LAS VEGAS — Tupac Shakur, the rap star known for the violence in his lyrics and his life, was in critical condition Sunday after being gunned down in a car-to-car attack just off the jammed Las Vegas Strip.
Police said Shakur, 25, was cruising in a five-car convoy with Marion "Suge" Knight, head of Los Angeles-based Death Row Records, when a white Cadillac pulled up next to Knight's black BMW 750 and a man inside opened fire about 11:15 p.m. Saturday.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Sgt. Greg McCurdy said Shakur, who was in the passenger seat of the luxury car, was struck at least four times, twice in the chest, before the Cadillac sped off. The 30-year-old Knight, who was driving, was grazed in the head by a bullet fragment but suffered only minor injuries.
Police and friends said the two men apparently were headed to a nightclub--perhaps the one owned by Knight--after having watched the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon heavyweight fight earlier in the evening.
Police had made no arrests by late Sunday and would not say whether they had identified any suspects. McCurdy said it was still unclear which man was the target--Shakur or the 315-pound, Compton-born Knight, who has cultivated a persona to match the violent "gangsta rap" that is the specialty of his record company.
Acquaintances said Knight and his ever-present entourage had an altercation earlier in the evening with members of a local street gang at odds with the Bloods set that hails from Knight's old neighborhood.
But McCurdy said, "It looked like [the gunman] was clearly aiming for the passenger side of the vehicle," where Shakur was sitting. The car was riddled with bullets, the tires on one side flattened down to their custom rims.
The attack was the latest and most lethal episode in the checkered lives of the two men. Shakur has been arrested at least half a dozen times in the past three years. Knight has boasted publicly that at least three contracts are out on his life.
At a 1992 outdoor festival in Marin County, Shakur was involved in a scuffle that left a 6-year-old child dead from a stray bullet. The following year, he was accused--but never convicted--of shooting two off-duty Atlanta police officers and then of attacking a fellow rapper with a baseball bat at a concert in Michigan.
The first charges were dropped, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in connection with the second incident.
Then, while on trial for sexual assault in November 1994, Shakur was shot five times during a robbery in the lobby of a New York recording studio.
The performer, who lost $40,000 worth of jewelry in the incident, was later convicted on the sexual assault charges and served eight months in a New York penitentiary before being released last year pending appeal.
Shakur's legal difficulties have continued even as he has publicly insisted that he is trying to tone down his life--and to draw a clearer line between his tough public persona and his true self.
"This thug life stuff, it was just ignorance," Shakur said in an interview last year with Vibe Magazine. "My intentions was always in the right place. . . . I'm going to show people my true intentions and my true heart. I'm going to show them the man that my mother raised."
Nonetheless, Shakur is now battling charges that he violated probation in New York and Los Angeles. And on Wednesday night, at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York, Shakur and about half a dozen friends got into a menacing confrontation with another rapper's entourage at Radio City Music Hall. Police had to be called to break up the argument.
Knight's background has been similarly controversial. As chief executive of Death Row Records, the cherub-faced executive has been credited with engineering the company's rise from an unknown start-up label to a respected, $100-million enterprise boasting such talent as Shakur and rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg.
But Knight also has been blamed by critics for promoting violence, misogyny and explicit sex in gangsta rap. And he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon--but not convicted--for allegedly pulling a gun on two aspiring rappers in 1992 after a dispute over the use of an office telephone.
Knight's substantial real estate holdings include a home in a posh Las Vegas neighborhood several doors down from fighter Tyson, and a club not far from the Strip.
Police said Shakur--a friend of Tyson's--had come to Las Vegas to watch the heavyweight title bout Saturday with Knight. After the match ended, their entourage went to Knight's home, then headed out again, apparently to his Club 662, just off the strip.
The convoy of cars was a spectacular sight, even by Las Vegas standards, and was noticed by police cruisers as it left Knight's neighborhood about 10:30 p.m.
"There was a black BMW, a black Lexus 400, a white Suburban, a black BMW station wagon, a light gold Mercedes--they stood out," McCurdy said.