Tupac Shakur murder trial: The key players inside the explosive East Coast-West Coast rap beef

"A lot of New York rappers got involved, even if they weren't necessarily with Diddy and Biggie," one expert told Yahoo Entertainment.

Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace were considered friends before a shooting that changed everything between them.
Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace were considered friends before a shooting that changed everything between them. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)
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On Nov. 30, 1994, Tupac Shakur walked into the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. The hip-hop star was there to record a song with fellow rapper Lil Shawn. But the collab never happened. As Tupac entered, he was confronted by three armed men in the lobby.

They demanded he hand over his valuables. Shakur tried to fight them off, but in the ensuing struggle he was shot five times, with one bullet grazing his head.

The shooting changed everything between Shakur and Chris Wallace, also known as the Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls.

Prior to the shooting, the two were considered friends and sometime collaborators. A biography released last year, Justin Tinsley's It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him, reveals how the two would hang out and why they connected.

"They instantly hit it off," Tinsley told Rolling Stone. "They were both Geminis, so they were Gemini twins in a way. These guys were incredibly close. Tupac would have Biggie over his house when he was in L.A., [have him] sleep on his couch. … Tupac respected that Big was really in the streets and he was doing what he was rapping about. And obviously he loved the fact that Biggie was such a gifted lyricist and wordsmith. Meanwhile, Biggie really appreciated the fact that Tupac came from a freedom-fighter lineage, and he always stood up for what he believed were the best interests of Black people."

Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls (Christoper Wallace), and Puff Daddy (Sean Combs)
Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls (Christoper Wallace), and Puff Daddy (Sean Combs) onstage at the Palladium in New York in 1993.

But Shakur believed Biggie had something to do with the ambush, and their relationship was irretrievably broken. While being taken out on a stretcher, Shakur allegedly flipped off Biggie and other associates with his Bad Boy record label.

The incident sparked what became known as the East Coast-West Coast rap feud. It created a constant back-and-forth clash that tore the hip-hop community apart, and split fans.

On one side, repping New York, there was Biggie and his label, Bad Boy Records, owned by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. On the West Coast stood Shakur and the L.A.-based Death Row Records, run by Marion "Suge" Knight.

The enmity was manifested on dis tracks — and eventually devolved into physical altercations. Ultimately, it led to the deaths of both Shakur and Wallace, six months apart.

Now, nearly three decades later, Duane "Keffe D" Davis has been implicated as the "shot caller" who orchestrated the murder of Shakur in September 1996. With Davis set to be arraigned in Las Vegas on Thursday, here's a look back at the key players in the East Coast-West Coast feud and their ties to two rap icons slain in the prime of life.

James Rosemond and Dexter Isaac

James Rosemond, a former record executive popularly known as "Jimmy Henchman," is a central figure in the beef's origin. While caught up in an unrelated drug-trafficking case, Rosemond confessed his involvement in proffer sessions where his admission would not be used against him, according to the Village Voice.

Shakur himself accused Rosemond of responsibility for the crime in the song "Against All Odds."

But Rosemond didn't commit the crime directly. A man named Dexter Isaac cited Rosemond as the ringleader of the 1994 shooting, telling AllHipHop.com, "James Rosemond hired me to rob Tupac at the Quad Studio." Neither was ever charged for the crime, but both are serving life sentences for other crimes: Rosemond for murder and Isaac for a robbery and murder.

Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records

Even before the Quad Studio incident, there were "whispers of issues" between the rival rap camps.

"Tupac was shot. There was this mystery around who was it that actually shot him, and then there was speculation that Biggie and Diddy were involved," said Fred Mwangaguhunga, the creator of MediaTakeOut, a news outlet that covers hip-hop, celebrity news and urban culture. "And then, just in the midst of all this speculation, [Biggie and Diddy] dropped this song, which happens to be a megahit, called 'Who Shot Ya?' That's how it turned, it went from maybe, like, just whispers to, like, issues between them, to turn it into kind of something that everyone was talking about."

Shakur himself openly accused Biggie, Bad Boy Records and Combs of having prior knowledge of the attack, an accusation they vehemently denied.

Both artists used the media and their music as platforms for their frustrations. Shakur's "Hit 'Em Up" is one of the most damning dis tracks in rap history, taking direct aim at Biggie, Bad Boy Records and their associates — and vowing revenge.

Grab ya Glocks when you see Tupac
Call the cops when you see Tupac, uh
Who shot me? But ya punks didn't finish
Now ya 'bout to feel the wrath of a menace

Knight took a dig at Puff Daddy at the 1995 Source Awards in New York City, where he invited artists to join Death Row. He was booed. The jeers intensified when Dr. Dre, the co-founder of Death Row, was named Producer of the Year. In response to the audience dissent, Death Row artist Snoop Dogg took the microphone from Dr. Dre and asked the crowd: "The East Coast ain't got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and Death Row? Y'all don't love us? Y'all don't love us?! Well, let it be known then! We don't give a f***. We know y'all, East Coast! We know where the f*** we at!"

Puff Daddy later took the stage as a presenter and told the audience: "All this East and West — that needs to stop. So give it up for everybody from the East and the West that won tonight. One love."

A piece of media made the feud more digestible for people, according to Marcus Collins, University of Michigan professor and pop culture expert.

"Most people blame the cover of that Vibe magazine, where you had East Coast vs. West Coast," Collins, author of For the Culture, told Yahoo Entertainment. "I don't want to put all the onus or all the emphasis on the cover being what made it escalate, it just gave it language, and once things have language, they're able to take their own culture."

The Notorious B.I.G. and Sean Combs
The Notorious B.I.G. and Sean Combs on the cover of a Vibe magazine issue that highlighted the East vs. West Coast beef.

Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg and Junior M.A.F.I.A.

"A lot of New York rappers got involved, even if they weren't necessarily with Diddy and Biggie," explains Mwangaguhunga. "Mobb Deep got involved in it. Nas got involved in it, and these are people that aren't necessarily affiliated with Bad Boy, and so it turned into this big kind of New York vs. Los Angeles, and quite frankly, a lot of the fans felt like they were kind of in on it too."

The Notorious B.I.G., Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg and Sean Combs
Rappers Notorious B.I.G., Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg and Sean Combs in 1995.

Mobb Deep, which had been called out by name in "Hit 'Em Up," released "Drop a Gem on 'Em" as a direct response in August 1996. Junior M.A.F.I.A. member Lil' Cease said in an XXL interview that Shakur was the subject of Biggie's track "Long Kiss Goodnight." Diddy, staying along his diplomatic path, steadfastly denied this theory, arguing that if Biggie were to dis him, he would have called him out by name.

In December 1995, Tha Dogg Pound, a Death Row group, was in Red Hook, Brooklyn, filming the music video for the single "New York, New York," which used a beat that Biggie had rapped over in a commercial for St. Ides. Shots were fired at Tha Dogg Pound's trailer on the set. Afterward, a scene was added to the video showing a Godzilla-like Snoop (who guested on the track) and crew destroying buildings and cars in New York City.

In 1996, East Coast rappers Capone-N-Noreaga, Mobb Deep and Tragedy Khadafi recorded a comeback dis, "L.A., L.A."

L.A., L.A., big city of dreams
But everything in L.A. ain't always what it seems
You might get fooled if you come from outta town
Cos we coming from Queens it gets down

Faith Evans and rising tensions

Wallace's marriage to Faith Evans, a singer signed with Bad Boy, appears to have been love at first sight, with the couple getting hitched eight days after meeting in 1994.

Shakur met Evans at a party in 1995 and agreed to pay her $250,000 to sing on one of his tracks. According to Evans, after she recorded her part, Shakur refused to pay unless she had sex with him, and she declined.

While Evans continued to deny rumors that she was involved romantically with Shakur, he and Knight leaned into the rumors. In January 1996, they hinted to the New York Times that Shakur was in a relationship with Evans.

Faith Evans
Faith Evans performing in 1995.

Biggie became angry after hearing about the Times article and confronted her. Publicly, however, he kept his cool and tried to brush it off as a joke.

Tinsley said the claims were not true and that they devastated Evans: "She went through hell in a war that she didn't ask to be a part of."

Keffe D, Baby Lane, Big Dre and the death of Tupac

On Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac and Knight hit Las Vegas for a weekend of partying that included taking in the Mike Tyson heavyweight bout at the MGM Grand. Their posse included fellow Death Row artists and their security detail, comprising members of the Mob Piru Bloods street gang. The fight barely lasted two minutes, and Tupac's crew spilled out of the elevators and came face-to-face with Orlando Anderson, known as "Baby Lane," a member of the rival South Side Crips gang, also in town from Southern California for the fight, and who had a preexisting beef with the Bloods.

The Death Row crew proceeded to beat and stomp Anderson and scattered when security finally arrived. Anderson declined to cooperate with police. He left the scene in a white Cadillac with three other men, bent on revenge.

"He wasn't coming back to Compton with nothing being done," fellow Crip member Devonta Lee told a Las Vegas grand jury.

According to Las Vegas authorities, the Cadillac was driven by Terrence Brown. Keffe D, who once played football with Knight but found himself in the opposing Crips camp, was riding shotgun. Anderson was in the back seat with DeAndre Smith, aka Big Dre.

They eventually tracked down the Death Row entourage on the Strip. Their Caddy pulled alongside the BMW driven by Knight with Shakur in the passenger seat. A hail of bullets was fired. Shakur was hit four times; he died in a nearby hospital six days later at the age of 25.

An image on a television monitor shows a photo of Tupac Shakur and Marion Suge Knight Jr. in a car in Las Vegas on Sept. 7, 1996, the night Shakur was fatally shot.
An image on a television monitor shows a photo of Tupac Shakur and Marion "Suge" Knight Jr. in a car in Las Vegas on Sept. 7, 1996, the night Shakur was fatally shot.

Three of the four occupants of the Cadillac have since died. In recent years, Davis, the lone survivor, had written a book and given interviews acknowledging that he was in the car and passed a Glock into the back seat, but indicated that Anderson pulled the trigger. (Recent grand jury testimony has suggested that it was Smith who wielded the weapon.)

"He was in the car and admitted to some level of involvement in the whole incident. Whatever that is, is really up to authorities to figure out, you know, how liable he is in terms of the whole situation," DJ Vlad, who interviewed Davis, told Yahoo Entertainment. "He let Orlando take the credit for it because Orlando was the one who got jumped."

In the end, the grand jury indicted Davis, 66, on a charge of murder with the use of a deadly weapon, with a gang enhancement.

The death of the Notorious B.I.G.

In early 1997, Wallace traveled to California to promote his album Life After Death and to film a music video for the lead single, "Hypnotize." On March 5, he joined The Dog House at San Francisco radio station KYLD. The rapper said he had hired security because he feared for his safety after all the notoriety.

He also doubled down that he wasn't responsible for Shakur's Quad Studios shooting after a caller asked about it.

"I had nothing to do with that, it just happened to be a coincidence that he was in the studio. He couldn't really say who really had something to do with it at the time, so he just kind of leaned the blame on me," Wallace said.

Three days later, he appeared at the Soul Train Awards in L.A., in a venue filled with rival factions: Death Row and the Bloods; Bad Boy and the Crips. Shortly after midnight, when the ceremony ended and the attendees were clearing out, Wallace was shot in a drive-by. A Chevy Impala pulled up and the driver unloaded four bullets into the rapper, who was pronounced dead after being transported to a hospital. He was 24 years old.

Speculation immediately centered on the East Coast-West Coast feud and revenge for the death of Tupac.

"Is the beef really about where you're from? Is it about where you represent or, like, who you're affiliated with, or where you reside now?" University of Virginia professor A.D. Carson, who studies hip-hop culture, told Yahoo Entertainment. "I think that regional factionalism is always something that's always going to be here."

The investigators

Until Davis's arrest, no one had been charged for either slaying. But there were some notable investigators who doggedly followed the case. Investigative journalist Chuck Philips pursued it for years, publishing stories in the Los Angeles Times and the Village Voice that claimed Anderson was the shooter, but also saying that Biggie and New York gangsters played a hand as well. In subsequent articles, he also implicated Rosemond and Combs, both of whom denied any connections. Philips also reported that a Crips member, who was acting on his own, was behind the Wallace murder. However, Philips's credibility took a big hit when it was discovered that some of the materials he used for sourcing were fabricated.

Detective Greg Kading
Detective Greg Kading in 2018.

Meanwhile, Greg Kading, a former LAPD homicide investigator, was the lead detective for both murder cases when they were reopened between 2006 and 2008. He alleged in a self-published book that Knight orchestrated the murder of Wallace to avenge Shakur's murder — in a similar fashion, with a drive-by homicide shooting at a traffic light. Knight, who is in prison on unrelated charges, has denied any involvement in Wallace's death.

Another former LAPD detective, Russell Poole, was the key source behind the book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan, which alleged Knight conspired with a crooked cop to hire a hitman to kill Wallace to frame the Bad Boy-Crips alliance.

Cross-coast feud fizzles out

On Sept. 22, 1996, a peace summit was convened at Mosque Maryam by Louis Farrakhan to calm tensions following Tupac's killing. In February 1997, parties on both sides, Snoop Dogg and Combs, held a press conference where they called for an end to the feud. "Kids around the world are watching," Snoop said at the time. "By calling for a truce we're giving them something to live for."

Sean Combs and Snoop Dogg on The Steve Harvey Show in an episode about a truce between feuding rap factions in 1997.
Combs and Snoop Dogg appear on The Steve Harvey Show in an episode about a "truce" between feuding rap factions in 1997.

A month later, Biggie was dead. And another peace summit was convened. On April 3, 1997, key figures in the rap industry were invited to Farrakhan's Chicago-based ministry house for a meeting in an effort to quash the feud. Artists such as Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, Ice Cube, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Fat Joe were in attendance. This time, the truce seemed to stick.

“After Tupac died, I think people started recognizing that, wow, this is a serious thing," said Mwangaguhunga. "When Biggie died, then it kind of, it put that effort into overdrive."