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Knight’s office in Los Angeles was decorated in red, the color of the Bloods, one of the city’s principal gangs. One man told me about a negotiation he had in the apparent safety of his own office.

A guard holding a metal detector stood at the front door of the Death Row studio. “They have a checklist of people who go in with guns. Knight was attended by a bodyguard, and when they reached a difficult point in the deal, the bodyguard ostentatiously leaned forward and let his gun, which was worn in a holster under his jacket, slip into full view.

The world of Suge Knight and South Central Los Angeles is at a far remove from the one in which Tupac Shakur grew up, though each, in its own way, romanticized violence. “At times he resented being the nineties’ voice of the Black Panther Party,” Karen Lee, one of his publicists, told me, “and at times he wanted to be.” Lee said that he was furious that his mother’s former comrades made no move to try to rescue her and her children when she became addicted to drugs. I have to tell the multifaceted nature of a human being. So he put on his [bulletproof] vest and all his guns, and he went to their place. Legendary as such an exploit became, the reality was rather more complicated.

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After Tupac’s murder, however, things began to unravel for Knight. S., are investigating allegations of money laundering, links to street gangs, drug trafficking, and organized crime at Death Row.“I think, Tupac, you brought down one of the most evil empires of my time,” one of his friends, who grew up in the music business, says. He was saying, ‘If you don’t know what’s going on in the ghetto, is what’s going on.”Tupac was particularly vulnerable, however, to the charge that he had not paid his dues, that he was not a “real” gangster. He got involved in a fight with a limo driver in Hollywood, tried to hit a local rapper with a baseball bat during a concert in Michigan, and collected criminal charges and civil suits. I would say to him, ‘Most gangsters are people who wish they didn’t have to be hard.’ ”At Tupac’s instigation, he, Man Man, and another friend had all got a “50 ” tattoo (symbolizing a black confederation among the fifty states). Die like niggas.” “I could have had that word tattooed on me before,” Man Man told me. to make it positive.’ ”When Tupac got his “thug life” tattoo, his manager, Watani Tyehimba, a former Black Panther who had been close to Tupac since he was a small boy, was apoplectic. He was straddling two worlds And he saw that we never make it as black people unless we sell out.

In the summer of 1992, he had pulled a gun on two rappers, George and Stanley Lynwood, for using a phone at the studio. He did not intend to romanticize Tupac; this friend, like many others, acknowledges that Tupac was famously split between what he himself referred to as his “good” and his “evil” sides, and that it was his darker side that seemed to have gained dominion during much of his tenure at Death Row. For all the swaggering machismo that would come to dominate his public image as a gangsta rapper, he was considered within that world to be a novitiate. A., Tupac said in his deposition, he “didn’t have a slingshot, I didn’t have a knife, I didn’t even have sharp nails.” But soon he had bought a gun and was practicing shooting it on firing ranges. According to Man Man and others, many of these incidents were a consequence of someone challenging Tupac’s right to rap hard lyrics. “Nigga,” in Tupac’s lexicon, stood for “Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished.” In “Words of Wisdom,” he raps, “Niggas, what are we going to do? “But Pac said, ‘We’re going to take that word that they used and turn it around on them . He was saying he never would.” Tupac collaborated with four other rappers on the album “Thug Life, Vol.

Even for the rough-edged music industry, which has historically been prone to excess and to connections with criminal elements, Death Row was a remarkable place. A mammoth, three-hundred-and-fifteen-pound man, Knight has a substantial criminal record, replete with violent acts.

It was nothing for Knight to hand over a stack of hundred-dollar bills to Tupac for a weekend’s expenses. Even when he was on his best behavior—say, dealing with a white executive at one of the major entertainment companies—menace hung heavy in the air.

Nevertheless, Tupac did not forget who his forebears were. I dressed like a hippie, they teased me all the time. In 1991, Interscope released Tupac’s first album, “2pacalypse Now,” which was replete with militant lyrics depicting violence between young black men and the police. Compassion, to show compassion.” He also said that he was not advocating violence against the police but was simply telling stories that described reality for young black men—and cautionary stories at that, in which violence against the police often leads to death or imprisonment. When this song came out, no male rappers at all anywhere were talking about problems that females were having, number one. Rap music is notorious for having lyrics that are degrading to women, and—much as Tupac would appear to be an advocate for women in “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” and also, even more, in a later song, “Keep Ya Head Up”—he wrote lyrics that were misogynistic as well. He’s Rudolph Valentino and Frank Sinatra, he’s everybody. Gangsta rap had been provoking concern among law-enforcement authorities in this country since at least 1989, when an F. “He said that he was studying Jacques—that Jacques Birdie,” Watani Tyehimba recalls. Jacques spent about four or five thousand dollars on Tupac in the beginning—he just overwhelmed him.” According to someone else who knew Agnant, Madonna (with whom Tupac would become close) was one of Agnant’s celebrity friends.

“In my family every black male with the last name of Shakur that ever passed the age of fifteen has either been killed or put in jail,” Tupac said in his deposition. Mutulu Shakur, who had received a degree in acupuncture in Canada and used his skills to develop drug-abuse-treatment programs, was sentenced to sixty years in prison for conspiring to commit armed robbery and murder. I couldn’t play basketball, I didn’t know who basketball players were. This was the album that Vice-President Dan Quayle said had “no place in our society.”In the deposition Tupac gave in 1995, when he was asked to interpret several of the songs on “2pacalypse Now,” he explained that it was his practice to introduce a central character through whom he could develop a narrative, because he believed that “before you can understand what I mean, you have to know how I lived or how the people I’m talking to live. On one track he says, “They claim that I’m violent just cuz I refuse to be silent.” The song on the album that proved to be the most popular was entitled “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” Tupac said that he had written the song after reading a newspaper story about a twelve-year-old girl who became impregnated by her cousin and threw her newborn baby down an incinerator. Number two, it talked about sexual abuse, it talked about child molestation, it talked about families taking advantage of families, it talked about the effects of poverty, it talked about how one person’s problems can affect a whole community of people. In “Tha’ Lunatic,” another song on “2pacalypse Now,” he boasted, “This is the life, new bitch every night.” In the deposition, when asked how he could reconcile the conflicting sentiments, he says, “I wrote this when I was seventeen. But Tyehimba was alarmed by the relationship, and warned Tupac to keep his distance. On November 14, 1993, Jacques Agnant and Tupac went to Nell’s, the downtown New York club.

twenty-five-year-old Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in Las Vegas last fall, he was riding in the passenger seat of a B. Death Row, the leading purveyor of West Coast “gangsta rap,” is a music-business phenomenon.

750 sedan driven by Marion (Suge) Knight, the head of Death Row Records.

But four years later, just before Tupac was killed, Knight took part in the beating of a man in Las Vegas, and this put him in violation of his probation. At the same time, however, he was suspected by many in his core ghetto audience of not being cold-blooded enough to measure up to his status as the archetypal gangsta rapper. There were to be subsequent volumes of “Thug Life,” with a new group of gang-member rappers each time.

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