Nick Broomfield’s latest documentary Last Man Standing is a follow-up to the director’s 2002 hit, Biggie and Tupac, in which the horrific deaths of rappers Tupac “2Pac” Shakur and Christopher “Biggie” Wallace are investigated. Last Man Standing re-visits this rich case to attempt to solve the mysteries behind their murders.
The documentary begins by recounting the rappers’ quick rise to fame. Tupac and Biggie, otherwise known as their stage names 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G., were propelled into the rapping spotlight after they joined Death Row Records, an American recording label founded in 1992 by Dr Dre, Surge Knight, The D.O.C. and Dick Griffey. The label quickly became a sensation, releasing multi-platinum hip-hop albums by West Coast-based artists, such as 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me in 1996. Their successes ultimately launched the artists into a tumultuous life, rolling on intense emotions and abusing drugs. Shockingly, many of the members of Death Row Records have been pictured participating in orgies, which feature in the documentary, demonstrating the macho misogyny embedded in the record labels’ ethos. One of the witnesses goes onto explain that women were considered at men’s service by the artists and managers in Death Row Records, with the women always acting to pleasure the men.
The documentary also outlines how predominant gangs were in LA, with many gang leaders owning big businesses and being supported by the state’s police force. It is indicated that one of the reasons why Tupac and Biggie were murdered was because of their involvement in gang violence. One of the witnesses explains that Tupac wanted to appear strong, by holding a gun and being able to shoot easily. However, these intentions were ultimately a mask for his fear and fragility under an image of pretended scorn. In the documentary, Death Row Records is painted as a workplace entrenched in violence and misogyny. This environment, combined with Death Row Records’ motto: “gain money or die” and the predominance of gang culture in LA, lead the rappers to believe in the values and attitudes promoted by those realities.
It is suggested in the documentary that these attitudes and values were allowed and encouraged by the corrupt LA police force that saw all the wrongdoings but kept silent. The neglect by the police was the main reason why the people truly responsible for the rappers’ murders were never truly held accountable by anyone. It is indicated in the documentary that the police had no interest in solving the cases in the first place because this went against their personal interests. The documentary brilliantly explores the involvement of gang culture in LA, highlighting the subtle coercive force of the organisation. This helps to question the position of the police and of other powerful forces when faced with the possibility to gain money through corruption. The corruption of the police is identified as one of the major reasons why the murders were unsolved for many years.
The documentary also explores another reason why Tupac died, and that was his almost naïve faith in the people from Death Row Records. The documentary explains that he was defended by the same legal representative that defended Death Row Records, making it impossible for him to win until he fired him years later. The rappers never truly realised they were in a terrible position, as they were too involved in everything that was happening, making it impossible for them to save themselves.
– Lisa Greghi
Featured Image Source: Still via Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie & Tupac – Official Trailer // YouTube