Nick Broomfield has been no stranger to controversy in relation to his documentaries. He was game enough to expose Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and even braver when he began listening to those who reckoned Kurt Cobain was murdered rather than committed suicide. No wonder Nick’s name is not popular in the company of Courtney Love.
Biggie and Tupac, Nick’s latest documentary also looks into a conspiracy, but this to some, is more clear-cut. The US rap movement was shaken to its core by the drive-by shootings of high-rolling Rap artists Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls, the notorious B.I.G), within six months of each other in the late 90’s. Originally friends, Tupac and Biggie were said to have fallen out in a bitter East Coast/West Coast rivalry that may have led not just to acrimony, but also to a fatal spray of bullets in one direction followed by an equally fatal bout of retaliation six months later.
Many though think this is too obvious an explanation. Among them Voletta Wallace, Biggie’s mother, and a former LAPD detective Russell Poole working in Internal Affairs, who fell out with his bosses when he discovered potential Police involvement in Biggie’s murder but found his investigations hampered by his own Officers. The NYPD and the LAPD had both been accused of carrying out shoddy investigation work in relation to the murders. If Poole’s allegations are correct and there was Police involvement, no wonder only half-hearted attempts were made to find the killers.
How did Nick come to be involved on the project ? “Reading about the death of Biggie Smalls in an LA Newspaper I came across this story about Russell having resigned from the LAPD, and thought this is incredible. I’d also been interested in doing something on the Rampart case so this seemed like a way of doing something on that at the same time.”
The Rampart case for those unfamiliar with it, involved a former LA Police Officer David Mack, now serving time himself, who was a part of a group within the LAPD who took on gangs in Los Angeles and became known as the Rampart Division. The project turned into a major embarrassment for the LAPD when several officers had to admit that they had made false arrests and planted evidence.
Nick had only a limited knowledge of hip-hop before entering this world and was worried he’d stand out too easily. “At the beginning I thought it was going to be a real problem being white. I had heard Tupac’s music through my son but initially thought what’s the fuss about, why are these people being so aggressive? It was something I had a real problem relating to, and so for me the film was a voyage of discovery, learning a lot of things about hip-hop and understanding it a whole lot better.”
Also implicated in the murders is the frightening figure of Suge Knight, the Death Row records label boss that Tupac was contracted to. It was said that Suge was not impressed with Tupac’s desire to leave the record label and the small matter of millions unpaid in Royalties. It’s alleged that Tupac paid for that desired move with his life. Biggie was then killed to make both look like a bitter escalation of mutual rivalry, and the FBI turned a blind eye, unhappy anyway about rap music’s anti-establishment stance and the popularity of rap ‘classics’ like “F*** the Police”.
Nick decided to meet Suge in prison, but it was an interview too far for Nick’s cameraman who walked away presumably for fear of reprisals from Suge’s followers.
“It was such a big interview,’ admits Nick, ‘and afterwards I was thinking should I have asked him point blank about the murders. I think if I had though, he would have just said “Drop dead!” or walked off so at least the way we did it, we got the essence of the man and its only later when you watch it with an audience that you get to see how truly horrifying it really was. Suge has such great presence. You end up just looking at him and aren’t really listening to what he’s saying.”
Biggie & Tupac opens in the UK first and reaches California later in the year. Also likely to cause a stir is the lawsuit that Biggie’s mother Voletta has filed against the LAPD. It’s pleasing to see the positive aspects of a documentary figuring so prominently.
"I think that audiences see that if a documentary is a good one,’ says Nick, ‘there is nothing more fascinating and entertaining.” Certainly fascinating, is the meeting of Biggie’s mother and Russell Poole for the first time, brought about through the making of the film ; a meeting of minds, intent on getting to the truth behind murders the authorities and some of those in the rap world would rather just see a veil drawn over.
Biggie & Tupac is release on 24th May 2002