What Would Solving Tupac and Biggie’s Murders Mean for Hip-Hop?

Update: I messed this up. Isaac says he shot Tupac in 1994, not that he killed him. So we’re not on the verge of solving the mystery. But the question of what would happen if we solved these murders is, I think, still interesting.

I have no idea if Dexter Isaac is telling the truth when he says he killed Tupac Shakur back in 1996 for $2,500. If he’s still got jewelry that could verify his story, I suppose we might have a definitive answer, and fairly soon.

Hip-hop’s an elegiac genre, whether Puffy’s making a spectacle out of his grief over Biggie’s murder, or Young Jeezy is taking a break from a song praising candidate Obama to shout out Pimp C after C’s death due to a combination of sleep apnea and accidental overdose. And rap’s wider public acceptance has always been dogged by the specter of violence, even as the genre’s moved beyond it — arguably the biggest star in the game is a suburban child of professional parents who never assaulted anyone other than a paparazzo, a booking many white stars in other media have to their names.

I wonder if it would make any difference for rap’s public self-presentation and its public image if the two biggest unsolved hip-hop murder cases were closed, and closed definitively. That latter part is probably the hardest bit, right? Conspiracy theories are tenacious, they become more attractive than the truth, and it’s impossible to root them out completely. Suspicions will linger, as Michael Frayn writes in one of the best expressions of forever possible, “until there’s no more uncertainty because there’s no more knowledge.” And as long as there are “conscious” rappers (a side note, that term is awkward, and wants replacing), conservatives will use hip-hop’s ancient history to try to discredit them and their arguments.


But I wonder what it would be like to have at least Tupac’s story laid out in all its prosaic detail. He and Biggie died when I was a tween, just as I was starting to understand that there was such a thing as hip-hop. Their shades have stalked the genre as long as I have known it, their deaths an almost religious mystery. What happens when defining myths become prosaic, the legend of a million-dollar hit turned from gold to lead?