Christopher George Latore Wallace – The Notorious B.I.G.
The Beginning of Notorious B.I.G.
Biggie Small went through the typical rapper life cycle – a life of crime at an early age followed by infamy and more criminal acts after that. Ending in the typical violent death, Biggie’s story deviates from the typical rapper tale in that his death was unsolved and riddled with conspiracy theory.
Christopher George Latore Wallace, aka Biggie Small or Notorious B.I.G., was born and raised in Brooklyn New York during the 1980’s crack epidemic. Enveloped in the culture, he became a drug dealer at twelve years old. His father abandoned the family when Biggie Small was two years old forcing his mother to work two jobs to support the family. Biggie Small, nicknamed “Big” at ten years old because of this size, excelled in school, was very intelligent, and loved to rhyme.
After transferring from a private school, Biggie Small attended George Westinghouse Information Technology High School with other notable rappers including Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, and DMX. He was a good student in high school and loved to rap in the streets, but soon fell in with a bad crowd. He eventually dropped out of high school and fell deeper into a life of crime. In 1989, he was arrested on weapons charges and upon violating probation for crack cocaine dealing; he spent nine months in jail before he was finally able to make bail.
After his release from prison and on a whim, Biggie made a demo tape under the name Biggie Smalls. By this time, Biggie was 6’3” and weighed well over 300 pounds. The tape became a favorite of New York DJ Mister Cee and was played frequently on the airwaves. It quickly became a fan favorite and Biggie began to develop a following. The infamous Source heard the tape on the radio and liked what they heard.
In 1992, with popularity sailing, Biggie appeared on The Source’s Unsigned Hype album with other unsigned artists. Sean “Puffy” Combs heard the album and quickly signed Biggie to a record deal. Soon after signing, Sean Puffy Combs was fired from Uptown Records and quickly rebounded, forming his own private record label, Bad Boy Records. Biggie Small followed Combs to the new label. Recognizing his potential, Combs insisted that Biggie Small cease selling drugs and prepare for the “big time”. It was at this time that Biggie Small changed his pseudonym to The Notorious B.I.G. (B.I.G. standing for nothing in particular), started a family and fathered a daughter (Tyanna), and watched his hip hop albums rocket to the top of the Billboard charts.
Biggie’s second album, recorded in September 1995, was delayed several times because of his continued criminal activities. Biggie was arrested several times during the year. In late 1995, he was arrested after chasing a and threatening to kill two autograph seekers, smashing the window of their taxi cab, and then dragging them out of the cab and beating them. A few months later he was arrested on drug and weapons possession charges.
The Beginning of Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls had been friends for quite some time and later even became business associates. Born in East Harlem, Tupac was no stranger to violence either. He was born less than one month after his mother, a member of the Black Panther party, was acquitted on 150 charges of Conspiracy against the United States. After his mom, in the midst of an intense crack cocaine addiction, moved the family to California, Tupac began to become interested in acting and singing. Demo tapes were recorded and increased airplay on the radio propelled Tupac’s career upward. As his infamy grew, so did his legal troubles. In 1993 he was charged with sexually abusing a woman in a hotel room. According to the charges, Tupac sodomized the woman and encouraged his friends to participate by raping her. A year later he was convicted of attacking a former employee on the set of a music video. In 1995, a wrongful death suit was brought against him after a six year old child died after being caught in the crossfire between Tupac’s entourage and a rival group.
During these years, Biggie and Tupac Shakur, once friends and business associates, became involved in an intense rivalry. In an interview with Vibe magazine (April 1995) Tupac accused Biggie of being somehow involved in a November 30, 1994 robbery in which Tupac was shot several times, including once in the head, and robbed of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and cash. Tupca had entered an elevator in Quad Studios when two men pulled guns, ordered Tupca to turn over his belongs, and fired several shots into his body and head. Biggie and his entourages where in the same Manhattan recording studio (Quad Studio) that the robbery occurred at the time, but all denied any involvement.
Immediately after the shooting Tupac was given a lengthy prison sentence for rape (mentioned above) and would have spent many years behind bars had it not been for the CEO of Death Row Records, Suge Knight. In return for legal assistance and bail money, Tupac was required to release three records for Suge’s Death Row Records. Upon release from prison (Suge personally picked him up in a stretch limousine), Suge Knight of Death Row Records, signed Tupac to L.A.’s Death Row Records on October 15, 1995
The Life and Times of Suge Knight
The life and times of Suge Knight is equally controversial. Growing up on the streets of Compton where the Bloods gang made their name, Suge moved from a bodyguard to talent agent to record producer by whatever means were necessary. Suge kept out of the gangs during his youth and instead focused on sports. He played professional football for the Las Angeles Rams during the 1988-1989 strike. During his first year as a record producer, Suge scheduled a meeting with Eazy-E of Ruthless Records. Accompanied by two Bloods gang members, Suge convinced Easy-E to sign over three of his top acts at no charge. Suge started Death Row records that year using $10 million in start up money from legendary drug lord Michael “Harry-O” Harris (of which Harris never saw a return). Success and fame followed but Suge’s violent tendencies continued. Although he avoided association with the Bloods during his youth, he now embraced them; especially the mob Piru Bloods (named after the Piru Street in Compton). He always wore red suits and even had his house painted red.
In 1992, Suge pistol whipped rapper Lynwood Stanley and his brother and forced them to take off all their clothes and lie naked while he took their wallets and other personal belongings. Suge’s attorneys were able to successfully delay the trial for three years. When convicted, the Stanly brothers came to Suge’s defense and assisted him in obtaining a 5 year probation sentence. The judge in the case did not know that Suge had just signed the brothers to a lucrative record deal. Nor did the judge know that the prosecutor’s daughter had just been awarded a record contract with Death Row records. She was the first white singer signed by the label.
The Mark Bell Urine in a Glass Incident
On September 24, 1995, Suge Knight and Puffy Combs attended a party in the Platinum House in Atlanta. A fight broke out and a Death Row Records employee, Jake Robles, who was also a Mob Piru Bloods gang member, was shot and killed. Jake Robles was more than just a Death Row Records employee though – he was a close friend of Suge Knight. Witnesses accused Puffy Comb’s bodyguards of firing the fatal shots. It was at this time that Mark Anthony Bell, an independent record promoter, received a mysterious phone call . The caller asked that he write down the home address of Combs and Combs’ mother and drop it on the ground in a meeting place where it could be recovered. Bell refused. Three months later, Bell attended a Christmas party at Chateau Le Blanc in Hollywood. Suge Knight entered the party, bent to Bell’s ear, and asked him why he had not cooperated when he had the chance. He then invited Bell to the VIP room for a talk. Accompanied by six Bloods and rapper Tupac Shakur, Bell was beaten in the face and told that “this is for Jake”. Suge Knight then left the room and returned with a champagne glass full of urine. He handed it to Bell and demanded that he drink it. Bell refused and was beaten some more. Pretending to concede to Knight’s demands, Bell took the glass and “accidently” dropped it on the floor. He lept to the balcony but was grabbed before he could jump. He was beaten until he was unconscious.
The rivalry between Biggie and Tupac reached a melting point
A rivalry between Biggie and Tupac began to develop. It started off as a friendly rivalry but soon mushroomed into an intense competition. It was around this time that Tupac released Hit ‘em Up in which he bragged about having sex with Biggie’s wife (while they were estranged) and that Biggie was nothing more than a copycat. Less than a month later, Faith Evans gave birth to Biggie’s first son Christopher “CJ” Wallace. During this same month, Biggie had an affair with Lil Kim (who released her debut album Hard Core with Biggie’s assistance). Lil Kim was pregnant by Biggie but decided to have an abortion.
The Death of Tupac
Meanwhile, Tupac began to tire of Suge and felt he could succeed just as well on his own. In what many called a “death sentence”, Tupac began attempts to break free from Suge. He began his own production company and fired Suge’s attorney, signaling his independence. At the MTV Music Awards that same year, Suge approached Tupac and told him there were no hard feelings. As a gesture of kindness, Suge invited Tupac to Las Vegas to watch a Mike Tyson title fight. Although Tupac was uneasy about going with Suge he felt Las Vegas was too hot for anything to happen. His wife suggested he wear his bullet proof vest at all times.
Following the bout, in which Tyson had knocked out the opponent in the first round, they stepped from the hotel to await their ride. One of Suge’s entourage, of which were affiliated with the Bloods gang, pointed to a man on the sidewalk and whispered something in Tupac’s ear. The man being looked at was Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, a member of the Southside Crips gang. Tupac lunged across the walk and punched the man in the face. Suge and the Bloods then surrounded the man and began beating and kicking him. They fled the scene before the police arrived but Suge, strangely, stopped to make a phone call.
After video of the Anderson beating came forth, Suge was arrested for his involvement. During the trail, Anderson testified FOR Suge insisting that he saw Suge trying to pull people off of him. For a violation of his parole, Suge was given 9 years in prison.
After leaving the fight, Suge and Tupac, driving alone in Suge’s BMW and listening to Tupac’s new album, drove towards Suge’s 662 Club (662 is the California penal code for death row). When the BMW stopped at a red light just off the Strip, a white Cadillac with four young black men inside pulled up on the right. The passenger in the left rear seat rolled down his window, extended the barrel of a semiautomatic pistol and sprayed the side of the BMW with thirteen bullets, mortally wounding Tupac, before the Cadillac sped away. Having the appearance of a contract killing, police were at first puzzled as to how the killers would have known Tupac would be with Suge at that time.
Because of the publicity surrounding the Biggie and Tupac rivalry, Biggie quickly became a suspect in the shooting. Biggie denied all involvement in the shooting and noted that he was in New York at the time. The death of Tupac weighed heavily on Biggie’s shoulders. Not because he was sad about his death, but because he knew he would be blamed and Tupac’s boss, Suge Knight, was not the kind of guy you wanted to mess with.
The Death of Biggie
A month later, Biggie was involved in a car accident which shattered his left leg and forced him to use a cane for the remainder of his life. During the same month, he was arrested for beating and robbing a concert promoter.
On March 8, 1997, while Biggie was in California promoting his new album, Life after Death, he attended the Soul Train Music Awards where he awarded Toni Braxton an award –he was booed by the audience. After the award ceremony, he and Combs attended a party hosted by Vibe magazine at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Las Angels, which was also attended by several other hip hop celebrities and members of the Bloods and Crips gangs. They were told that security would not be a problem.
On March 9, 1997, at around 12:30 a.m., Biggie left with his entourage in two GMC Suburbans to return to his hotel after an announcement was made that the party would finish early. Biggie traveled in the front passenger seat alongside his associates, Damion “D-Roc” Butler, Junior M.A.F.I.A. member Lil’ Cease and driver, Gregory “G-Money” Young. Combs traveled in the other vehicle with three bodyguards. The two trucks were trailed by a Chevrolet Blazer carrying Bad Boy’s director of security.
By 12:45 a.m. the streets were crowded with people leaving the event. Combs, in the lead, ran through a yellow light at Wilshire. Biggie’s truck stopped at the red light 50 yards from the museum. A white Toyota Land Cruiser promptly made a U-turn and tried to cut between Biggie and a trailing Chevy Blazer driven by Bad Boy’s director of security. At that moment, a black Chevy Impala SS pulled up alongside Biggie’s truck and looked Biggie in the eye. The driver of the Impala (an African-American male neatly dressed in a blue suit and bow tie with a fade haircut reminiscent of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam sect) rolled down his window, drew a 9 mm blue-steel pistol, braced it on his left forearm, and fired numerous rounds into the GMC Suburban; four bullets hit Biggie in the chest. As the Impala sped away heading east on Wilshire, the Land Cruiser made another u-turn and drove off. Combs jumped out of his vehicle and headed across Wilshire to assist. He found Biggie slumped over the seat, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, and his eyes wide open and staring. Biggie was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by his entourage but was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m.
15 days after his death, his album was released and reached #1 on the Billboard charts.
The Investigation Begins
LAPD had solid descriptions of the killer and his vehicle, spent shell casings, and hundreds of witnesses. They immediately surmised that this was a gang related killing – Crips who were angry for not being paid for a security job. Still, others felt there was much more to the killing. Detective Russel Poole, the lead investigator on the case (who was later reassigned), said “Biggie’s murder was much more sophisticated than anything I’ve ever seen any gangbanger pull off. This was professionally executed.” According to Rolling Stone Magazine:
The detective had come to the Smalls case directly from a shooting investigation that was no less controversial. It had taken place nine days after B.I.G.’s killing, on the other side of the hills, in North Hollywood. Two men — one white, the other black — had become embroiled in what appeared to be an out-of-control traffic dispute. Only after the black man was dead did the California Highway Patrol officers who were first to arrive on the scene discover that the shooter was undercover LAPD detective Frank Lyga, and that the dead man was off-duty LAPD officer Kevin Gaines. What was immediately a politically explosive case took the first of several strange turns when detectives ran a computer check on the customized Mitsubishi Montero that Gaines had been driving and learned it was registered to Suge Knight’s estranged wife, Sharitha. Poole and Miller soon received a tip that Gaines, although married, had been living with a girlfriend in the Hollywood Hills — in a gated mansion owned by Suge Knight. Gaines’ girlfriend, it turned out, was Sharitha, who, among other things, had served as Snoop Dogg’s manager.
Rumors had been circulating for months that there was a cadre of black LAPD officers employed as “security” by Death Row, despite the department’s having explicitly forbidden any involvement with the gangsta rap label. But from the start, Poole’s superiors discouraged him from pursuing “the Death Row aspect of the case.” The LAPD brass also seemed in no hurry to vindicate Lyga, even though every bit of available evidence supported the detective’s self-defense story. Poole was stymied in his efforts to move aggressively on the investigation when it was transferred to the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division, under the supervision of then-deputy chief Bernard Parks. Poole knew that under the auspices of Internal Affairs, the details of the case would be shielded from the public and the investigation would likely be more controlled by the department’s top officials.
Poole’s orders to steer clear of anything having to do with Death Row Records, however, were becoming difficult to obey. Officers from the LAPD’s Pacific Division told Poole that Gaines regularly showed up for work wearing thousand-dollar Versace shirts and that he owned a fleet of cars, including a BMW and a Mercedes. “All this on a salary of $56,000 a year,” Poole observes. Then Poole received information from a reliable prison informant that “Officer Gaines and other LAPD officers provided security for members of Death Row Records during various criminal activities . . . [They] accompanied the members during drug deals and acted as lookouts and advisers.” The day after reading the informant’s statement, Poole received a phone call from a detective in the Wilshire Division. The caller advised him that homicide investigators there had information that Gaines might be involved in the recent assassination of Notorious B.I.G.
The majority of clues collected by investigators assigned to B.I.G.’s murder pointed in the same direction as the word on the street did — directly at Suge Knight. An inmate at California’s Corcoran State Prison said that his cellmate, Marcus Nunn — a Mob Piru Blood from Knight’s home turf in Compton — had confided that Knight, from behind bars, had hired another Mob Piru to take Biggie out. Nunn also said he knew the name of the person who had killed Shakur — also on Knight’s orders. A former Death Row employee claimed he could provide police with evidence that B.I.G. had been murdered by members of Knight’s “goon squad.”
An unusual discovery came about during the trial. It was found that one of Suge’s security staff was an LAPD police officer named Richard McCauley. Officer McCauley was the only LAPD officer to have applied for a permit to provide security for Death Row Records. His permit has been revoked earlier after neighbors complained of seeing armed gang members coming and going from Death Row Records offices. Kevin Lewis, the Studio Manger for Death Row Records explained that the people carrying guns were not gang members but off-duty police officers. “Some are your guys,” Lewis told LAPD.
It was soon discovered that other LAPD officers were known to be Death Row Records employees – Kevin Gaines, David Mack, and Rafael Perez were three notable officers.
Officer David Mack came to the attention of officers investigating Biggie’s death after one of the biggest bank robberies in LA history. Officer Mack and two accomplices robbed the Bank of America in LA for over $722,000. He was caught after his girlfriend turned him in, and was sentenced to prison. While in prison, he told inmates that he was a member of the Mob Piru Bloods and that he had over $700,00 that would double in value by the time he was released from prison, making him a millionaire when he went back to life outside of jail. Stranger still, Mack was known to have a Black Impala SS parked in his garage.
Mack became a focus of the Biggie murder investigation after a visit by a member of Louis Farrakhan’s elite security group, the Fruits of Islam. Amir Muhammad visited Mack in prison shortly after he was arrested and sentenced. The dress of Biggie’s killer had suggested Nation of Islam involvement and an inmate, an informer who had already assisted LAPD with the solving of two murders, had told them that Biggie’s killing was a contract kill sanctioned by Suge and contracted to a Nation of Islam soldier named Amir. He had also told police that the contract was related somehow to Tupac’s murder. Amir, whose real name was Harry Billups, had known Mack from back in college where both were athletes at the University of Oregon. It was discovered that Amir had signed in to the prison visitor center using a fake social security number and name.
It did indeed seem like Suge had played a part in both Tupac and Biggie’s deaths. Furthermore, one of Suge’s bodyguards had told police that the attack on Anderson that had occurred after the title fight, had been staged. Before police could follow up on this, Anderson himself was found dead, shot to death in his car in Compton. In addition, the friend of Andersons, who himself had been in the car with Anderson when the murder occurred and had told police he could identify the killer, was shot to death in the hallway of his New Jersey housing project.
Suge’s relationship to the Nation of Islam most likely began in prison. He roomed with a member named Ha’mmonds and the two had become close friends. At the time, Suge was certain that the Crips were set to kill him and he did not trust the Bloods that were in prison either. Suge and Ha’mmonds began a close friendship that continued even after he was released from prision. After Biggie had been killed, Suge was known to have told Ha’mmonds, “”He said, ‘My people handled the business. They took care of him . . . and he took it like a fat bitch.’ He started laughing, and he said, ‘We just missed Puffy.’” Suge has also told him that the murder of Biggie was not about Tupac at all. In the end, it was all about money and taking a competitor out of the game.