On March 9, 1997, well-known rapper Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace was shot to death by a drive-by shooter. Despite trouble with the law due to drug dealing throughout his New York childhood, Wallace became one of the world’s most influential rap artists almost instantly when he was discovered by Sean “Puff Daddy/P. Diddy” Combs and began recording with Combs’ label, Bad Boy Records. Soon, he become the centerpiece of the now famous “East Coast vs. West Coast” rap industry rivalry between Bad Boy Records and Marion “Suge” Knight’s California-based label, Death Row Records.
Wallace was inspired by fellow overnight rap sensation Tupac Shakur, whose solo album debuted just three years before Wallace’s and had already cemented him as one of the most influential rappers of all time. Even though Shakur was a West Coast artist, he and Wallace developed a close friendship that lasted until Shakur was robbed and shot at in the lobby of Bad Boy’s Quad Recording Studio on November 30, 1994. Wallace and Combs had invited Tupac to the studio to record a song with them and were upstairs at the time of the attack, leading Shakur to become convinced that they had orchestrated the entire thing as part of the growing rivalry between labels. After this event the feud grew increasingly hostile, focusing on back-and-forth jabs between Knight and Combs as well as Wallace and Shakur. Tensions boiled over when Shakur was shot and killed in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996. It was unclear whether the shooting was part of the coastal rivalry or the result of a seemingly unrelated fight Shakur had been in earlier that evening, but the damage was done; Death Row affiliates were outraged and assumed that someone from Bad Boy was unquestionably to blame.
Just six months later, Wallace was in Los Angeles to present an award at the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards and promote the release of his new album, Life After Death. After attending a VIBE Magazine party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. on the night of March 8, 1997, Combs and Wallace’s entourage departed in three GMC Suburbans to return to their hotel. While Wallace’s car was stopped at an intersection, it was ambushed by two vehicles; one pulled up on the passenger’s side where Wallace was sitting and shot him four times before speeding away. He died shortly after midnight on the 9th.
Wallace’s murder remains officially unsolved. Unlike the murder of Tupac Shakur, where police were unable to pursue due largely to the lack of cooperation from those involved, many witnesses came forward to give information about the attack on Wallace. Accounts concur that the shooter was a black male, driving a white Toyota Land Cruiser and wearing a blue suit and bow tie like those worn by members of the Nation of Islam. Somehow, despite these promising leads and the overwhelming likelihood that the shooting was ordered by Suge Knight in retaliation for Shakur’s death, police failed to make any headway in the investigation. This aligned with preexisting rumors that members of the LAPD were being secretly paid off by Death Row Records and providing personal security for them while off duty. One witness, Combs’ bodyguard, testified to seeing the shooter stalk Combs and Wallace at the VIBE party, while other guests claimed that the shooter was associating with LAPD officers there, directly implicating the LAPD as complicit in Wallace’s murder. However, the department focused its investigations to connections with the Crips street gang until the case turned cold.
Nothing came of these police accusations until 2005, when Wallace’s family filed a lawsuit against the LAPD for their involvement in Wallace’s shooting. Although this was declared a mistrial when the plaintiff’s primary witness fell through, the judge stated there was sufficient evidence implicating several corrupt officers of colluding with Death Row affiliates and concealing evidence in the case, including the identity of the suspected shooter. The family filed their claim again in 2007, but it was dismissed a second time due to a procedural technicality.
In 2011, the FBI released the original case files to the public. This included the autopsy report, which showed that even though Wallace was shot four times, only one of the bullets was fatal.