Diddy? Or Diddy not? A feud written in blood

The shots that killed Tupac Shakur, hip hop's most revered performer, still reverberate through America's rap fraternity. And now, fresh allegations about the alleged conspiracy to kill him threaten to tarnish the image of the nation's most urbane and wealthy urban music mogul
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The Independent US

Even a cautious father might allow his daughter out on a date with P. Diddy nowadays. He is handsome, exorbitantly wealthy and accomplished. Hey dad, meet my multimillionaire clothes-line selling, fragrance-peddling, restaurant-owning, Broadway-acting, record-flogging mogul boyfriend.

Of course, there might be moments of hesitation. Diddy is not presently married – good – but has five children by various partners. Not so good. And then there is the name nonsense. Weren't you Puff Daddy once and what happened to plain old Sean John Combs? I'll call you that, much more respectable.

Respectable, in fact, is more or less what Combs has become. His wealth and celebrity, of course, all spring from his founding 15 years ago of Bad Boy Records, among several labels that harnessed the grit and creativity of American rap music. But while rap has for years been plagued with eruptions of violence, physical and lyrical, Combs has transcended it to become a shiny, mum-loves-him-too celebrity.

His transformation might indeed have seemed complete just this week, with rumours circulating that, after a stint acting on Broadway in Oprah Winfrey's production of A Raisin in the Sun, Combs is set to appear in a sequel to the soon-to-be-released Sex and The City feature film. The gangster image truly behind him, Diddy is ready for prime time with Carrie and Charlotte. It's sort of sweet, really.

But not so fast. There is no darker passage in the chronicles of hip hop than the warfare that broke out between east and west coast rappers more than a decade ago, after a violent assault on the late Tupac Shakur inside a New York recording studio in 1994. Shakur survived five bullet wounds and a beating that day, but two years later was gunned down on the streets of Las Vegas.

Shakur, still beloved by legions of fans, remains rap's most revered martyr, actually making more dollars in death than when he was alive. (His latest posthumous record was released to wide acclaim in 2006.)

If that first attack on Shakur in Manhattan's Quad Studios marked the beginning of the bi-coastal feud – which at its height also saw, six months after Shakur's murder, the shooting death of Notorious B.I.G., another huge star of hip hop and prodigy of Combs – no one could afford now to be linked to it. But that is precisely what an article published this week by The Los Angeles Times does to Diddy.

Written by Chuck Phillips, a reporter well known for chronicling the rivalries and animosities of rap culture, the website article claims that Combs and Notorious B.I.G. both knew in advance that Shakur was going to be hit in the studio. It alleges that one of those who masterminded it was Jimmy "Henchman" Rosemond, a former associate of Combs who today manages a series of successful artists including Gucci Mane and Game. Also involved, Phillips asserts, was a promoter, James Sabatino.

If memories about these unhappy events were starting to fade they have now been suddenly reawakened. Shakur was always a provocative figure who, through his music, deliberately attached himself to gangster life, spending several spells in prison himself for violent crimes. His mother was a radical black leader.

Before rising to stardom, he attended a Harlem drama school, played jazz and wrote poetry. But his recordings were always uncompromisingly confrontational, including albums such as "Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z" and "Thug Life".

Many of his other recordings, such as "All Eyez on Me", dwelt on serious subjects of social injustice and inequality. Recovering from the Quad Studio wounds, he said at the time that he believed Diddy was among those behind the attack.

Tensions in the months that followed rose quickly. In March 1996, a scuffle broke out between the two camps on stage during the annual Vibe magazine Soul Train Awards, bringing the show to a halt. Six months after that, Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas, then in 1997, Notorious B.I.G, real name Christopher Wallace and also known as Biggy Smalls, was shot in his car leaving that year's Soul Train show. Neither murder has been solved.

The Times article says the original assault on Shakur was arranged by Rosemond and Sabatino to "curry favour" with Combs, who had been unsuccessfully trying to lure the singer from the label he was contracted to, Interscope Records, and to sign up instead with his own, Bad Boy. The two men considered Shakur both "insolent" and disrespectful to Combs and his followers.

The day was 30 November 1994, and Shakur had been invited to the Quad Studios to lay down a vocal track for another performer from the Uptown label, Little Shawn. He had been promised $7,000 for the gig. He was set upon the instant he walked in by three assailants, robbed and beaten and shot. The fifth bullet, it was alleged at the time, was fired by himself, hitting him in the groin.

If Combs was aware of what was about to go down in the Quad Studios that day, neither he nor Wallace knew, at least according to Phillips, that the ambush would turn potentially lethal, with shots being fired. "They were advised in advance of what was going to happen," the journalist told an MTV interviewer in recent days. "They did not know the assailants were going to be shooting. In fact, they were told no shooting. But Tupac pulled a gun, and it went haywire. It was supposed to be a severe beating."

This caveat has done little to calm Combs' fury at the allegations in the story. "It is beyond ridiculous and completely false," he said in a statement. "Neither [BIG] nor I had any knowledge of any attack, before during or after it happened. I am shocked that The Los Angeles Times would be so irresponsible as to publish such a baseless and completely untrue story."

Indeed, that the kind of detail being offered by Phillips should emerge now, so many years later, might beg scepticism. His reporting is said to be based partly on FBI records showing a confidential informant telling the authorities back in 2002 that Rosemond and Sabatino "set up the rapper Tupac Shakur to get shot at Quad Studios" in New York.

The FBI records, the report adds, says that the "three assailants – reputedly friends of Rosemond – were lying in wait. They were on orders to beat Shakur but not kill him and to make the incident look like a robbery". Jailhouse informants are also anonymously quoted.

But Phillips, while well-known for his work on the rap wars, has got things wrong in the past. He once reported, for instance, that Notorious B.I.G was in Las Vegas when Tupac was murdered and that he supplied the gun that killed Tupac. Both assertions proved later to be incorrect.

In his own statement, Mr Rosemond slammed the Times article as a "libellous piece of garbage". He went on: "In the past 14 years, I have not even been questioned by law enforcement with regard to the assault of Tupac Shakur, let alone brought up on charges. I simply ask for all rap fans and fans of Tupac to analyse this fiction for what it is."

Combs, whose annual income from his various enterprises was recently put at $23m (£12m) by Forbes magazine, has weathered tough storms before. After a shooting incident at a New York bar he was patronising in 1999, he was brought up on charges and stood trial before finally being acquitted. (Not so lucky was Combs' friend and rapper Shyne, also there that night; he remains in prison.)

Shakur remains a worshipped figure, but Combs may yet be able to muster the charm and influence to swat away the LA Times piece and discredit its author. If he can, may be that Sex and the City role will still be on offer.

But for now, permission to go on a date with him is definitely denied.

Tupac's lyrics for 'Against All Odds'

"Puffy let's be honest you a punk/You gonna see me with gloves/Remember that shit you said to Vibe about me being a thug/Well you can tell the people you roll with whatever you want/But you and I know what's going on (Don't you)/Pay back/I knew you bitch niggas from way back"

"And did I mention?/ Promised a payback/Jimmy Henchmen/In due time/I knew you bitch niggas was listening/The world is mine (hey Nas)/Set me up, wet me up, niggas stuck me up (I'm back)"

"Puffy getting robbed like a bitch/To hide that fact/He did some shit he shouldn't have did so we ride em for that/And that nigga that was down for me/Rest his head/Switched sides/Guess his new friends wanted him dead/Probably be murdered for the shit that I said/I bring the real, be a legend, breathin' or dead"