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Hip-Hop Murders Come To The Screen

Two stars at the height of their fame are gunned down on the street within months of each other — and six years later, no arrests have been made.

Perhaps that explains the ongoing fascination with the killings of multi-platinum rappers Tupac Shakur, shot on the Las Vegas strip in September 1996, and Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, slain seven months later in Los Angeles.

"How was it possible that the murders of arguably two of the most famous black men in the country could have gone unsolved for all these years?" asks Randall Sullivan, whose book, "Labyrinth," explores an alleged link between the slayings and corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department.

The swirl of theories, books and articles trying to solve the Shakur and Wallace mysteries includes a recent investigative piece in the Los Angeles Times — and now the documentary "Biggie & Tupac," from filmmaker Nick Broomfield.

Broomfield, known for searing, caustic and sometimes wacky documentaries on former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and grunge couple Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, is as much a part of his documentaries as his subjects are. His off-kilter interviewing and often sarcastic, flippant demeanor provide humor, intentional and unintentional.

But he seems to have toned things down for a more serious look at the Shakur and Wallace killings.

"It was harder than I actually thought it was going to be, and it was very hard to edit because it's such a complicated story and there's so many interconnected stories," Broomfield says.

Some of the documentary covers ground already seen on countless "Behind The Music"-type documentaries — Shakur and Wallace's troubled youths, their rise to fame, and how the two former friends became bitter rivals and sparked an East Coast-West Coast rap war. Shakur was 25 when he died; Wallace was 24. Both are revered in the hip-hop community as among the most influential rappers.

Yet the movie goes on to suggest that their slayings might be connected to Death Row Records founder Suge Knight, gang members and corrupt Los Angeles police officers, several of whom moonlighted for Death Row. The gangsta rap label was home to Shakur, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg (now known as Snoop Dogg).

Among the people Broomfield gets to talk to him — some reluctantly — are Wallace's mother, Voletta; Shakur's biological father, Billy Garland; former LAPD officer Kevin Hackie, who worked for Death Row; and Knight himself, although he doesn't discuss the killings.

"I admired Nick's sheer nerve," says Sullivan. "He put cameras in people's faces where he was uninvited, but he got stuff that nobody else did."

Like Sullivan's book, much of Broomfield's film is based on the allegations of former Los Angeles Police Detective Russell Poole, who says he was discouraged from following solid leads on the Wallace case because they pointed to involvement from some on the force.

Broomfield says he didn't have an agenda when he started the film last year.

"I went into it with a completely open mind," he says.

Through interviews, however, the movie argues strongly that Knight may have orchestrated both killings: Shakur's because the rapper sought to leave Death Row, and Knight would have owed him millions in back royalties; Wallace's in part to make it appear that Shakur was killed because of the East Coast-West Coast feud.

That's just one of several startling claims in the movie; another is that the FBI had Shakur and Wallace under surveillance because it feared the effect hip-hop was having on America's youth. The movie even suggests that FBI informants played a part in creating the bad blood between Shakur and Wallace.

For Broomfield, the most shocking revelation was that LAPD officers worked for Knight, even though he was alleged to have gang ties.

"I suppose I was very surprised about the involvement of law enforcement officers, I mean not only working off-duty for Death Row, but very strong allegations of them being involved in the shooting of (Wallace)."

The Los Angeles Police Department did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment.

After Shakur's death, Knight was sent to prison for violating parole due to a fight he and Shakur had with alleged gang member Orlando Anderson the night Shakur was gunned down. (Anderson was named a suspect, but was killed two years later.)

Knight, released last year, was still in prison when Broomfield was making the movie. His label, now simply called Tha Row, would not grant Broomfield permission to talk to Knight, having seen his previous documentaries.

So Broomfield tracked down Knight with the help of prison officials and got his interview — on Knight's terms. Knight wanted to deliver an inspirational message to children.

"What was fascinating about the interview was I asked him the question he wanted me to ask, which was his message to kids, and he ends up managing to threaten Snoop Dogg," Broomfield said. "I thought that was very revealing as to the way he thought and who he was, probably much more so than if I had asked him a confrontational question."

A representative for Tha Row said Knight would not comment for this story.

Broomfield's documentary comes in the wake of the Los Angeles Times article this month by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chuck Philips, which said Wallace offered gang members $1 million to kill Shakur, and actually gave Anderson the gun that night.

That report has been denied by Wallace's family and friends, who released documents that they say prove the rapper was in New Jersey, not Las Vegas, the night Shakur was shot. Broomfield also dismisses the theory.

A representative for the Times said the paper stands by the story.

Broomfield said he hopes his film will help put pressure on authorities to solve the case and will "create a climate where someone ... will come forward."