“Why did it take so long?”

That was the question from two Detroit rappers when news broke of an arrest in the murder of rapper Tupac Shakur. It has been 27 years, but local rappers alive then remember the shooting like it was yesterday.

“I didn’t think they were going to say Tupac died,” Shabazz Ford, better known by his stage name Fatt Father, said. “I was mind blown. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it for years.”

Duane “Keffe D” Davis was arrested and charged with the murder of Shakur in September, a breakthrough in what is perhaps hip-hop’s most storied cold case. 

Fatt Father said what made Tupac different was the themes he rapped about.

“You could hear it in his delivery, but you can feel it when you recited his rhymes,” Fatt Father said. “He was consistently contradictory — he was human.”

Fatt Father, 43, is part of the group Fat Killahz and half of the duo Twin Towers. He said he creates music based on the obstacles he’s facing in life. All five of his studio albums depict Fatt Father’s experience as a father of two kids. 

Violence is still part of rap culture, including in the Detroit area. Michigan rappers Armani Kelly, Montoya Givens and Dante Wicker were found dead in a Highland Park apartment complex in January — police say their deaths were “gang-related.” Detroit rapper Schoolcraft Bone Consistent was killed in a hair and nail salon in Redford Township. Local rappers Dominique Brown and Ramell Campbell were killed in 2017.

Fatt Father said successful rappers often lead with violence because they think they have something to prove.

“A wise man once said, ‘When your image becomes bigger than your reality, then you become an imposter,” Fatt Father said. “If you’re putting out that type of (violent) energy, somebody’s going to test it. That’s going to put you in a position to either kill or be killed.”  

Black woman with braids and glasses wearing a pink sweatshirt in front of a dark background. Her arms are crossed in front of her, and tattoos line her right forearm.
Detroit rapper Miz Korona was young when Tupac died, but she remembers the grief that went through her family and community. Credit: Photo credit: Abby Oladipo, courtesy of Miz Korona

Paula Smiley, known as Miz Korona, remembers more of the community reaction when Tupac was killed. The Detroit rapper is best known for her role in the 2002 film “8 Mile.”

Miz Korona, 45, said the violence against female rappers includes microaggressions, like the ones she faces while being masculine presenting and openly lesbian. 

Often after shows, male performers would yell insults at Miz Korona, saying they’d physically assault her if she tried to “steal” their girlfriends, she said.

“It’s a matter of us who have extreme talent who still get doors closed on us,” Miz Korona said. “In many instances … it’s just because of who we love and how we present ourselves, and it’s not cool.”

Davis’ arrest is only the first step in what could be a lengthy legal battle, but these rappers are hoping for answers soon. For now, Fatt Father and Miz Korona are listening to their favorite Tupac songs — “Lord Knows” (1995) and “Pain” (1994) — and waiting.

“I think that’s why some people hold onto the idea that he’s somewhere … hiding,” Miz Korona said. “Just because of how impactful he was for the culture.”

“He’s even bigger than rap,” Fatt Father said. “Tupac, man, he was a voice for my generation.”

SaMya (she/her) believes in empowering and encouraging minority voices through local journalism because journalism is a service to the community, not vice versa. She loves Campus Martius, especially during holiday time with the bright lights and snow.