September 24, 2003

Biggie and Tupac; A Film Review

A documentary entitled Biggie & Tupac directed by a member of the Hip-Hop community would most likely be dismissed as a full-length fan film, or a glorification of the violent subculture that emerged around these two artists. However, british filmmaker, Nick Broomfield is about as unHip-Hop as they come, and his obvious unbiased third-party role gives the film a bit of credibility. Broomfield has a knack for finding timeless truth amidst flash-in-the-pan pop culture news. And the Biggie & Tupac story is no exception.

Rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur were once friends. Rare photos and films capture them hugging or posing together. But then something terrible happened to their friendship. They both became successful. And within one year they were both gunned down in the street. The story widely accepted by police and the mainstream press was that rivalries between an east coast camp and west coast camp had escalated to the point of violence. With involvement by the two largest national gang franchises, the crips and the bloods, most people were content to pigeon-hole these incidents and their connected riots as typical to the violent world of do-rags and baggy jeans. However, as this film investigates, the story may be a bit uglier and far-reaching.

The film uncovers a good deal of evidence to indicate that these were not, in fact, gang-inspired murders, but that the murder of Tupac was orchestrated by his own producer, Shug Night, who owed him over 10 million dollars in royalties. And uglier still, it is believed that several members of the Los Angeles police department were on the payroll of Shug Night and were possibly the hired hitmen. The primary source of information for Broomfield is an LAPD officer who recommended to his superior investigating cops who might be committing illegal acts under the employ of Shug Night. But he was quieted and has since resigned from the department. One more level of ugliness exists, it seems that in the “retalitory” killing of Biggie, which may also have been orchestrated by Shug Night, the FBI was doing surveillance of Biggie. And yet, couldn’t stop his assassination. Or wouldn’t.

Despite the life-threatening interviews and grave implications of the filmmaker’s discoveries there is a levity to it all. As a British guy, who wouldn’t even know where Compton was if it weren’t part of the story, Broomfield uses an almost self-depreciating style to get into the most “forbidden” of places. His greatest capacity, and the film’s most entertaining aspect, is taking the noble-sounding words and political statements made by those involved and stripping them down to what they really are. Desperate attempts to veil their immensely selfish and opportunistic behaviors from the world and from themselves. The story is ultimately a thematic Romeo & Juliet. The main characters lie dead and as the smoke clears the finger of blame points to the pride and greed of those left standing.

The film ends with an interveiw of Shug Night, who was, at the time of filming, in prison. He claims he wants to make a “positive statement for the kids” which ends up being a no-so-veiled order to his minions to kill Snoop Dogg, his latest enemy. The message is, in fact, for the kids. For the next generation is being groomed for fame, and in turn, exploitation.

Note: This film can be seen at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 23, 2002 and will be in limited release naionwide on August 9, 2002.

Related Links: Death Row Records, now called Tha Row

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