Six Lungs Gone Silent 

Clair riffs on Nick Broomfield's Biggie-Tupac rapumentary.

This past April Compton rapper Antron Singleton, aka Big Lurch, reportedly took PCP and turned into a would-be werewolf, tearing a woman apart and eating part of her lungs (as Warren Zevon says: "You better stay away from him/He'll rip your lungs out, Jim"). Los Angeles police officers arrested Singleton after spotting him running naked down a street in South Central, his mouth and face covered in blood. According to the county district attorney's office, the cops later found the body of his roommate, 21-year-old Tynisha Ysais, in the apartment they shared. Her chest had been ripped open and a knife was jammed into her shoulder. They pumped the stomach of Big Lurch and found her tissue inside.


Big Lurch had spent plenty of time in the East Bay, rapping with E-40 and being interviewed by Davey D on KMEL. But he was also the protégé of someone more infamous: the late East-Coast-to-East Bay transplant Tupac Shakur. Some people blame Lurch's freakout on Tupac's death, as witnessed by this posting on "What is wrong with today's rappers??? It's like after Pac an Biggie died they are all going crazy??? This is just sick an [Lurch] deserves the chair!!!"

It's probably an exaggeration to say that Tupac's death led to Big Lurch's freakout, but what's more interesting is that the deaths of both Biggie Smalls and Tupac were such a big deal in the hip-hop community. Come on, it's not as though Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X had just been shot. These were basically two nerdy guys who made millions adopting a thug persona.

The short 'n' sweet answer is that, with so few high-profile black role models out there, Biggie and Tupac were at least speaking the language of black teenagers. The phrase, "It's a black thing; you wouldn't understand," has never been truer, whitey.

Still, both cases share a sexy dose of conspiracy and mystery. Everyone, regardless of race, loves a mystery.

And so does documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield, whose latest film, Biggie & Tupac just ended its East Bay run. (It'll soon land, no doubt, in your local video store.) Broomfield is best known for the controversial Kurt & Courtney, which made a vain attempt to link Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain's death. It was a great film for Nirvana buffs who got to see footage of Cobain's aunt, his friends, and stuff that only real obsessives would care about -- and the footage of the Mentors' comely El Duce is classic. But holy shit, will someone please kill Broomfield so we can make a film about that? Whoopi Goldberg in the center square is less annoying. Picture a boring yet pushy Brit in headphones, carrying a gigantic boom mike and putting himself in every shot like Patti Labelle at the Live Aid finale, and you're on the right track.

This time around, Broomfield's thesis is that Suge Knight, jefe of Death Row Records and all-around Big Meanie, is the man behind both the killings, with the assistance of crooked LAPD cops thrown in for good measure. Unlike Kurt & Courtney, however, this film makes a good case. Broomfield gets people on camera, tearfully shaking in their boots, confessing to everything from delivering money from Suge for a hit on Biggie to admitting that The producer wanted Pac dead so that he could keep his records with Death Row. Broomfield sets the whole thing up like a sort of Roger & Me (what is it with documentarians & ampersands?), culminating in his cornering Suge in the exercise yard at Mule Creek State Prison, much the way Michael Moore attempted to pin down GM chairman Roger Smith at a shareholder meeting.

Will this film create much of a ripple in the black community? East Bay rapper Bas-One, whom Clair dragged to a recent showing, was skeptical: "Ain't nobody gonna listen to a white guy with a British accent," he says.

The man's got a point. One need only hear Broomfield say things like "Vaniller Ice" a few times before you want to reach into the screen and shove the boom mike up his British arse. But Broomfield did succeed on one point: If you believe the characters in his film, he has completely blown away a Los Angeles Times story claiming that the Crips killed Tupac, and that Biggie supplied the murder weapon. And, as in Kurt & Courtney, there are a few brief moments in the film that let you forget the filmmaker for a minute, and manage to hit you squarely between the eyes. In the Nirvana flick, it's the scene where we hear the tiny voice of Cobain singing into a tape recorder as a child. In this one, it's seeing the urn that holds Biggie's ashes on a desk in his mother's apartment. Each, in its own small way, hammers home the profound fact that these performers are gone forever.


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