Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 19, 2008
NEW YORK -- Cameras flashed as paramedics carried the victim into the glare of Times Square on a stretcher. Blood seeped through bandages from five gunshot wounds.
Tupac Shakur had been beaten, shot and left for dead at the Quad Recording Studios on New York's 7th Avenue. As he was borne to a waiting ambulance through a swarm of paparazzi on Nov. 30, 1994, the rap star thrust his middle finger into the air.
It was a portentous moment in hip-hop -- the start of a bicoastal war that would culminate years later in the killings of Shakur and rap's other leading star, Christopher Wallace, better known as the Notorious B.I.G.
The ambush at the Quad remains a source of fascination and frustration to music fans and law enforcement officials alike. No one has ever been charged in the attack.
Now, newly discovered information, including interviews with people who were at the studio that night, lends credence to Shakur's insistence that associates of rap impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs were behind the assault. Their alleged motives: to punish Shakur for disrespecting them and rejecting their business overtures and, not incidentally, to curry favor with Combs.
The information focuses on two New York hip-hop figures -- talent manager James "Jimmy Henchman" Rosemond and promoter James Sabatino, who is now in prison for unrelated crimes.
FBI records obtained recently by The Times say that a confidential informant told authorities in 2002 that Rosemond and Sabatino "set up the rapper Tupac Shakur to get shot at Quad Studios." The informant said Sabatino had told him that Shakur "had to be dealt with."
The records -- summaries of FBI interviews with the informant conducted in July and December 2002 -- provide details of how Shakur was lured to the studio and ambushed. Others with knowledge of the incident corroborated the informant's account in interviews with The Times and gave additional details.
According to this information, Rosemond and Sabatino, infuriated by what they saw as Shakur's insolent behavior, enticed him to the Quad by offering him $7,000 to provide a vocal track for a rap recording.
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, the sources said. They were told they could keep whatever jewelry or other valuables they could steal from Shakur and his entourage.
A member of Shakur's posse cooperated with the rapper's enemies, relaying their offer of a $7,000 payment and keeping them informed of his whereabouts on the night of the assault, according to the informant and the other sources.
Rosemond, who has served prison time for drug dealing and weapons offenses, has been described by Vibe magazine as "one of the most respected and feared players in hip-hop." His Czar Entertainment represents rappers Shyne, Too Short, Gucci Mane and the Game.
Rosemond has long denied any role in the Quad incident. He declined to be interviewed for this article, but his lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, dismissed the new information as "ancient double-hearsay allegations."
Lichtman noted that Rosemond had never been charged or questioned in connection with the attack -- a sign, Lichtman said, that federal authorities have "discounted" what the informant told them. Rosemond "was not involved in the assault and will not be prosecuted for it," Lichtman said.
Sabatino declined to comment.
Combs, whose business empire includes Bad Boy Records and clothing and fragrance lines, also declined to comment.
The FBI documents do not name the informant. The Times learned his identity and verified that he was at the Quad on the night of the assault. When contacted, the man said the FBI records accurately convey what happened, and what he told investigators. He and the other sources interviewed for this article discussed the events of Nov. 30, 1994, on condition that their names not be published.
Their accounts are consistent with Shakur's own. In interviews and on recordings, the rapper blamed Rosemond, Combs and their associates for the attack and promised to get even.
"Grab your Glocks when you see Tupac," he said in the 1996 song "Hit 'Em Up."
"Call the cops when you see Tupac
"Who shot me? But you punks didn't finish
"Now you're 'bout to feel the wrath of a menace!"
Roots Of An Ambush
The Quad ambush had its roots in events a year earlier, when Shakur returned to New York from California to film the movie "Above the Rim." The Brooklyn native, then 22, had two hit albums under his belt and was starting to taste success as an actor.
While in New York, he befriended Rosemond, the son of Haitian immigrants, who had run with street gangs and worked in the crack trade before gravitating to the hip-hop scene. He had a prominent scar on his forehead and cultivated an air of danger.
According to accounts given by the two men and others over the years, Rosemond, then 29, took Shakur under his wing, showing him around the city and introducing him to friends, including an ex-convict named Jacques "Haitian Jack" Agnant. Shakur and Agnant hit it off and were soon partying at clubs across Manhattan.
There was a serious side to the revelry. Rosemond was trying to establish himself as a talent manager -- he had formed a company called Henchman Productions -- and he and Agnant hoped to represent Shakur. They encouraged the rapper to sign a recording contract with Combs' fledgling Bad Boy label, which had recently received more than $2 million in capital from BMG's Arista division.
Shakur also became acquainted with Sabatino, a 19-year-old Italian American who co-promoted rap conventions with Rosemond. Sabatino had Brooklyn roots of a different kind that gave him cachet in the hip-hop world: His father was a captain in the Colombo crime family, according to federal authorities.
Like Rosemond and Agnant, Sabatino wanted to ride Combs' rising star, and he too leaned on Shakur to leave Interscope Records and sign with Bad Boy.
Shakur rejected these overtures. Members of Combs' circle saw this as an act of disrespect.
Shakur's behavior in New York grew increasingly provocative. He insulted music executives and gangsters alike. He brandished weapons in public. Even friends thought he was out of control.
In November 1993, Shakur, Agnant and two other men were arrested on charges of gang-raping a 19-year-old fan at the Parker Meridien Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Shakur posted bail and returned to Los Angeles.
A year later, he was back in New York to stand trial on the charges. By then, his former pals were laying plans to exact revenge, according to the FBI informant and the other sources.
Carefully Laid Plans
On Nov. 29, 1994, two dozen Bad Boy executives and associates gathered on the 10th floor of the Quad to record songs for a debut album by Junior M.A.F.I.A., a group formed by the Notorious B.I.G., Bad Boy's leading artist.
On hand were Combs, B.I.G., Rosemond, Agnant and Sabatino. Also present, among others, were rapper James "Lil' Cease" Lloyd and music executive Andre Harrell.
Rosemond had booked an adjacent studio to produce a recording by rapper Little Shawn, whose career he managed. This was the session at which Shakur was to be paid $7,000 for a guest vocal.
In fact, Rosemond never intended to record the session, according to the FBI informant and the other sources.
He had enlisted a trio of his friends from Brooklyn to ambush Shakur in the lobby of the Quad, the sources said.
Agnant and Sabatino helped plan the attack, working out the timing, arranging for the three assailants to be driven to the studio and mapping out their escape route, according to the informant and the other sources. Sabatino informed Combs and Wallace in advance that a trap had been laid for Shakur, the sources said.
Shakur's friend Randy "Stretch" Walker was in on the plan, the sources said. In the hours before the attack, Shakur and Rosemond argued several times over the phone about how much Shakur would be paid. After the dispute was settled, Walker notified Agnant when Shakur was en route, the sources said.
Around 11:30 p.m., Sabatino effectively locked down the 10th floor, quietly intercepting anyone who tried to leave, the FBI informant and the other sources said.
Fifteen minutes later, the lobby security guard was called away from his post, and the three assailants, dressed in army fatigues, moved into position. One sat in the guard's chair. The two others waited outside.
Just after midnight, Shakur walked in with Walker and his manager, Fred Moore. He buzzed the studio upstairs to let them know he was on his way. The assailant posing as a security guard flipped nonchalantly through a newspaper.
As the rapper and his crew walked toward the elevator, the two other assailants rushed in from outside and demanded that Shakur and the others turn over their jewelry. When Shakur refused, all three attackers began to pistol-whip him.
The rapper surprised them by drawing his own weapon. Gunfire erupted, and Shakur accidentally shot himself in the groin. The assailants shot Shakur four times. He sustained injuries to the head, hand and thigh -- serious but not life-threatening.
The men beat and kicked the rapper as he lay bleeding on the ground. Then, ripping a $40,000 gold medallion and chain from his neck, they escaped into the night.
Moore, who was also wounded, gave chase and collapsed in the street.
The FBI informant said the shots were audible in the 10th-floor studio. "Sabatino, Rosemond and Combs did not seem concerned about this," the informant told the FBI, though others in the studio "were very upset."
Shakur managed to limp into the elevator and push the button for the 10th floor. Walker rode up with him.
When the elevator doors opened, the rapper surveyed the assembled Bad Boy crowd.
In a 2005 interview with Vibe magazine, in which he denied any role in the attack, Rosemond described how the injured Shakur accused him of being in on the ambush.
Rosemond quoted the rapper as asking: "Why you let them know I'm coming here? You was the only [one] who knew, man. Why?"
In a bizarre twist, Shakur, bleeding badly, sat on a couch and rolled a joint, witnesses said. Then he phoned his girlfriend, who contacted his mother, former Black Panther Afeni Shakur. Harrell called 911. Paramedics showed up minutes later. Police began interviewing witnesses.
The FBI informant said Agnant told him that "anyone who thought the shooting was a robbery was crazy." He said Agnant "seemed mad that Shakur was still alive and kept calling" the hospital "to check on Shakur's status."
Efforts to reach Agnant for comment were unsuccessful.
Surgeons at Bellevue Hospital Center operated on Shakur for three hours. Later the same day, the rapper signed himself out of the hospital against doctors' advice.
The very next day -- Dec. 1, 1994 -- a heavily bandaged Shakur rolled into court in a wheelchair to hear the jury's verdict in the Parker Meridien case. He was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and later sentenced to 4½ years in prison. (Agnant had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and avoided prison.)
The three men identified by the sources as Shakur's assailants are all serving time in federal penitentiaries for unrelated crimes. The Times is withholding their names because they have not been charged.
In correspondence with The Times, one of the men said that Rosemond orchestrated the ambush. Another was cryptic. He wrote that the statute of limitations for the assault had expired, and he offered to produce, for an unspecified fee, the medallion stolen from Shakur.
The third inmate denied involvement in the attack.
'Bad Boy's Behind This'
The Quad ambush triggered a vicious, well-chronicled feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers and their record labels, New York-based Bad Boy and Death Row Records of Los Angeles.
At awards shows, in music videos and in song lyrics, the feuding camps laid down challenges that the stars' posses acted out with gunfire.
In April 1995, four months after the Quad attack, Vibe magazine published a prison interview with Shakur in which he said Combs and his associates were responsible.
Not long after, Bad Boy released a new song by the Notorious B.I.G., "Who Shot Ya?," which describes an ambush in which the victim is shot by three assailants. It closes with a taunt:
"You rewind this
"Bad Boy's behind this."
In June of that year, Death Row founder Marion "Suge" Knight began visiting Shakur in prison and wooing him to join his music label. Later that month, Knight mocked Combs onstage during a rap awards show in Manhattan.
In apparent retaliation, gunmen shot up a trailer outside a video shoot in New York in which Death Row rappers had been filmed stomping through a miniature model of Manhattan like Godzilla.
In August 1995, Knight's bodyguard was shot and killed at a club in Atlanta. Knight accused a Combs associate in the killing; no one was ever charged. Soon after, Shakur, still behind bars for his sexual-abuse conviction, signed a contract with Death Row. Knight posted a $1.4-million bond for the rapper, freeing him from prison while he appealed the verdict.
In November 1995 -- a year to the day after the Quad ambush -- Shakur's onetime companion, "Stretch" Walker, was shot dead in Queens, N.Y.
Early the following year, Death Row released Shakur's "All Eyez On Me," in which he ridiculed East Coast rappers. In a later release, "Hit 'Em Up," Shakur belittled Combs, bragged that he had sex with the Notorious B.I.G.'s wife and vowed retribution for the Quad assault.
On Sept. 7, 1996, Shakur was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. Six months later, the Notorious B.I.G. was shot dead in Los Angeles, also in a drive-by. No one has been charged in either slaying.
In the years after the mayhem at the Quad, Rosemond tried to dispel persistent rumors that he arranged the attack. He protested his innocence in Vibe magazine and appealed to Shakur, in vain, to cease his public accusations.
In 1996, Rosemond was convicted of drug and weapons offenses and sentenced to five years in prison. Released three years later, he reinvented himself as a talent manager. His turbulent past gave him street cred and helped attract a clientele of rappers to his Czar Entertainment. Two years ago, he was convicted of assaulting a radio disc jockey in Washington, D.C. He remains on probation for the offense.
Sabatino became a fixture in Combs' circle. He went on the road with B.I.G. and joined Combs on his 1997 "No Way Out" tour, helping him stage lavish private parties and land corporate sponsorships.
During the tour, Sabatino used fake credit cards to run up tens of thousands of dollars in charges for hotel suites, limousines and helicopters for the Bad Boy entourage. He was arrested in London and extradited to the U.S. He is serving an 11½-year prison term for wire fraud and racketeering.
In the years after the Quad, Combs transcended hip-hop to become an international celebrity and brand name. He has recorded Grammy-winning rap albums and acted in off-Broadway plays. He hosts a weekly MTV show, owns a restaurant in Atlanta and presides over the Sean John clothing line and the Unforgivable fragrance brand. Forbes magazine last year estimated his income at $23 million.
The New York police investigation into the Quad attack quickly hit a dead end. But federal prosecutors conducting a broad investigation of the rap business have continued to explore the incident and its role in the subsequent string of shootings and killings. Various music-industry figures have been called before a federal grand jury and questioned about what happened that night.
'Set Me Up'
Two months after Shakur was killed, Death Row Records released his album "The Don Killuminati." It entered the pop charts at No. 1 and sold 800,000 copies in its first week.
The CD cover depicts the rap star nailed to a cross like a martyred prophet. In the song "Against All Odds," Shakur, like a ghost from the grave, calls out those he held responsible for starting the violence:
"I take this war . . . deeply
"Done seen too many real players fall
"To let these [cowards] beat me
"Puffy, let's be honest, you a punk. . . .
"You can tell the people you roll with whatever you want
"But you and I know
"What's goin' on."
Shakur then mentions "a snitch named Haitian Jack" and promises "a payback" to "Jimmy Henchman in due time."
"Set me up, wet me up. . . . stuck me up," he sings.
"But you tricks never shut me up."