A startling update on the still-unsolved murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G., focused on powerful figures’ attempts to obfuscate the investigation.
Former Rolling Stone contributing editor Sullivan (The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt, 2018, etc.) delivers a follow-up to his revealing LAbyrinth, noting about that book’s publication, “even in 2002, I was incredulous that arrests hadn’t been made.” In LAbyrinth, the author focused on detective Russell Poole’s thwarted investigation, which uncovered “a cadre of LAPD officers—‘gangsta cops’—who were working for Death Row Records and aiding the record label’s CEO, Suge Knight, in commission of crimes that ranged from drug dealing to homicide.” This mushroomed into the tumultuous Ramparts scandal, which threw the LAPD into chaos; Sullivan shows how this scandal was “mostly trumped up” by Rafael Perez, one of the officers Poole had identified. Meanwhile, the departmental resistance Poole faced led to his retirement and decline; upon his death in 2015, Sullivan notes, “There was a sense about him of someone forever attempting to keep hope alive.” The author otherwise focuses on the legal battle between the city and Voletta Wallace, the bereaved mother of Notorious B.I.G., whose lawsuit forms the spine of this narrative. Sullivan documents how the lawsuit’s tortuous and inconclusive path nevertheless revealed concealment of evidence and other official misconduct. Simultaneously, an FBI inquiry into the case was squelched, with one agent noting, “If LAPD is involved in the Biggie murder, and the Biggie murder is solved, LAPD is done. They’re over with. Financially, they cannot survive.” In a circuitous narrative that lacks some of the propulsive energy of LAbyrinth, Sullivan identifies many such strange manipulations of the investigative process. Though readers must navigate such baffling bureaucratic roadblocks and a dizzying cast of characters, the author convincingly continues to support Poole’s essential thesis: that a team of criminal cops planned the rapper’s assassination and then enjoyed political protection.
A mostly engaging and disheartening capstone to a narrative of murder and malfeasance that has crossed into cultural infamy.