What to Read and Watch to Understand the Death (and Life) of Tupac Shakur

After 27 years, a suspect is finally facing trial in connection with the rapper’s murder, shedding new light on an enduring unsolved mystery.

Rapper Tupac Shakur  performs at the Regal Theater in Chicago Illinois in March 1994.

Rapper Tupac Shakur (Lesane Parish Crooks, name later changed to Tupac Amaru Shakur) performs at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois in March 1994. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

The September 1996 murder of Tupac Shakur was so seismic, tragic, and culture-shifting that it’s never really left the public consciousness. But the September arrest of a 60-year-old Las Vegas man named Duane “Keefe D” Davis, a key suspect and one of the last living eyewitnesses to Shakur’s killing, has brought renewed attention to one of the most infamous unsolved crimes of the 1990s.

An entire cottage industry of books and films has grown up around Tupac in the thirty years since his death, from deeply reported investigative journalism and thoughtful portrayals of the rapper and poet to salacious true-crime tales that lose sight of the very real 25-year-old man who lost his life. (Many of the works covering Tupac’s death are intertwined with the March 1997 murder of friend-turned-rival The Notorious B.I.G., and the animosity between Bad Boy and Death Row Records.)

Earlier this month, Davis’ arraignment was delayed for a second time, but a resolution to this decades-long saga still seems closer than it’s ever been. With that in mind, we’ve put together a short list of what to watch and read in order to understand both Tupac’s mysterious death and his remarkable life.

Dear Mama

Allen Hughes’ acclaimed FX docuseries about Tupac and his mother, the political activist Afeni Shakur, isn’t as focused on the mystery of Pac’s death, but it’s crucial viewing if you want to understand both the man Tupac became and the most important person that shaped him. Shakur’s social consciousness—and his fiery temperament—were directly influenced by Afeni, a member of the Black Panthers and a fierce advocate for racial and economic equality. Hughes had a contentious history with Tupac during the MC’s life, and this five-part series doesn’t gloss over the details of that relationship, including a 1993 incident in which a group of ‘Pac associates assaulted Hughes after he passed the rapper over for a role in Menace II Society. Essential, whether you’ve loved Pac for decades or are just learning about his life and times.

Murder Rap

Mike Dorsey’s feature documentary– largely shaped by a 2011 book of the same name by former Los Angeles police detective Greg Kading, who headed an LAPD task force investigating the murder of The Notorious B.I.G.—explores the deaths of the two rap legends in the context of the East Coast-West Coast rap feud, with a specific focus on the rumored involvement of Sean “Diddy” Combs in the death of Tupac. “The confession that alleged Puffy was involved in Tupac’s murder was and still is the most surprising element in all of this. It’s difficult to believe, really, except that Keffe, the confessor, could have easily left Puff out of it and just said Tupac’s murder was just revenge for the beatdown of Keffe’s nephew, Orlando Anderson, and nothing more—the investigators would have probably believed it,” Dorsey wrote in a Reddit AMA.

If you’ve read the book, you don’t necessarily need to watch the doc, which covers much of the same ground (although Kading did tell The Guardian that an important detail involving a relevant car is updated in the movie). But if you’re specifically interested in how the two culture-shifting killings are connected, Murder Rap is an important part of the Tupac canon.

The Killing of Tupac Shakur

Veteran L.A. crime journalist Cathy Scott first published her book about Tupac’s death just a year after he passed, and its inclusion of an autopsy photo created massive controversy at the time. Putting aside the justifiable controversy around Scott’s use of graphic images, The Killing of Tupac Shakur is comprehensive, and largely eschews unnecessary salacious details. Since its initial publication, the book has been updated twice, adding additional context to what happened that night in Las Vegas. (The third edition includes an interview with Pac’s late bodyguard Big Frank about what he saw on September 7, 1996.) Scott’s writing on Tupac is also included in the anthology Tupac: A Thug Life; she’s also the author of a book about the death of The Notorious B.I.G., titled The Murder of Biggie Smalls, published in 2000 and updated in 2021.

Compton Street Legend

Since it was reportedly Keffe D’s own on-record comments in interviews about Tupac’s death that led to his arrest, his 2019 autobiography may be the best place to begin a deep dive on this story. Working with Yusuf Jah, who also coauthored Chuck D’s 1997 book Fight the Power: Rap, Race and Reality, Davis recounts his perspective on the deaths of both Tupac and Biggie, while also providing an intimate view into his time immersed in Los Angeles gang culture. Much of the Tupac-specific information in Keffe D’s book can also be culled from his interviews with outlets like VladTV, but Compton Street Legend provides more insight into who Davis actually is, and how he and Orlando Anderson—the Compton Crips gang member who was named as a suspect in Pac’s murder, but died in an unrelated shooting in 1998—became entangled with Pac, Suge Knight, and Diddy, among other pivotal ‘90s rap figures.

Unsolved

The true story of Tupac’s death contains more mysteries, side characters, and complications than your average work of crime fiction, but viewers who want some overt embellishment could do worse than Unsolved, a 2018 USA Network limited series created by Big Sky and Suits writer Kyle Long. Drawing primarily from Kading’s Murder Rap, the show focuses on the Tupac investigation by Kading (played here by Josh Duhamel), and the Biggie investigation by Russell Poole (Jimmi Simpson). Talented supporting actors like Bokeem Woodbine, Wendell Pierce, and Aisha Hinds round out the cast.

Reception to the series itself was mixed, with Variety calling it a “serialized depiction of one of those corkboards covered in yarn, photos and clues scribbled on index cards that you often see in conspiracy-driven TV shows and films” and describing it as another instance of the “serial strip-mining of the ‘80s and ‘90s.” The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Unsolved was “full of lead-eared dialogue and repetitive plotting,” calling it frustrating and captivating in near equal measure, and criticizing the “near-crippling lack of music” in a program focused on two of the greatest rappers in the genre’s history.

LAbyrinth

Clunky title aside (yes, L.A. is capitalized there by design), Randall Sullivan’s book is an important (and controversial) entry in the Tupac canon, focused heavily on interviews with Poole. Ambitious in scope, Sullivan’s book seeks to unpack underlying racial tensions and police misconduct in Los Angeles, while relying heavily on Poole to implicate Death Row and Suge Knight in the two A-listers’ killings. LAbyrinth is also the basis for City of Lies, a Johnny Depp-Forrest Whitaker procedural that coasts on star power like a souped-up Law & Order episode.

Tupac: Resurrection

In terms of features, Lauren Lazin’s 2003 documentary remains the most impressive work of Pac filmmaking to date. The Academy Award-nominated Resurrection uses Tupac’s own words to tell the story of his life, focusing on his childhood and how he first developed a passion for poetry and writing raps. Resurrection occasionally borders on hagiography, but as new information puts the spotlight once again on Tupac’s death, it’s necessary to watch something that focuses on his artistry and impact. Also, this is as good a time as any to revisit The Rose That Grew From Concrete, Pac’s powerful poetry collection.

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