Straight Outta Uniform

Randall Sullivan speculates on who killed two of hip-hop's brightest stars.

What do the murders of Marin City’s Tupac Shakur and Brooklyn’s Biggie Smalls have to do with the Los Angeles Police Department? A lot, says Rolling Stone magazine’s Randall Sullivan, whose book LAbyrinth (Atlantic Monthly, $25) exposes the mixed loyalties of cops who cast their lot with Death Row Records, Suge Knight, and the Bloods, and in so doing played a lethal part in the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop rivalry. Knowing a scandal when he sees one, Sullivan names names and sets scenes piled high with drugs, guns, cash, fab cars, and corpses.

“I’ve been surprised by how sympathetic to the book’s point of view much of the hip-hop media — radio programs, Web sites, magazines, etc. — have been,” he tells the Express. “I think a lot of young black people have transcended the simplistic formulas of their elders.”

But “more disturbing by far,” he says, “is how the LA media has dealt with the book.” Rave reviews in the national press notwithstanding, “the Los Angeles Times has chosen to virtually ignore it.” This choice by the Times was itself the subject of an article that ran on the front page of the Washington Post‘s Style section.

“The Times also chose to ignore the lawsuit filed by Biggie’s mother, Violetta Wallace,” sparked by the Rolling Stone article on which the book is based, despite the fact that the lawsuit “was front-page news in papers across the country. The LAPD is zipped up tight, especially after Ms. Wallace filed her lawsuit,” Sullivan says, “which could turn out to be the largest wrongful-death claim in US history.

“Plenty of individual officers have applauded the book, and several senior officers have agreed with its analysis” of the scandal. “Where we go from here, I’m not quite sure, but I’m expecting further developments before the end of summer.”

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