In the 50-year history of hip-hop, there have never been two stars whose lives – and deaths – have been more examined than Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, the rapper known professionally as the Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls.
Both men are as beloved and missed now as they were almost 30 years ago when they were killed – Shakur in September 1996 in Las Vegas and Wallace in March 1997 in Los Angeles.
“We lost two giants senselessly,” rapper Fat Joe told CNN. “That’s what bothers me when it comes to Biggie and Pac. We lost two giants over nothing.”
Their deaths are now being revisited after Duane Keith Davis, known as “Keffe D,” was arrested last month for the death of Shakur, 27 years after the rapper was shot as he was leaving a boxing match on the Las Vegas Strip.
Body camera of Davis’ arrest shows him referring to the murder as “the biggest case in Las Vegas history.”
But Shakur’s death reverberated well beyond the borders of Nevada and foreshadowed that of Wallace. The question now is when, or if, an arrest will be made in connection to the death of Wallace.
The murders of the two influential rappers who started as friends and later became rivals have always been culturally connected, because of both the time period and the circumstances.
“It was almost like [the death] of Tupac was the first movie and then Biggie was the sequel,” P. Frank Williams, who produced the 2017 television special “Who Shot Biggie and Tupac?” told CNN. “The two biggest deaths in the history of hip-hop.”
Both men came from impoverished backgrounds, were raised by single mothers whom they cherished and honored via the music that made them famous. Each had run-ins with the law earlier in their lives before being heralded as artistic superstars who were untouchable when it came to their craft.
The pair were also at the center of the “East Coast vs. West Coast” rap beef in the 1990s after Shakur, a West Coast-based artist, became convinced that Wallace, who was from Brooklyn, helped set him up to be shot five times in a Manhattan recording studio in 1994. Wallace denied any involvement and was never charged in connection to the crime.
Ultimately, both were victims of fatal drive-by shootings while out with others for a night of partying.
There is even a connection between the investigations into their deaths.
Now-retired Los Angeles Police Department detective Greg Kading interviewed Davis in 2009 as a person of interest in the death of Wallace, as Davis had been present at a party at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles which Wallace had left just before he was shot.
In a transcript of a Clark County grand jury proceeding from last month, retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detective Clifford Mogg said that investigators theorized Shakur’s murder and Wallace’s “were related.”
Mogg didn’t specify what their theory was, but testified Davis was not involved.
Another person who was in LA the night Wallace died was Cheo Hodari Coker.
While he’s gone on to work in film and television, with credits including Netflix’s “Luke Cage,” back then Coker was a journalist on assignment to talk to Wallace for what would turn out to be the rapper’s final interview.
Coker said he was supposed to be in the entourage traveling with Wallace when he was killed, but the rapper failed to call him back to connect. Shakur’s and Wallace’s deaths are linked “by both history and emotion,” Coker said, and have come to reverberate all the more in the years that have passed.
“Not just dead, murdered. And I think that sometimes, in our celebration of the music and of them…that does get lost over the years,” Coker said. “These were deliberate deaths on somebody’s behalf and that stings so much. Particularly as all of us who have been around this are now in our fifties and we understand how much life you have lost when you die at 25 and 24.”
Those unfulfilled futures are especially haunting to Coker, who said his final conversation with Wallace focused on his childhood and aspirations that may be surprising to those who viewed him only through his rhymes.
“Basically the life that he described was being a soccer dad in Atlanta,” Coker said. “He just wanted to give his daughter away at her wedding, play with his kids and he wanted to build a house in Atlanta.”
Shakur was also a man who was multifaceted.
Williams, who as a journalist covered Shakur’s murder for the Los Angeles Times and Wallace’s for The Source Magazine, recalled a Latino grandmother calling in to a Los Angeles radio station after the death of Shakur to talk about how much his song “Dear Mama” meant to her.
Yet he was the same man who sported a “Thug Life” tattoo on his stomach and was one of the reigning stars of hardcore rap.
“Tupac reached people on an emotional and spiritual level,” Williams said. “He’d go from [his single] ‘Wonda Why They Call U B**ch’ to ‘Dear Mama,’ which was talking about the human experience. That was the kind of stuff he talked about, which is a far cry from the image that you have of him.”
“Biggie on a lyrical storytelling level is probably one of the best,” he said of Wallace. “I think he was a superstar and was beloved for his music and his craftsmanship as a writer and artist.”
“They both were gifts at that time.”
Coker is hopeful that with the renewed spotlight on Shakur’s death, there will be movement on Wallace’s case.
CNN has reached out to the Los Angeles Police Department for comment on Wallace’s murder investigation.
“I’m hoping that with pressure comes revelation,” Coker said.
Revelation, and, perhaps, eventually some measure of justice for his loved ones.
Those close to Wallace and Shakur are still waiting.
“We’re in a constant state of grief and remorse and pain because we have to relive it and relive what happened,” Mopreme Shakur, Shakur’s stepbrother, told CNN last week. “We have been through decades of pain.”