Rumour has it Marion “Suge” Knight, fearsome supremo of Death Row records, once said Tupac Shakur was “worth more dead than alive”. Sadly he may have been right. We are coming up to the 25th anniversary of the killing of Shakur, likewise for Biggie Smalls, killed less than a year later. And in the intervening decades, their inextricably linked deaths and the east coast/west coast beef that led to them have been cemented into the foundations of hip-hop mythology, especially by the movies.
The Tupac/Biggie industry is still rolling along profitably, and each new retelling muddies the waters a little more. Leading the way have been 2009 Biggie biopic Notorious, 2017 Tupac biopic All Eyez On Me y 2015 smash Straight Outta Compton, ostensibly about NWA but featuring Tupac and Knight. Not to mention more than 15 documentaries, including two by Nick Broomfield. His 2002 doc Biggie & Tupac was ahead of the bandwagon, and at least sought to solve the rappers’ murders rather than burnish the myths. He pointed the finger at Suge Knight for both killings, though his theories were discredited. Now Broomfield returns to the scene with his latest doc Last Man Standing, and the focus is on Knight, with new testimony implicating him in Tupac’s death. He is admittedly a fascinating subject: a bald-headed, cigar-chomping man-mountain whose business tactics often involved violence and intimidation.
Whether or not Broomfield cracks the case, Last Man Standing sheds light on the sordid and violent reality of Knight’s empire: misogyny, drug trafficking, gang violence, dirty cops. It sure doesn’t look glamorous. Interviewees allege it was Knight who turned Tupac from a sensitive artist into a wannabe thug. Some also suggest Tupac was heavily influenced by his role in the 1992 movie Juice, where he played … a wannabe thug.
Movies and reality are becoming difficult to separate here. Knight is currently serving a 28-year prison sentence, partly as a result of Straight Outta Compton. According to grand jury transcripts, Knight was unhappy about his portrayal in the film, and sent threatening messages to its director, F Gary Gray. Knight visited the film set and got into an argument that ended in him driving his pickup into two men, killing one of them. He pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter. mientras tanto, the murders of both Biggie and Tupac remain officially unsolved.
With Knight himself out of the picture, a biopic is now surely a tempting prospect. Its value would be questionable, and the reality is certainly shady, but this is a saga of larger-than-life events and personalities, with a built-in score. Admit it: you’d watch it.