Suge Knight’s black ‘96 BMW 750iL was nothing more than a luxury vehicle before the night of September 7, 1996. When the clock struck the hour of 11:15 p.m., the beautiful piece of man-made machinery was impaled by 14 scorching bullets from a late-model Cadillac. Four bullets traveled through the car and pierced the chest, arm and thigh of Tupac Shakur.
Imagine his blood pouring through the wounds, staining the passenger seat in crimson red. Imagine the screams of pain as his life began to flash before his eyes. Tupac may have died in the hospital six days later, but his murder took place in the BMW; the car is no longer a luxury vehicle, but a reminder of death on wheels.
Biggie Smalls sat in the passenger seat of a GMC Suburban believing he would be returning to his hotel room momentarily. He sat comfortably in the SUV, envisioning March 9 as just another night. Sadly, it would be the last night of his life, he didn’t foresee the Chevrolet Impala SS sending five bullets into the Suburban’s passenger side. Four of the bullets went on to strike his forearm, back, thigh and hip. From relaxing to facing death, from thoughts of home to meeting his maker, the vehicle is no longer a comfortable SUV but a reminder of a murder.
The fatal drive-by that took the life of Biggie happened just six months after Tupac’s murder―both rappers shot four times, both rappers assassinated in cars.
To leave behind a legacy of art that continues living beyond your dying breath is the highest honor an artist can achieve, but we don’t hear the voices of ghosts. This is the dark side of having a presence in the present without being here in the flesh, the artist risks becoming more merchandise than man. Immortality isn’t meant to be exploited, but time and time again the dead are resurrected for profit.
It’s been reported Suge’s BMW is currently being auctioned away on Moments In Time for $1.5 million. The car has been restored back to its former glory and has had multiple owners throughout the years, but this is the first time it’s being billed as “Tupac’s Car―An Extraordinary Relic.” This is selling one of the most gruesome items in Pac’s legacy, a way of acquiring money for a dated item through his name, life, and death.
By some strange twist of fate, the GMC Suburban that Biggie was shot in has also been uploaded to Moments In Time for the same exact dollar amount. The current owners bought the vehicle in October of ‘97, they were simply in search of a bigger form of transportation for their family. The family claims they didn’t know the vehicle’s history until an L.A. detective reached out to them in 2005, explaining that the car was needed for trial. Knowing the SUV’s history, they kept the car, but have now decided it’s the perfect time to sell after 20 years of ownership. The owners are asking for a little over a million but also requested that the LAPD return the bullet-ridden doors that were removed while the case wasn’t cold. I don’t fault them for buying a vehicle and being unaware of the history, but I’m sickened by their desire to exploit Biggie’s murder for money. Not only are they selling the car, but to sweeten the deal, they are offering the actual doors that the bullets went through before eating at his flesh like murderous ticks. Such an eerie object. Selling authenticity without considering that those bullet holes are from an assassination.
Is there no shame? No human decency? No respect for the dead?
Blood—real blood—was spilled in these cars. Two men were gunned down, their lives taken, but now their names are simply used to sell a product that isn’t worth the price tag. What is the value of these dated vehicles if you remove the names Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls? Sadly, everything they touched while alive has worth now that they are dead. There should be a museum for these extraordinary relics, yet instead, everything is sold to the highest bidder. Their lives and legacies are to be sold, not cherished and treasured.
Look at how their old, unreleased music is still being packaged and sold to the public 20 years after being taken from this Earth. Is it not strange for Faith Evans to have a collaboration album with Biggie in 2016, especially one that packs in 25 tracks? To sell it as a collaboration with a soul who isn’t here to collaborate? How thin is the line between homage and manipulation?
Can we champion the dead without turning them into marketing schemes and profitable puppets? It starts with posthumous albums and then it becomes holograms performing at festivals. I still cringe thinking back to seeing Tupac on stage, no longer with us, but rapping along to the Coachella crowd. I watched disgusted as Michael Jackson moonwalked across the stage at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards while his body was still resting below the earth. I understand fans want a second chance to witness their greatness, especially the many of us who couldn’t fully appreciate them until after their passing, but holograms seem like a cheap, tacky experience compared to the real thing. Holograms are just another form of controlling the artist’s legacy—exploitation of our beloved legends.
Celebrity culture has already created an exaggerated admiration for the famous, but it’s amplified when it comes to those who are no longer with us. It’s bad enough that you lose your life, but imagine watching from above or below as your art is used in ways you never wanted or imagined.
Someone is going to pay top dollar for both the BMW and the SUV. Someone is going to sit in the seat that Tupac sat in, and someone is going to recline where Biggie’s body once rested, and they won’t see it as strange or twisted. The items have been sensationalized, our immortals have become trophies, and it’ll continue to happen in a world infatuated with the famous―alive and dead.
What’s happening to Biggie and Tupac isn’t new, I’m certain there are deceased rock stars and blues artists and country singers who turn over every time an item of theirs is sold for top dollars. Prince will soon be greeted by a similar fate, beginning his transition from myth to dead man oversold to the public.
Art should be able to live beyond our time, especially when art has the power of influence that can impact the future. But the artist should be respected in death, able to rest in peace without becoming a commercialized object of affection. Admiration isn’t evil, but it can affect how our eyes perceive men and women. I see the importance of having a will to protect your estate, but a will doesn’t stop the next owner of the car you died in from trying to become a millionaire off of your name.
The sad truth is, artists are worth more dead than alive because of what they become. More than just an artist, but a relic without the protection of a museum; a memento people want as a souvenir. Death will immortalize an artist, but in death, they lose control of their art, their name, and their likeness.