Bad Rap: Music's World of Real-Life Violence — Tupac, Diddy, Notorious B.I.G and More

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Jul. 21 2023, Published 9:00 a.m. ET

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Tupac Shakur

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Tupac grew up in poverty in Harlem and Baltimore. His mother, an ex-Black Panther, struggled to make a living and eventually became addicted to crack. They were occasionally homeless. But his talents as a singer, songwriter and actor quickly made him a millionaire. He even starred as Janet Jackson’s love interest in the movie Poetic Justice. Tupac was never able to leave the streets behind. In 1993, he was involved in the shooting of two off-duty police officers in Atlanta. In 1994, he narrowly escaped death after being robbed, beaten and shot five times outside a New York recording studio. The next year, he was jailed for sexually assaulting a fan. Two years later, Tupac, then 25, was a passenger in a friend’s BMW in Las Vegas when two gunmen stopped their white Cadillac beside him and fired as he desperately tried to duck for cover. He was hit four times and died a week later.

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Sean 'Diddy' Combs

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Sean "Diddy" Combs had become a multimillionaire rap producer and star — as well as one of the most powerful men in the business — by the time he’d reached his early 20s. Famous for throwing lavish parties attended by many of Hollywood’s top stars, Combs, now 53, is often seen in expensive clothes, riding in expensive cars. But it took time to outgrow his violent past: His dad was murdered when Combs was 3. In early 1999, Combs was accused of punching out a record exec over an argument involving a scene in a music video. He eventually pleaded guilty to harassment and was ordered to take an anger-management course. Months later, he was arraigned on weapons charges in New York after a woman was shot in the face and two men were wounded at a nightclub near Times Square, allegedly by Combs’ friend and 21-year-old protégé Jamal Barrow. After the shots were fired, Combs led police on a high-speed chase through the city’s streets. His car went through more than 10 red lights before being stopped. Cops found a gun in the car, which Combs swore wasn’t his. His then girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez — who was at the club and in the back seat of the car with Combs — was questioned by police and then released. Combs was eventually acquitted and changed his nickname from “Puffy” to “P. Diddy,” reportedly in hopes of moving on. In the end, Barrow was charged with attempted murder and served almost nine years for assault, gun possession and reckless endangerment.


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Tupac Shakur

In 2001, Eminem was sentenced to two years of probation in Mount Clemens, Mich., after pleading guilty to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon.

The rapper also admitted he almost died in 2007 after suffering an overdose.

“Drugs became a part of the way I was living my life once I got signed,” he wrote. “When I first came out to L.A., me and some guys I was hanging out with used to go to Tijuana and we would buy drugs. Vicodin and that kinda s---. I don’t know how many times we did it, but it was so easy to go back and forth to do it."

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Snoop Dogg

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Snoop Dogg, who was born Calvin Broadus, has spent years in and out of prison for dealing cocaine. In 1993, when he was only 22, he hit the big time with his debut album, Doggystyle, which sold more than 5 million copies. But that same year, his bodyguard, McKinley Lee, shot and killed a rival gang member from a car driven by Snoop. The two alleged that the dead man had threatened them with a gun, but both Snoop and Lee were arrested and charged with murder. The case ended in 1996; both men were acquitted. Since then, Snoop, now 51, has had several more run-ins with the law, with charges of firearm possession, felony drug possession and trespassing.

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Notorious B.I.G.

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Notorious B.I.G., a talented 6-foot-2, 390-pound rapper admitted he dropped out of high school to “rob, steal and sell crack cocaine.” But after ending up in jail, Biggie Smalls — who was born Christopher Wallace — decided to turn his life around by writing and singing rap.

Prophetically, B.I.G.’s first album was called Ready to Die, and it went platinum in 1995 as he won Rap Artist of the Year at the Billboard Music Awards. Despite his success, he was still caught up in disputes with gang members, according to his friends. One night, as he was being driven from a music industry party, he was shot to death. B.I.G. was only 24.


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