Hip-hop culture has been the dominant force in entertainment for the last 25 years. It has minted new words for your Webster’s, created and destroyed popular trends, and made global icons out of personalities who escaped society’s harshest environments. Or, more accurately: almost escaped. Though 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Jam Master Jay and Big L live on as cultural icons, the lives within them — Tupac Amaru Shakur, Christopher Wallace, Jason William Mizelland Lamont Coleman — were all too mortal men first. Regular human beings, taken away from their families and the competitive sport they loved much too soon.
Although these boldened names jump out at us, they are only the most famous of a crowded field of fallen cultural icons. XXL Magazine recently compiled an investigation into the status of every murdered rapper’s legal case and uncovered some startling facts. For those that haven’t been keeping score (or too busy hitting the ‘Quan’) — of the 52 criminal cases involving rappers, 36 (some 69.2%) remain unsolved. In Law & Order terminology, that amounts to about a 30% clearance rate, which is abysmal to say the least, especially considering their high-profile nature. So abysmal, in fact, it almost demands an examination of police conduct in investigating murders of highly visible African and African American celebrities. What is the real problem here?
We decided to break down the rhyme and reason dictating why these cases—from DJ Scott La Rock’s murder in 1987 to the shooting of Dex Osama (Byron Cox, 21) earlier this year—remain unsolved. “To put that number in perspective,” XXL writes before continuing, “NPR reported this March that the national ‘clearance rate’ for homicides in the United States stands at 64.1 percent. Those numbers are so far apart they’d almost be laughable if they weren’t so sobering.”
In a game where the tenets are “keep it real” and “no snitching,” we must take a hard look at how these mottos play into the frightening stats—or if they do at all. XXL’s “Current Status of Every Rapper’s Murder Case” spurred us to think, here, on this 19th anniversary of 2Pac’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory about what factors go into convincing witnesses to remain mum, where the families of these tragedies go to seek redress as the years add up, and to ask ourselves: why do we profess so much love for performers that we’re not ready to help seek justice for?
Only nine out of the 52 murders profiled have definitively been solved, while four additional cases have defendants awaiting trial. Three others are either unclear or still being disputed in a court of law. The staggering statistic of the 30% clearance rate means that there are a host of individuals who remain in or around the entertainment industry who have ties to some of our most prolific voices being cut down and placed in the morgue.
The mafioso lifestyle has been rapped about ad nauseum in rap and hip-hop for the latter part of three decades. Rhyming about the lifestyles of the rich and shameless has been a fixture in the game since Kool G. Rap all the way up to Rick Ross. And no matter how true or false, high or mighty these MCs are, the truth is that the streets give the performers the stories that go on to become the chart-topping, mega-hit songs that are sung by suburban white kids around the world. In the early stages of rap’s global domination, it was a necessity that you lived the life that you rhymed about. Real life situations played themselves out in this weird life-imitating-rap way wherein rappers would have weapons, entourages would have arsenals, and if anyone tried to check them — the resulting problems could be serious.
When money became the commanding factor determining whether rappers were successful or not, the stakes got higher, though there was nothing else quite like the East Coast versus West Coast “rap war” of the late ‘90s that tipped the scales and broke hearts in the process. But whether it was the insanely absurd death of Randy Walker (Stretch), which occurred one year almost to the minute from when Tupac Shakur was attacked at New York City’s Quad Studios or the vicious attack and murder of Jam Master Jay in 2002 — rappers, publicists, moguls, DJs, and their fans have remained mum as to who was behind what.
To offer some insight into the legal side of unsolved rapper murders, we turned to Pierre Bazile, Esq., a practicing attorney-at-large from New York City. His first reaction to our line of questioning was to explain that although he has never done anything “on a Bobby Shmurdalevel,” he believed that the bigger the name, the more heat that person draws from the authorities. In a murder investigation such as with Jam Master Jay’s or Tupac Shakur’s, Pierre explains the merits and conditions that would allow someone like the Feds to step in and prosecute on a higher level.
“For the federal government to step in you need what is called a ‘Federal Question,’ such as a violation of a federal statute or a civil rights violation. A crime occurring between two different states would also warrant federal investigation.” So, why hasn’t the federal government been brought in to investigate two high profile cases where New York born rappers (Note: Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in East Harlem, NY) were slain outside of their home state?
Possibly, evidence that the planning or execution of the crime crossed state lines was not forthcoming, even if the logical presumption was there. “Anecdotally, you would have to attribute such a thing to the ‘no snitching’ mentality that is prevalent amongst the youth in the hip-hop community…” Mr. Bazile told us, speaking in exclusive interview with Okayplayer. “If nobody is willing to talk, then it is significantly hard to solve a homicide.”
A lot of the community feeling that Bazile refers to stems from a deeply-rooted distrust of the police and the fear that murder would be lurking around the corner for anyone who decided to speak up and speak out. According to a 2011 report by The Root, “Stop Snitching” was produced en masse in the form of T-shirts around the year 2002. Recall if you will images of red stop signs with the word “snitching” underneath and the feeling of dread the brothers and sisters who wore them must’ve been carrying, underneath the facade of reminiscing over a dear friend or family member.
With such perplexing questions lingering as to why a person who claims to love hip-hop or rap or the person sitting right next to them would just allow another to viciously rip that apart, we spoke with someone who had some expertise in attempting to solve the crimes that were being ignored. Who was that person, you ask? We sat with Derrick Parker, better known around the industry as The Hip-Hop Cop, and spoke with him about what goes into delaying or suspending a murder investigation.
Parker, who has been a part of investigations involving ‘Pac, B.I.G. and Jam Master Jay, wanted to clear the air in light of the talk that XXL drummed up with its expose. Before retiring, Parker, a 20-year-plus veteran of the New York Police Department, held the rank of Detective First Grade. He was assigned to several of those unsolved rapper murder cases that XXL spoke about and implemented a strategy meant to reduce the violence in the city, rap and entertainment industries.
On the following pages, you’ll read as the Hip-Hop Cop breaks down just why these crimes remain unsolved, why snitching isn’t going away anytime soon and what you, the Hip-Hop Community, can do about it.
Okayplayer: Please state your name for the record, sir.
Derrick Parker: Derrick Parker. Retired New York Police Department detective and the first guy who created the Hip-Hop Police Squad in New York City.
OKP: In your experience, what circumstances could possibly delay or suspend a murder investigation?
DP: The first thing that will stop or hinder an investigation in most cases is the cooperation of witnesses or a lack of crime scene evidence. The biggest thing in most of these cases, actually, are cooperation of people that might have seen something or were actively involved. Nobody wants to ever come forward with any relevant information. Nobody wants to “snitch” as they say in the streets and on the records to talk about who did what. Nobody wants to offer testimony to the District Attorney’s office that would eventually lead to a prosecution or a conviction of the perpetrators involved in the case.
OKP: What about in situations–as with Tupac Shakur–where there were numerous witnesses on the street and present with the artist himself? Before intimidation and the whole “stop snitching” takes root — what do you think happens that causes these individuals to not say anything?
DP: In the case where Tupac [Shakur] got killed, there was always some sort of controversy around him. Whether it was Suge [Knight], who was in the car with him and didn’t really get hit as hard as ‘Pac, or his connections to the Piru Blood gang — the people who were involved knew the code and weren’t going to talk. Now, the bad guys and even the good guys are somewhere dead now, but back then the former weren’t going to talk to the police anyway. There is no snitching in that culture and it is a certified rule on the street.
OKP: Barring the people directly involved, there were at least 50 other people around in that setting that witnessed the shooting occurred. How does one entity convince or compel so many others to not want to say anything who are not tied into the streets?
DP: A lot of people don’t want to get involved no matter where they’re at on the charts because of the people who were actively affected. In a case like that, the detectives who are investigating the case have to be really smart. Myself, I did homicide for a lot of years before becoming a Hip-Hop Cop, and I had a very good rate of catching people. I was active in the Cold Case Squad for about four years and I caught people for all sorts of murders around the country.
You really have to know how to get involved in these cases and have the ability to compel people to cooperate. There are certain ways to get around certain things, but one has to have the right instincts. I’m sure if you watch Blue Bloods on television and see the characters on there all the time clearing cases, they always get someone to cooperate, but in real life it isn’t as easy as that.
OKP: What factors makes crimes involving rappers and musicians stand out from other investigations?
DP: If a rapper gets killed in New York City, then it is headline news and everyone in the world wants to know what happened. The news outlets then all run a big piece on it which spreads the word and the questioning. From wanting to know why the rapper lost his or her life to wondering what elements he or she was involved with — it boils down to the fame and the fortune that makes hip-hop crimes stand out from other investigations. The public wants to know what happened at the end of the day because this is an artist they love, someone they buy records from, and who is very popular.
OKP: Is that love for the artist transferrable when murder is the case that we’re given?
DP: That’s where the problem stems from. When Chinx Drugs [b. Lionel Pickens] was killed, I can remember his wife saying that she didn’t want any of this swept under the rug. She didn’t want the circumstances surrounding his murder to be an unsolved case. It’s understandable that things get a little complicated, there’s got to be the right people working these cases, but the goal is to get them solved. There are other factors that come with attempting to investigate high-profile rapper murders, but to preserve the guy’s legacy or to not get anyone else involved, nobody jumps in. Everyone ends up saying crackpot theories like, “I know who did it and where they are at,” but nobody wants to end up “snitching” to the police about anything that could actually help solve an unsolved murder.
On the following page, The Hip-Hop Cop talks about “no snitching” and how families get involved in instigating an investigation.
OKP: The XXL piece referenced the amount of unsolved cases, which was about 69.2 percent. With almost 70 percent of unsolved murders over the last three decades how would you explain why so many deaths come with no official charges being brought up?
DP: In the rap community, the same goes for the streets as well, “No snitching.” Nobody wants to talk. Sure, everybody is going to complain, loudly, that this guy got killed and it isn’t right. But nobody will come forward with anything valid or even think about testifying what they do know to help out. Then there is the fear that if you do come forward and talk — how are the police going to protect you from the streets? No one wants to go to court.
No one wants to get involved with the system, especially if they’ve been part of the system already. Who would want to go back into jail if they could avoid it? These people who know how the system works would not want to be involved in it, so you as the detective or investigator have to find the right kind of person to talk to, or you have to be the right kind of person that can handle a case like that.
OKP: Have you yourself ever experienced such discrepancies firsthand? If so, do you think it applies more or less to people being in the entertainment business?
DP: In the entertainment industry, there are people who won’t talk against other rappers — even if they were killed. I was investigating some of the murders and I know this firsthand! I know who did these acts, yet there are a lot of people in the music industry that don’t want to get involved. I understand that because they themselves have reps. Some of them don’t want to put their two cents in because they fear that saying something will cause their careers to go down.
If the people feel like they are snitching, then that’ll hurt their album sales or concert tickets or what have you. A lot of people with this “no snitch” attitude don’t just start at the street level, it’s in the boardrooms and in the entertainment world. There are a lot of guys in the business who just won’t say anything that could shed light into these investigations. Yet, the definition of snitching should be clarified so that there is some light on what it really is versus what it’s being made out to be.
If someone pulls a bank robbery with another guy, yet the guy who got caught told on you — that’s a snitch. When someone kills your friend or your family member and you know yet you don’t say anything — that’s not a snitch. That is someone who refuses to tell the truth about someone who was killed. There are a lot of people in this industry who call themselves friends of these people, but they will never come forward to say anything about these “friends” getting killed.
I believe that they care less.
OKP: Family members and loved ones such as Afeni Shakur or Voletta Wallace have been vocal about their son’s murders, but have they been vocal enough?
DP: Mrs. Wallace did a lot when her son was murdered. She was very big in helping us out and attempting to find her son’s killer. Afeni Shakur, too. Mrs. Wallace went to Los Angeles and she helped to reveal a lot of problems with her son’s death. The Los Angeles Police Department stumbled into a host of legal matters that created problems with the B.I.G. case. They’re still having problems with that case. I do think that there are not enough people being vocal about what they know, but I think that most people involved are also getting killed and shot.
Look at the girl who recently got killed in Hempstead, New York. 12-year-old girl, y’know? And you would think that the community would be up in arms with pure outrage, damn near urging someone to come forward, right? They offered a reward for people to come forward in an attempt to get information on that girl’s murder, but she got shot by a stray bullet, and no one is really coming forward. How crazy is that?!
OKP: Is an unsolved murder now a business strategy in rap or hip-hop? Can death be used to boost an artist’s notoriety purely to drive album sales for the record company?
DP: Not in all cases, but I think it used to be like that. I’m not going to go on record and say that it is something that should be done, but when Biggie and ‘Pac were killed, a lot of people bought their albums. They were two of the biggest artists in the game and weren’t even alive to reap the successes they earned. With Jam Master Jay, that case was personal for me, since I worked on it a lot of hours and for it not to be solved was just upsetting.
What I’m trying to say to you is I don’t think that the motive behind these deaths is that. I think that when an artist is murdered it is tragic that they are gone, worst even that nobody even comes forward to help solve why it happened in the first place. They were just out with so-and-so and these guys, hanging out, and a lot of these artists were wholly feeding other people’s families. So, when this guy gets killed and you don’t know anything, heck, you don’t even utter a word, it’s kind of sad.
OKP: Why do you believe that people like Suge Knight or Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs are generally perceived as likely suspects?
DP: I’m more than pretty sure that during these investigations into the cases, these names came up with certain people that were involved. Who knows what these police departments have, y’know? Who knows what information these police have against these individuals? I won’t mention any names, but I’m sure that those that were put out were put out there because they might know something or have some information. They might even be involved to some extent.
In some cases, the information is public, but there are some articles where others have their theories. Then the newspaper articles print out these theories and affect popular opinion.
OKP: What do you think is necessary to break or reverse this trend?
DP: Honestly, it has to be somebody big in the industry that breaks and just let’s it all hang out. I think Funkmaster Flex did it before. He’s said it on the radio about how it is nonsense to just keep something like that to yourself about someone the world loved. We have to understand what’s going on out here in our communities, y’know? If someone gets murdered that is a friend or family member of yours, you should say something about it. You need somebody of Flex’s stature, of Jay Z’s stature, on that level coming out and saying, “Hey, listen up people, it’s OK to talk and give this murderer up. He’s no good anyway!”
This person killed your brother, your sister, your cousin, your friend, y’know? When are we going to stop letting people get away with this? It is also the community’s responsibility to police itself where they feel the police are unable to do so, so if the people aren’t wanting to get involved then that’s what it really boils down to.
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