Out of all the ridiculous hip hop conspiracies out there, the one about Suge Knight having Tupac killed because he was planning on leaving Death Row is the most absurd.
People who spout that nonsense act like Pac didn’t jump a known gangbanger a few hours before he got shot in a drive-by. Never mind the question: if you wanted someone killed, would you plan it so that the shooter was firing directly into your car with ricochets hitting your head?
But like most conspiracy theories, there’s always a grain of truth in there somewhere. Pac was indeed planning on leaving Death Row Records. When he was released from Clinton Correctional Facility on October 12, 1995, he had one goal in mind: record as many songs as possible. On his first day out, he finished “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” and “I Ain’t Mad at Cha.”
Pac’s next album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, was finished in seven days. The lyrics were actually written and recorded in three days, it was mixing and mastering the album that took the additional four.
You can look Pac’s incredible work ethic and frantic recording speed was the rapper making up for lost time, or that he sense that death was around the corner, like so many of his songs predicted. But there’s another way of looking at it: Pac’s Death Row contract stipulated three albums and he was trying to put them out as quickly as possible to get off the label.
Two weeks before he was shot and killed in Vegas, Pac did an interview with Vibe. “I don’t give a fuck if I don’t get along with anybody else on the label,” he told Rob Marriott. “This is for Death Row. When it comes to the point when I feel it can stand on its own, I will move on. But me and Suge will always do business together, forever.”
What’s interesting about Pac’s interview is that in the same breath that he pledged absolute loyalty to Suge Knight and Death Row Records, he also strongly implied that he was planning to eventually leave the label.
“He had loyalty to Death Row. He didn’t sign just for financial reasons because, at that point any label would have picked him up,” Wendy Day explained. She had a strong working relationship with Pac and he was the first board advisor for her non-profit organisation, Rap Coalition.
“Part of the reason that he chose Death Row was because he felt like the East Coast was against him,” Day said. “He believed that all of the powerful music influences—from Andre Harrell to Puffy—were a cabal. Remember, when Pac was incarcerated—and I believe this was a Suge Knight chess move—[Knight] got onstage and dissed Puffy. I believe he did that because it was the perfect way to instill in a new artist your intention to ride for them.”
In a 1997 New Yorker article, Charles Ogletree, Jr., an attorney who represented Pac in a number of cases during his later years, revealed that the rapper was making moves to set up his future beyond Death Row, such as setting up his production company, Euphanasia, in February 1996.
“He had Euphanasia,” Ogletree explained. “He had the Outlawz, he had his movie deals—he was building something that was all to be part of one entity. He had a strategy—the idea was to maintain a friendly relationship with Suge but to separate his business.”
Shortly before he died, Pac also fired David Kenner, a Death Row lawyer who was played an integral role in the label’s beginnings. “He had been on the set all day, and in the studio all night,” said Yaasmyn Fula, an old friend of Pac who he hired to run Euphanasia. “He sent us to the studio to get cassettes of what he’d done the night before—he wanted to listen to it. They said no, that Kenner wouldn’t allow it. Pac went crazy! He fired Kenner. I typed the letter . and he gave me permission to hire another lawyer.”
Wendy Day: I did notice that in the summer right before he died, he had stopped wearing the Death Row chain. He started wearing an angel pendant. That was when I reached out to him to make sure everything was OK. He’s like, “I’m going to be leaving Death Row. I want to start shopping a deal for my company. Since I helped the East Coast and the West Coast go to war, my first project I want to put out is called One Nation.” And that’s what I was working on when he was shot.The Devil’s Bargain: The Inside Story of Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight | Los Angeles Magazine