Shakur's recordings explored gang violence, drug dealing, police brutality, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood and racism. As his stature as a rapper grew, he pursued an acting career, drawing admiring reviews for his performances in "Juice" and other films.
But he never put what he called the "thug life" behind him.
During a 1993 concert in Michigan, he attacked a local rapper with a baseball bat and was sentenced to 10 days in jail. In Los Angeles, he was convicted of assaulting a music video producer. In New York, a 19-year-old fan accused Shakur and three of his friends of sexually assaulting her.
While on trial in that case, the rapper was ambushed in a Manhattan recording studio, shot five times and robbed of his gold jewelry. Shakur later said Notorious B.I.G. and his associates were behind the attack.
Shakur, convicted of sexual abuse, was serving a 4 1/2-year prison term when he was visited by Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records in Los Angeles. Knight offered to finance an appeal of his conviction if Shakur would sign a recording contract with Death Row.
Shakur accepted the offer and was released from prison in 1995 on a $1.4-million appellate bond posted by Knight. Hours later, Shakur entered a Los Angeles studio to record "All Eyez on Me." The double CD sold more than 5 million copies, transforming Shakur into a pop superstar whose releases outsold Madonna's and the Rolling Stones'.
On Sept. 7, 1996, Shakur, still out on bond, traveled to Las Vegas to attend a championship boxing match between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand Hotel.
The sold-out arena was jammed with high rollers: Wall Street tycoons, Hollywood celebrities, entertainment moguls. The fight also attracted an assortment of underworld figures: mobsters from Chicago, drug dealers from New York, street gangs from Los Angeles.
Shakur arrived around 8:30 p.m. accompanied by armed bodyguards from the Mob Piru Bloods, a Compton street gang whose members worked for Knight's Death Row Records. Shakur and Knight sat in the front row, smoking cigars, signing autographs and waving to fans.
"Knock You Out," a song Shakur had written in honor of Tyson, blasted over the loudspeakers as the boxer entered the ring. Tyson flattened his opponent so quickly that many patrons never made it to their seats.
After congratulating Tyson, Shakur, Knight and a handful of bodyguards in silk suits headed for the exit. In the MGM Grand lobby, one of Shakur's Bloods bodyguards noticed a member of the rival Southside Crips lingering near a bank of elevators.
The Bloods and Crips have a 30-year history of turf wars: beatings, drug heists, drive-by shootings. The Crips dress in blue, the Bloods in red. When the two gangs aren't pushing dope or terrorizing citizens, they take pride in retaliating against each other.
The hoodlum standing in the lobby was Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, 21, a Crip who had recently helped his gang beat and rob one of Shakur's bodyguards at a mall in Lakewood. Anderson had a string of arrests for robbery, assault and other offenses. Compton police suspected him in at least one gang killing.
After the beating of Shakur's bodyguard, Anderson had dared to rip a rare Death Row medallion from the man's neck--an affront to Knight's honor and a slight to the Bloods.
The Bloods had been fuming for weeks, waiting to exact their revenge. Now, unexpectedly, there was Anderson, standing before them.
Shakur charged the Crip. "You from the South?" he asked.
Before Anderson could answer, Shakur punched him. His bodyguards jumped in, pounding and kicking Anderson to the ground. Knight joined in too--just before security guards broke up the 30-second melee, which was captured by a security camera.
Shakur and his entourage stomped triumphantly across the casino floor on their way out of the hotel. They walked half a block down the Strip to the Luxor hotel, where Death Row Records had booked more than a dozen rooms. After dropping off Shakur and the bodyguards, Knight drove about 15 minutes to a mansion he owned in a gated community in the city's southeastern valley.
The plan was to regroup later at a benefit concert for a youth boxing program featuring Shakur and other Death Row acts. The midnight concert was to be held at Club 662, a nightspot just opened by Death Row. The club's name was an emblem of how gangs had infiltrated the rap business. On a telephone keypad, 662 spells "mob."
Planning a Retaliation
A bruised and shaken Anderson gathered himself off the floor in front of dozens of startled onlookers. MGM security guards and Las Vegas police tried to persuade him to file a complaint against his assailants, but he declined.