The logo for Death Row Records is a blindfolded black man strapped into an electric chair at the moment of execution. Death Row is the label that made rappers such as Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre, and Tupac Shakur famous, and its logo is emblematic of the violent posturing adopted by many gangsta rap artists—not just Death Row artists—in their quest to sell their music. A rapper’s public face is frequently a gangbanger’s scar face, whether he has a genuine gang affiliation or not. But as rap’s popularity grew in the 1990s, the violent posturing turned real. Tales of beatings and public humiliations surfaced. Rappers slandered one another with increasing viciousness and frequency. An East Coast-West Coast feud developed, pitting Death Row Records, which is based in southern California, against New York’s Bad Boy Entertainment. The feud eventually escalated from a battle of words to a bloody war. Its two most prominent casualties were the rival rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
The circumstances of these two deaths were remarkably similar. Both young men were shot multiple times while sitting in the front passenger seats of their vehicles. Both victims were rushed to the hospital by their own entourages. Notorious B.I.G., who was born Christopher Wallace and was also known as Biggie Smalls, was dead on arrival. Tupac Shakur lived for six days and endured multiple operations before succumbing to his wounds.
Both incidents followed major public events and took place on crowded streets. Shakur was killed in Las Vegas. Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in Los Angeles. In both instances, witnesses refused to come forward and help the police. Gang enmity between the Bloods and the Crips appears to have played a part in both murders.