Star Rapper Tupac Shakur Badly Wounded
Tupac Shakur, the rap star known for the violence in his lyrics and his life, was in critical condition Sunday after being gunned down in a car-to-car attack just off the jammed Las Vegas Strip.
Police said Shakur, 25, was cruising in a five-car convoy with Marion “Suge” Knight, head of Los Angeles-based Death Row Records, when a white Cadillac pulled up next to Knight’s black BMW 750 and a man inside opened fire about 11:15 p.m. Saturday.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Sgt. Greg McCurdy said Shakur, who was in the passenger seat of the luxury car, was struck at least four times, twice in the chest, before the Cadillac sped off. The 30-year-old Knight, who was driving, was grazed in the head by a bullet fragment but suffered only minor injuries.
Police and friends said the two men apparently were headed to a nightclub--perhaps the one owned by Knight--after having watched the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon heavyweight fight earlier in the evening.
Police had made no arrests by late Sunday and would not say whether they had identified any suspects. McCurdy said it was still unclear which man was the target--Shakur or the 315-pound, Compton-born Knight, who has cultivated a persona to match the violent “gangsta rap” that is the specialty of his record company.
Acquaintances said Knight and his ever-present entourage had an altercation earlier in the evening with members of a local street gang at odds with the Bloods set that hails from Knight’s old neighborhood.
But McCurdy said, “It looked like [the gunman] was clearly aiming for the passenger side of the vehicle,” where Shakur was sitting. The car was riddled with bullets, the tires on one side flattened down to their custom rims.
The attack was the latest and most lethal episode in the checkered lives of the two men. Shakur has been arrested at least half a dozen times in the past three years. Knight has boasted publicly that at least three contracts are out on his life.
At a 1992 outdoor festival in Marin County, Shakur was involved in a scuffle that left a 6-year-old child dead from a stray bullet. The following year, he was accused--but never convicted--of shooting two off-duty Atlanta police officers and then of attacking a fellow rapper with a baseball bat at a concert in Michigan.
The first charges were dropped, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in connection with the second incident.
Then, while on trial for sexual assault in November 1994, Shakur was shot five times during a robbery in the lobby of a New York recording studio.
The performer, who lost $40,000 worth of jewelry in the incident, was later convicted on the sexual assault charges and served eight months in a New York penitentiary before being released last year pending appeal.
Shakur’s legal difficulties have continued even as he has publicly insisted that he is trying to tone down his life--and to draw a clearer line between his tough public persona and his true self.
“This thug life stuff, it was just ignorance,” Shakur said in an interview last year with Vibe Magazine. “My intentions was always in the right place. . . . I’m going to show people my true intentions and my true heart. I’m going to show them the man that my mother raised.”
Nonetheless, Shakur is now battling charges that he violated probation in New York and Los Angeles. And on Wednesday night, at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York, Shakur and about half a dozen friends got into a menacing confrontation with another rapper’s entourage at Radio City Music Hall. Police had to be called to break up the argument.
Knight’s background has been similarly controversial. As chief executive of Death Row Records, the cherub-faced executive has been credited with engineering the company’s rise from an unknown start-up label to a respected, $100-million enterprise boasting such talent as Shakur and rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg.
But Knight also has been blamed by critics for promoting violence, misogyny and explicit sex in gangsta rap. And he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon--but not convicted--for allegedly pulling a gun on two aspiring rappers in 1992 after a dispute over the use of an office telephone.
Knight’s substantial real estate holdings include a home in a posh Las Vegas neighborhood several doors down from fighter Tyson, and a club not far from the Strip.
Police said Shakur--a friend of Tyson’s--had come to Las Vegas to watch the heavyweight title bout Saturday with Knight. After the match ended, their entourage went to Knight’s home, then headed out again, apparently to his Club 662, just off the strip.
The convoy of cars was a spectacular sight, even by Las Vegas standards, and was noticed by police cruisers as it left Knight’s neighborhood about 10:30 p.m.
“There was a black BMW, a black Lexus 400, a white Suburban, a black BMW station wagon, a light gold Mercedes--they stood out,” McCurdy said.
Friends of Knight and Shakur refused to talk publicly about events leading up to the incident. But in its aftermath, rumors flew within the tight-knit rap music industry.
One executive familiar with the shooting speculated that it may have stemmed from the confrontation after the Tyson fight between the Knight-Shakur entourage and local gang members.
The executive said that Knight, who has long-standing ties to a Bloods set in his old neighborhood, apparently argued with the gang members--who were enemy Crips--and eventually set his bodyguards on them.
“Suge’s boys beat down the Crips,” the executive said, adding that he and others believe that the Crips later called friends and retaliated.
Police, however, said there was no known motive for the attack so far. But they did not lack for eyewitnesses. In fact, McCurdy said, the witness list included two police officers who were taking a stolen vehicle report on the fourth-floor parking garage of the Maxim Hotel on Flamingo Boulevard when they heard the gunshots and ran to investigate.
McCurdy said that Knight and Shakur were alone in the car and approaching the intersection of Flamingo Boulevard and Koval Lane when the white Cadillac pulled up with four men inside, one of whom opened fire.
No other cars were fired upon, and no one else was injured, despite the fact that the streets were jammed with hundreds of people, McCurdy said. He said the convoy continued to drive erratically for several blocks before the vehicles came to a stop across from the Aladdin Hotel.
Shakur, he said, was incoherent when paramedics pulled him from the car and transported him to the trauma unit at University Medical Center.
Friends said they were told at first that Shakur had only a 50-50 chance of survival, but hospital officials later said he was likely to live. With his mother and others nervously circling the waiting room, a nurse entered to tell them that the rap star’s condition was stabilizing, despite a tremendous loss of blood.
After surgery to repair internal injuries in the chest area, Shakur remained in critical condition Sunday night, a hospital spokesman said.
Among those consoling his family were Minister Tony Muhammad, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Nation of Islam, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson, who met Shakur at a concert years ago, visited him in his hospital room.
Jackson called Shakur’s shooting an indication of current problems with violence.
“Tupac has had many close calls,” said Jackson, who also is a friend of Shakur’s mother, Afeni. “But this isn’t just about Tupac. It is about the violent culture we live in--the survival of the fittest that too often calls for revenge.
“The cycle of self-destruction and violence must end,” Jackson said. “In play life, violence is not serious. It’s a game. Unfortunately our youth have become immunized to how final death really is.”
Sitting in the waiting room, Shakur’s mother suddenly rose and walked toward the hospital chaplain, expressing a need to pray.
“I’m a strong believer in God,” she said. “And I know he’ll make it.”
Before the shooting Saturday, Shakur and Knight had been part of a large celebrity contingent at the MGM Grand arena to see Tyson’s first-round knockout of Seldon, the crowd including show business folk (Roseanne, Wayne Newton, Keanu Reeves, MTV’s Jenny McCarthy), athletes (Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson), random celebrities (Arnelle Simpson), politicians (Jackson) and other rap music stars and executives.
“All the rappers know Mike--there are always more rappers at Tyson’s fight than at anybody else’s,” said a Tyson camp source, who noted that music executive Russell Simmons was at the fight. “He seems to symbolize something for them.”
Shakur and Tyson apparently became close friends when the boxer, in jail serving time for rape, sent a letter of support to the rapper, who was facing charges of his own.
The relationship became warm enough that Shakur composed a song for Tyson for his comeback fight with Peter McNeeley in August 1995, which was played during Tyson’s walk to the ring at the MGM Grand.
Shakur also was the first person to embrace Tyson outside the ring after the fighter reclaimed the World Boxing Council belt by knocking out Frank Bruno in March.
Tyson was attending his own private party at Nicky Blair’s restaurant in Las Vegas after his victory and was not with Shakur, sources said. Tyson remained in Las Vegas Sunday afternoon, and Rory Holloway, his co-manager, said Tyson was concerned for his friend’s life.
“It’s a sad day for everybody, not just Mike,” Holloway said. “It’s just a tragedy. Mike is concerned about his welfare, I can guarantee you that. . . . It’s the same thing as you’d feel for one of your friends.”
Outside the hospital emergency room doors Sunday, Shakur’s closest friends, a band called Outlaw Immortalz, held a vigil with a growing group of fans. One hundred had gathered by early evening.
A teenage girl in the lobby chanted lyrics that Shakur, often considered a fatalist, had included on his latest album “All Eyes on Me,” ringing as an eerie prophesy: “Five shots and they still couldn’t kill me.”
Williams reported from Las Vegas and Hubler from Los Angeles. Staff writers Tim Kawakami in Las Vegas and Cheo Hodari Coker and Mayrav Saar in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
* RAPPERS REACT: Tupac Shakur’s shooting was called ironic, inevitable. A16
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Leading rap musicians and producers, who chronicle violence in their works, have often been involved in similar real-life episodes in recent years. Among them:
May 5, 1992: Rap artist Dr. Dre receives probation for breaking a rap producer’s jaw. Later that year, he is convicted of hitting a New Orleans police officer in a hotel brawl.
July 1992: Marion “Suge” Knight, chief executive of Death Row Records, is arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon after a tiff with two aspiring rappers at a Hollywood recording studio. He is not convicted.
April 29, 1994: Rap artist Tupac Shakur and his half-brother, Maurice Harding, are arrested during a traffic stop on Hollywood Boulevard after police officers found two 9-millimeter pistols in their car.
May 10, 1994: Shakur begins a 15-day county jail term for attacking director Allen Hughes on a music video set. As a result of the misdemeanor assault and battery conviction, Shakur is also required to report to a Caltrans work crew. He has yet to comply.
Oct. 31, 1994: Shakur is convicted in Michigan on misdemeanor assault and battery charges.
Feb. 3, 1995: Dasean Cooper, a rap artist known as “J-Dee,” is sentenced to 29 years to life in Los Angeles Superior Court for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend’s male roommate.
Feb. 8, 1995: Shakur is sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for sexual abuse charges for a November 1993 incident involving a female fan in a Manhattan hotel room. He is acquitted of more serious sodomy charges in the case.
March 14, 1995: A 28-year-old man is stomped to death at a party thrown by Death Row Records after the Soul Train Music Awards.
Nov. 30, 1994: Shakur is shot five times in New York while being robbed outside a Manhattan recording studio.
Feb. 20, 1996: Rap artist Snoop Doggy Dog and his bodyguard, McKinley Lee, are acquitted of murder charges in the August 1993 shooting death of a young man in a Palms park. A few months after the shooting, Snoop’s debut album, “Murder Was the Case,” hits the charts at No. 1.