By early 1997, Christopher Wallace, better known Biggie Smalls or The Notorious B.I.G., was seeking to squash the East Coast-West Coast rap feud that many felt had fueled the September 1996 murder of his friend-turned-rival Tupac Shakur.
Now the father of a young son, and recently removed from a car accident that had left him using a cane to walk, Wallace was determined to see his dreams through as he finished up his sophomore album for Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment, Life After Death. He traveled to L.A. to shoot the video for its lead single, "Hypnotize," in February 1997, and stuck around for the Soul Train Music Awards, sitting for interviews in which he expressed sadness at Shakur's death.
Despite his efforts at peacemaking, the L.A. music crowd gave the Bad Boy contingent a cool reception when they appeared on stage at the March 7 awards show, with Wallace stepping forward to booing when he announced Toni Braxton as the winner of best R&B/soul single.
Wallace made a last-minute decision to leave the safety of his hotel
With an originally planned trip to Europe canceled, Wallace found himself with little to do at the Westwood Marquis hotel on March 8. According to Vibe, he spent much of the day with his agent, Phil Casey, discussing plans for an upcoming tour.
Itching to get out, the rapper convinced his boys to head to an industry party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in the Miracle Mile district, co-sponsored by Quincy Jones' Vibe magazine. As Combs later recounted, attending a Jones party on the outskirts of Beverly Hills seemed a safe enough move.
And for a while, it was. Although several known gang members had managed to infiltrate the guest list, the overall vibe was said to be a happy one. Wallace drank Dom Perignon with his crew and soaked in the adulation alongside fellow artists like Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, the speakers pounding out "Hypnotize" every 10 minutes or so. "I was throwin' paper at him, tellin' him how much I liked his record," recalled then-Def Jam CEO Russell Simmons. "I told him I wanted to be like him. He was so cool, so funny and calm."
However, the venue soon became a little too cramped and at around 12:30 am, the fire department shut down the festivities.
The rapper was ambushed at a red light
Wallace and Combs trickled out with the rest of the partygoers, pausing to pose for pictures before cranking up a car stereo to blast some tracks from Life After Death.
Deciding to head back to their hotel, Combs jumped into the first of three cars with several bodyguards. Wallace settled into the front passenger seat of the second, a Green GMC Suburban, next to his driver, Gregory "G-Money" Young, with two more friends in the back.
Combs' lead SUV promptly blew through a yellow light, leaving Wallace's group idling at the intersection of Wilshire Blvd and Fairfax Ave. Suddenly, a white Toyota Land Cruiser made a U-turn and tried to squeeze in the space behind the Green Suburban.
At that moment, a dark Chevy Impala pulled up next to Wallace. The driver, an African American man in a blue suit and a bowtie, made eye contact with the rapper, before reaching over and emptying his automatic pistol at the car.
Amid the commotion – the shots were fired mere yards from the crowd outside the museum – the shooter sped off on Wilshire. Meanwhile, Combs abandoned his SUV and raced across the street to the Green Suburban, where he found his friend hunched over, his tongue out, and bleeding on the dashboard.
He died shortly afterward despite near-immediate medical attention
A driver floored it to the nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where six people managed to lift the almost 400-pound rapper onto a gurney and send him in for emergency surgery. But despite the quick medical attention, the four bullets had already done their fatal damage, and 24-year-old Wallace was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m.
At a time when his family, friends and associates expected to be celebrating another milestone, they instead found themselves processing his stunning loss. One week after Wallace's March 18 funeral, Life After Death debuted to great acclaim, en route to a spot among the top-selling rap albums in history.
Wallace's murder sparked a controversial investigation and a wrongful death suit filed by his mother against the city, but, as with Shakur's, it remains unsolved, a sad reminder of the artist's noble but unsuccessful attempt to end the violence before it made him a victim.