Eight months before he was executed gangsta-style while sitting in a parked Chevrolet Suburban in downtown Los Angeles, the rapper Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, barely escaped a likely attempt on his life in Atlanta. Until now, no one has talked freely about the night of July 3, when Biggie Smalls and several other rappers including Little Caesar, Lil' Kim, and DJ Enuff managed to avoid an apparent gang-related hit. An Atlanta-based source, who was chief of the group's security detail, says he was asked by Biggie and executives of the rap star's label to keep quiet about the incident so as not to inflame tensions between East and West Coast rappers. "Half of Biggie's camp doesn't even know about this," says the bodyguard who spoke on condition of anonymity as he watched on TV while a black hearse pulled up to a plane to collect Biggie's remains. The next morning, he stared dazed at a full-page ad for Life After Death, the rapper's double album. On the album, Biggie whose real name is Christopher Wallace appears pimped out and grim faced, leaning against his own tombstone in an urban bone yard, an ironic epilogue to his life. Last July, Biggie had been a hip hop icon, brought to Atlanta to "represent" his friend Sean "Puffy" Combs, producer and CEO of the New York-based Bad Boy Entertainment, at a concert. Although Atlanta's hip hop community had a strong affinity for both East and West Coast rap, Combs' East Coast "flava" seemed to resonate with fans that is, until rapper Tupac Shakur's outlaws began to shout out. "When they performed down here in certain clubs, people in the crowd be yellin' out, 'Tupac!' " when he was still alive, the bodyguard recalls. "One time we was on-stage and Little Caesar [of Junior M.A.F.I.A.] heard something about Tupac. He said, 'Suck ma cock if you like Tupac' Biggie cut off his microphone and said 'Suck ma dick if you bought this shit' " According to the bodyguard, Comb squelched the attack, admonishing Biggie and Little Caesar. "We would like to come together and end all that [the East Coast-West Coast rivalry] because it's definitely blown outta proportion," Combs told the artists after the show. The 26-year-old rap mogul had reason to be concerned. Bad Boy had been battling the Los Angeles-based Death Row Records for control of the multimillion-dollar rap music industry for years, but now people were being marked for death. Neither Biggie and his crew nor their two heavily armed bodyguards believed the people in the two cars that followed them after the Atlanta concert were overzealous fans trying to get an autograph. The Bad Boy recording artists were passengers in a borrowed hotel van on their way back to the hotel in the suburb of Buckhead. "Y'all know anybody out here?" the bodyguard asked. "We don't know nobody!" Little Caesar said. "We didn't come with nobody" Being shadowed by a gangsta ride has become an imprimatur of the so-called East Coast-West Coast rap war, which escalated in 1994 with the attempted murder of Shakur in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio. The Death Row rapper, who was shot five times and robbed of $40,000 in jewelry, publicly accused Combs and Biggie of setting him up, which they both denied. A year later, Shakur's boss, Death Row Records CEO Marion "Suge" Knight, reportedly blamed the fatal shooting in Atlanta of Death Row associate Jake Robles on Combs. Less than three months later, rapper Randy "Stretch" Walker, who was with Shakur when he was shot a year earlier, was himself shot and killed by three assailants after a high-speed chase in Queens, exactly one year after the attempt on Shakur's life. For months, Death Row and Bad Boy traded threats, until Shakur bragged on "Hit 'Em Up" that he'd slept with Faith Evans, Biggie's wife. There were reportedly suspicions by the LAPD and the FBI of Death Row's ties to the Mob Piru and Bounty Hunters, violent "sets" of the Bloods street gang. In response to the escalating violence, Combs reportedly hired full-time bodyguards. With their Glock 9mm's "locked and cocked," the Atlanta bodyguard told the Voice, he ordered the van driver to make a series of dizzying maneuvers that led them to the entrance of the interstate highway. "Once they realized they'd been made, they pulled off, but not immediately," he recalls. "One went ahead of us and waited in a parking lot. The other, a truck, pulled off, thinking that we didn't spot him" He told Biggie they might have to shoot their way out if they were cornered near an on-ramp. Little Caesar and Enuff "were down for this," the bodyguard recalls. "Face it," he says, "there wasn't no questions gonna be asked. You knew it was on and what you had to do right then." And so it went, on into the early hours of the morning. Biggie, who built his gangsta-rap persona by making much of his past as an ex-crack dealer from Bed-Stuy, seemed ready to die. "If it happens it happens," he said, shrugging his huge shoulders. Strangely, Biggie tried to take his mind off the events unfolding around him by criticizing Lil' Kim's performance earlier that evening. "You listen!" Biggie demanded. "When you on stage you gotta get together on ya timin'. I know you haven't done too many shows, but you fell off beat. We had to go off the DAT twice on songs 'cause you wasn't flowin' properly." In reality, it was a way of distracting her, says the Voice source. "He knew they could all die" And over what? Biggie then asked about his own performance at the concert. "Yo, how you like it, man? Think the people liked it or what? What kinda vibe they feelin' here in Atlanta?" "I couldn't believe what I was hearing," the bodyguard says. He sensed Biggie was concerned, but Biggie wasn't one to back down. Just months earlier, he was charged with assault in New York after allegedly using a baseball bat to attack a pair of autograph seekers. In January, Biggie Smalls was ordered to pay $25,000 to a man beaten up in May 1995 in a dispute over a canceled performance in New Jersey. The civil lawsuit followed his acquittal of robbery charges in the same incident. So whoever "'dem punks be," it was time to find out, Biggie declared. "Pull over and see what they want," he ordered the driver. Suddenly, the people who had been following them sped off. The entourage returned safely to their hotel. "The next day we found out that Tupac did come into town that night and he stayed in the hotel across the street from where Biggie was staying and he left that morning," the bodyguard says. Was it Shakur? "I don't think he was anywhere near that van," he said. "But I think that if it had gone down he woulda gotten a call or somebody in that camp [Death Row] woulda gotten a call of what happened." Tupac Shakur died September 13 in Las Vegas from gunshot wounds suffered in a drive-by shooting six days earlier. He and Suge Knight were shot in Knight's BMW after the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight. Several hangers-on in the Death Row entourage that night who saw the incident refused to cooperate with Las Vegas cops, except for 19-year-old rapper Yafeu Fula. Shakur's friend told police he could identify the killer. But the next day, Death Row attorney David Kenner was advising Fula, who subsequently stopped talking to police. On November 13, two months after Shakur's death, a gunman fatally shot Fula in a New Jersey housing project. On March 9th, eight days after Knight was sentenced to nine years for a parole violation stemming from his attack on reputed gang-banger Orlando Anderson (a suspect in the Shakur murder), and 24 days after Combs and Death Row rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg spoke at a news conference and called for a truce Biggie Smalls was gunned down in the parking lot of the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles after a post-Soul Train Music Awards party. "Now everybody is scared," says Steve Jackson, a rap music producer who was with Biggie the night he was killed. "I don't think it would be in the best interest of Puffy to go back to L.A. anytime in the future. I don't think he should go back, period!" he added. "I think they're definitely going to try to kill him. Somebody is out to kill him, just as they killed Biggie Smalls." Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant Ross Moen says the shooting could have been a hit that was ordered in Atlanta, New York, or Los Angeles, and that investigators were considering whether it was linked to Tupac Shakur's slaying. Moen says investigators are not overlooking the possibility of a payback or a gang-related shooting. But the similarities in Shakur's and Biggie's deaths are uncanny. Both were shot in drive-by as they left public events. In both cases, their bodyguards have offered police little information, fueling wild speculation of gang involvement. With no credible motives, various theories have been advanced. Rumors have surfaced that Shakur died in a war that involved gang members from Knight's old Compton neighborhood, that Shakur took a bullet meant for Knight, that he was killed by someone trying to damage Knight's label, even that Knight ordered Shakur's death because he suspected Shakur was planning to break his contract with Death Row. An affidavit unsealed last month in Los Angeles Superior Court suggests that police began focusing on Orlando Anderson as a suspect within days of the slaying. They received several tips that the 22-year-old Anderson, who goes by "Lando" and "Lane" was the killer. Edi M. O. Faal, Anderson's attorney, denied that his client had anything to do with it. Knight and Shakur allegedly attacked Anderson at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas a few hours before the shooting. Although Anderson was arrested by Compton police in a gang sweep on October 2, he has not been charged with Shakur's murder. A judge cited the testimony of Las Vegas police detective Brent Becker and his interview with Anderson as the basis for revoking Knight's probation. Becker testified that Anderson told him that during the fight with Shakur at the hotel, Knight joined in. At Knight's probation hearing, however, Anderson denied making the statement. But if the murders of Jake Robles, Randy Walker, Tupac Shakur, Yafeu Fula, and Biggie Smalls are gang related, it is likely that the killings will continue for as long as the Bloods and the Crips are at war. The affidavit that was signed by Compton police detective Tim Brennan alleges that Shakur's murder was the result of gang rivalry between Death Row members of the Mob Piru Bloods and the Southside Crips, of which Orlando Anderson and several of his relatives are allegedly members. According to the affidavit, "there is ... an ongoing feud between Tupac Shakur and the 'Blood-related' Death Row Records with rapper 'Biggie Smalls' and the East Coast's Bad Boy Records which employed SOUTH SIDE CRIPS gang members as security." Maureen Connelly, a spokesperson for Bad Boy, denied that the record company hired gang members. "We have no knowledge of security being provided by Crips or other gang members," Connelly said. So was hip hop gang-banged? Arguably, West Coast rappers like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, the late Eazy E, and Snoop Doggy Dogg who was acquitted last year in the murder of a gang member all sold themselves as thugs. Suddenly the Iyrical gun "the pow pow, bang bang an' all dat noiz" became reality. "The West Coast is responsible for bringing thugism and gangsterism into hip hop," Steve Jackson claims. "You gotta look at the gangstas who have come into this so-called hip hop world. A lotta them are just straight-up thugs." But whatever ties, if any, Death Row or Bad Boy may have to the Bloods and the Crips, it has contributed to the escalating violence between the two gangs. On September 9, 1996, two days after Shakur was shot in Las Vegas, Darnell Brim, an alleged leader of the Southside Crips, was shot several times in the back during a drive-by shooting. A 10-year-old bystander, Lakezia McNeese, was also struck by gunfire. The next day, George Mack, a member of the "Leuders Park Piru" (a Bloods set), and Johnny Burgie were shot in a drive-by. Several men believed to be members of the Southside Crips are suspects. After two more suspected gang members were shot in an area frequented by Southside Crips, retaliatory strikes by gang members continued from that afternoon. At 2 p.m. Gary Williams, the brother of former Death Row bodyguard George Williams, was shot in a drive-by shooting. The suspect is linked to the Southside Crips. At 3:20 p.m. Orlando Lanier was chased in his vehicle and fired on by two men believed to be Southside Crips. A little after nine that night, Bobby Finch was killed in a drive-by shooting in a Southside Crips stronghold. Police suspect that members of the Mob Piru gang, Death Row's alleged muscle, carried out the hit. Earlier that evening, according to an affidavit, an informant told Detective Brennan that Southside Crips gang members were telling people to stay off the streets, saying, "It's on," meaning an all-out gang war. Who or what set it off is no longer the issue. It's a war that neither Death Row nor Bad Boy can contain. Combs, Knight, and Snoop Doggy Dogg are undoubtedly concerned for their own lives. But in the wake of Biggie Smalls' death, Nation of Islam minister Conrad Muhammad is trying to organize a meeting to avoid more bloodshed. He told the Voice that rap executive Russell Simmons has asked him to call a summit of all black music-industry executives. Whether or not it succeeds remains doubtful. "You know as well as I know that people wanna avenge Biggie's death, man, because they are very sad over the fact that he was set up," Steve Jackson says. "They had friends and their friends have friends and their friends want revenge. You still have the Suge Knights, you still have the Puffy Combs, you still have their friends. You still have the East, you still have the West.
Peter Noel - Village Voice
2Pac & Biggie can't rest in peace until their assassins are brought to justice. Peace.