It Wasn’t Supposed to be an Autopsy’: The Podcast Inquiring Notorious B.I.G and Tupac’s Murder
Tupac Shakur arrived at a recording studio in New York on the night of November 29, 1994. After his debut album 2Pacalypse Now and 1993 commercial success Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ, the Californian rapper was now on trial for possession of illegal weapons and sexual assault after a woman accused him and his entourage of raping her 12 months earlier in a New York hotel room. The court was almost ready to deliver its decision, and the scheduled recording session–with Little Shawn, Brooklyn MC–promised a brief break from these legal troubles, and a much-needed $7,000 net for the rapper.
But as Tupac approached the Quad Studios lobby, fire was opened by three waiting gunmen. He survived and accused Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace of setting up the hit for the New York gangsta rap figurehead. It sparked a rivalry between the eastern and western sects of hip-hop that would survive their main protagonists; Tupac was shot dead in September 1996 and Biggie was killed in a drive-by the following April. All murders remain unresolved.
“They were two of the 90’s’ biggest celebrities,” says Joel Anderson, culture journalist and host of the latest season of Slate’s acclaimed Slow Burn podcast investigating Tupac and Biggie’s lives and deaths, AKA Notorious BIG. “It was black. They were so young that they died. And we still have no resolution on the significance of both their careers and their deaths.
Slow Burn, like some whodunnit, does not play the game. “When people think we’re going to fix it, they’re going to be fooled,” he says. “I didn’t want the series to be an autopsy of some kind. Several documentaries and books focused on this topic, and all ended up in the same place. They have a vague idea of what happened, but these murders will never be solved, it is unlikely. The police have not been able to do it. But we’re not going to run away from talking about what happened there–and why it wasn’t solved.
The podcast also explores the issues of gangsta rap and the shockwaves it sent. “We’re discussing minority groups ‘ over-police, the debate on what’s or isn’t appropriate to the ‘ public square, ‘ and racism and misogyny problems,” he says.
But the emphasis on the broader picture by Slow Burn never loses sight of its central characters. Anderson describes Tupac as “fearless to the point of being reckless,” portraying him as mercurial, brilliant and troubled. “He’s incredibly interesting. He spoke to people about the emotion and pain he put into his music. He was like a vortex for my interviewees that changed their lives, irrespective of how long or brief their relationship was, “Anderson says. “The stories people told about him with Biggie, meanwhile, were about hanging out with him, smoking weeds, and eating pizza in the neighborhood where he was born, lived, and died.