-'90s.
So who ended Shakur? Some argue Knight put a hit on his number-one artist because Shakur wanted to leave the label for monetary reasons. Others implicated in Tupac conspiracy theories include Combs and 'Pac's arch-enemy, The Notorious B.I.G. The craziest theory of all? That maybe Shakur is still alive.
Here are the most outrageous theories about Tupac's passing.
A 2002 documentary called Biggie & Tupac presented some interesting theories about Shakur's passing, including one that Knight ordered a hit on his superstar artist with whom he was having some monetary disputes. It claimed Shakur was planning to split from Death Row, and in retaliation, Knight wanted him taken out. Knight then had Biggie taken out in order to take suspicion off of himself for Shakur's case. Interestingly, Knight reportedly owned (or just took) Tupac's money.
Corroborating this suggestion was the late Jerry Heller, the controversial former manager of pioneering West Coast rap group N.W.A. Before his expiration, Heller claimed Knight “unquestionably put the hit out" on Shakur. Knight, who was riding beside Shakur in the car when the rapper was shot, allegedly pulled his friend in front of himself as a shield.
One of the most popular theories about Shakur's passing is that he isn't actually gone at all. In fact, some believe he's really alive, hiding out in luxurious locations all over the world. Why? Shakur assumed the moniker "Makaveli," a reference to the Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who supposedly suggested faking a passing in order to evade enemies. Some claimed "Makaveli" was an anagram for “Am Alive K."
The sleeve copy of Shakur's final album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, which was released posthumously, contained the sentence "Exit 2Pac, Enter Makaveli,” suggesting rebirth under a new name. There have been Shakur "sightings" all over the world, in which people claim to have seen the artists (or lookalikes), and he is reportedly frequently seen in the Caribbean. In 2018, a man named Michael Nice said he was part of the security team that helped Shakur escape Las Vegas, first to Barbados and then to Cuba in the aftermath of his "alleged" shooting. Nice previously had told media, "Why [do] you think nobody [has] been arrested if they said they [are] the one[s] that killed Tupac?" Nice reportedly passed in December 2018.
Adding fuel to the conspiracy theory fire, a 2017 docu-series revealed the fatal tool used in the Shakur case was discovered in a Compton backyard in 1998. The now-defunct Compton Police Department took the gun into evidence and handed it over to the LAPD after the department was dissolved.
In 2006, a deputy working on The Notorious B.I.G case discovered that the property where the evidence was found belonged to a girlfriend of a Crip gang member.
But the piece of evidence was never handed over to the Las Vegas Police Department. Why? According to documents obtained by the documentary crew, a federal prosecutor was worried it might alert potential conspirators. Very strange indeed.
Before Shakur's end, he was allegedly being forcibly influenced by an extremist group called the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a right-wing organization that identified as a domestic terrorist group. The JDL allegedly blackmailed him for money (or said Shakur was in danger) then offer him protection in exchange for cash.
Did they have something to do with his passing? It's unknown. But Shakur wasn't the only artist threatened by the JDL. The FBI also mentioned N.W.A.'s Eazy-E as one of the group's targets.