Duane Davis, Tupac involved in group confrontation with 'brandished' gun six months before the shooting: Witness

A bitter, brewing hip-hop rivalry was already “escalating,” one witness said.

October 3, 2023, 10:40 PM

Six months before Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in September 1996 in Las Vegas, he and the man who would ultimately be charged with his murder came face-to-face in a rap-world showdown, according to newly released grand jury records.

Backstage at the Soul Train award show in March 1996, Duane Keith Davis, aka Keffe D and Shakur were involved in a group confrontation where a weapon was "brandished," according to Reggie Wright Jr., who testified before the Nevada grand jury that indicted Davis last week.

PHOTO: Duane "Keffe D" Davis in a booking photo provided by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Sept. 29, 2023.
Duane "Keffe D" Davis in a booking photo provided by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Sept. 29, 2023.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.

Until Thursday, the murder of Shakur had been one of the most infamous unsolved killings in modern American history. He was shot while sitting in the passenger seat of a BMW driven by rap mogul Suge Knight near the Vegas Strip.

Six months later, another top hip-hop star, Biggie Smalls, whose birth name was Christopher Wallace, was gunned down in Los Angeles, in what some have theorized as orchestrated revenge for Shakur's murder.

Despite much speculation that Shakur's fatal shooting had also been spurred by gang rivalry, until Davis' arrest, no charges had ever been filed – and there had been no concrete connection between the 25-year-old rapper and the man now charged in connection with his killing.

The Vegas case remained cold until this summer when police raided Davis' Vegas home, marking the first visible sign of action in the investigation in years. Davis is being held without bail in the Clark County Detention Center and is expected to be arraigned on Wednesday.

In the time leading up to Shakur's killing, Wright, a former law enforcement officer and the son of a one-time Compton Police gang unit lieutenant, worked security for Knight's Death Row Records. Shakur had become one of Death Row's top artists, joining the label in 1995.

In March 1996, music glitterati convened at the iconic Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for the prestigious Soul Train music awards.

Both Shakur and Biggie would go on to receive awards that night, and both brought entourage and security to the event, some of whom had gang affiliations, Wright said. Wright testified he was also later convicted of federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

Tensions flared backstage that night when the two crossed paths, both allegedly flanked by gang-affiliated entourages, Wright said.

A rivalry had already been "escalating" between East Coast and West Coast record labels and the gangs to which they had ties, fueled by bad blood, insults – perceived, real and even put to rap lyrics -- and inter-party violence, Wright said.

At the Soul Train Awards, Biggie and Shakur allegedly faced off in a "confrontation" with their crews, Wright testified. Shakur was accompanied by a group of members of the LA-based Bloods street gang, which Knight has long been associated with, Wright said. Wright said Biggie's security included members of the South Side Crips – among them, Davis.

As Shakur and his group "were going into the auditorium or exiting our vehicles to go into the auditorium," Biggie and his crew "were coming out," Wright testified.

"So I guess it was bad timing and then there [was] an argument that followed with a little gun play or a pointing," he said.

Wright testified in Vegas that Shakur was "the most vocal" in the argument, "and he started yelling towards" Biggie and his entourage.

Wright said he recognized some of Biggie's crew from his law enforcement days, and one in particular: Davis.

During the argument, one of Biggie's crew allegedly took a "gun out of his waist but he never raised the gun," Wright told the grand jury, describing how he was next to Shakur, and his security instincts took hold, so he raised his own gun.

"I pointed my gun towards the gentleman with the gun and begged him not to point that gun and raise the gun," he said. He testified he did not see Davis himself with a firearm during that event and that no shots were fired at the Soul Train Awards.

Ultimately in Vegas, it would be a brawl between members and affiliates of two rival Compton, Calif., gangs -- Mob Piru Bloods and the South Side Compton Crips -- just hours before a drive-by turned deadly with the "retaliatory shooting" that killed Shakur, police have said.

Though Davis may not have fired the gun on Shakur himself, his say-so would have authorized the trigger pull, authorities have said.

In fact, one South Side Crip affiliate, Devonta "Dirt Rock" Lee, testified that another member of Davis' South Side Crip faction, Deandre "Big Dre" Smith, had claimed to Lee that he was the one who pulled the trigger on Shakur.

After the Vegas strip brawl that September night, Smith, Davis and others were driving together, and according to police, Davis "devised a plan to obtain a firearm and retaliate against Suge Knight and Tupac" for the beatdown of their associate. Neither Smith, nor their associate Orlando Anderson, are alive any longer.

"They didn't have nothing like set in stone what they wanted to do but the whole idea was to catch 'em," Lee testified, referring to Shakur and Knight.

Smith said he was in the car with Davis, who had handed the gun over to others in the vehicle – but it was Smith who had a better angle on Shakur and was "better positioned to do it," according to Lee's testimony.

Davis is the only living suspect in the homicide, according to police.

"That's exactly what Dre told me, that he did the shooting," Lee said, adding Davis would have been "the one who's going to make all the arrangements and all the plans until that gun goes into somebody else[s] hand."