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Who killed Tupac? Latest developments in cold case explored in new ‘Impact x Nightline’

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(LAS VEGAS) — Police searched a Las Vegas-area home in July in the long-dormant murder case of Tupac Shakur, the celebrated hip-hop artist who was shot and killed at the age of 25 in September 1996.

That home belonged to Duane Keith Davis, aka Keffe D, a man who claims to be one of two living witnesses to the Vegas shooting that killed the rapper, according to a search warrant released by police.

Magazine articles, computers, hard drives and photos, along with a copy of Davis’ book, “Compton Street Legend,” were among items seized by investigators.

When asked about the case, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said, “We will have no further comment at this time.”

The recent developments in the case are explored alongside an in-depth look at Shakur’s life in a new episode of “Impact x Nightline,” streaming Thursday on Hulu.

For more than 25 years, the unsolved murder has cast a shadow over hip-hop, as Tupac’s death was just the beginning of a pattern that would become endemic in the industry.

“They should have been solved this case. They should have been solved the case of the Notorious B.I.G.,” said Danyel Smith, former music editor of Vibe Magazine and longtime friend of Tupac. “People think if you’re Black and you’re a rapper and you die, ‘Oh, well. That’s what you get.’”

According to Phil Ramos, a retired detective with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department who worked the case in its early days and observed Tupac’s autopsy, “The gang mentality, the code of the streets — was absolutely the reason why we couldn’t get any further than we did because nobody would talk to us.”

Many have long believed the gunman was killed in a separate shooting just two years after Tupac’s killing. But justice has been elusive, as the lore around the legendary rapper continues to grow.

At the time of his death, Shakur was at the height of his fame.

“It just felt like this is a superstar who is somehow about to take a megastar turn…That’s very rare,” said Justin Tinsley, a senior cultural writer for Andscape.

Even in death, Shakur has become a part of pop culture — from his image adorning T-shirts, to his life becoming the subject of films and his continued imprint on hip-hop.

“I think hip-hop doesn’t grow without Tupac,” said Bay Area rapper Symba.

Shakur’s journey to fame started humbly. He was born as Lesane Parish Crooks in New York City in 1971. His mother Afeni was a Black Panther and instilled a sense of activism in her son. In an interview conducted while a teenager, Shakur said, “My mother taught me…respect, knowledge. Search for knowledge is an eternal, eternal journey.”

The family endured poverty and homelessness, but Shakur found a love of the arts starting as a child.

“He was a brilliant poet,” said Leila Steinberg, Tupac’s first manager, who knew him when he was a teen.

In 1991, Tupac released his debut album, “2Pacalypse Now.” As he was putting together the album, the brutal beating of 25-year-old Rodney King was caught on camera and sent shockwaves through America. Tupac took that anger and frustration and infused it into his lyrics with songs like “Trapped.”

“He was Black Lives Matter before there was a hashtag. All he wanted was to know that Black people equally matter,” Steinberg said.

Tupac wasn’t only breaking through on the charts, but also on the silver screen. His acting chops were on full display in roles like the magnetic antagonist Bishop in “Juice.”

“I always thought that Tupac would have been one of the greatest actors ever if he had lived and fulfilled his true potential,” said Kevin Powell, a poet and biographer of Tupac Shakur. “He could have been…Robert De Niro. He could have been Pacino.”

But his career wasn’t without controversy. Shakur and his road manager were convicted in 1994 of sexual abuse after a woman claimed Shakur raped her. Shakur always maintained the sex was consensual.

While serving time in prison, Shakur signed a record contract with Death Row Records, an independent record label co-founded by rap icon Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. The label was synonymous with West Coast rap, thanks to the fearsome force of Knight.

Nanci Fletcher, a former vocalist for Death Row Records, said of that time: “It was tense…People start feeling arrogant and just thinking they can do anything.”

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Bad Boy Records CEO Sean Combs, then Puff Daddy, and rapper Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G., had hits like “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.”

The West Coast and East Coast were pitted against each other in a pressure cooker, all while Tupac’s star power was rising.

“The Biggie and Tupac fallin’ out was in full swing. That was more of a question between, you know, young America more than Bill Clinton or Bob Dole. Like, whose side are you on, Tupac or Biggie?” Tinsley said.

The sides released songs adding to the bad blood — Biggie with “Who Shot Ya” and Tupac with “Hit ‘Em Up.”

“In retrospect when I look back on it, at the end of the day, it was people of color being pitted against people of color…Classic divide and conquer,” Powell said. “And in some ways, Pac got caught up in that…Who benefits from that? That’s the questions [sic] we have to ask.”

Both Tupac and Biggie would be murdered within six months of each other. Their cases remain unsolved.

Chris Carroll, a former bike sergeant for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, says he was one of the first to arrive on scene the night Tupac was shot on Sept. 7, 1996.

He encountered the injured Tupac. “I look down at him, I go, ‘Who shot you? Who did this?’ And he looked right in my eyes, and he went, ‘F*** you,"” Carroll said.

For those who knew Tupac, the pain of his loss and what could have been are still palpable.

“He is a human being who was shot by real bullets from a real gun. And we’re supposed to sit up and play guessing games with you?” Smith said. “Call me when it’s solved.”

The “Impact” season two premiere features additional interviews with Cathy Scott, who followed the legendary artist’s case from the very beginning, rare archival interviews with Afeni Shakur and Suge Knight, and an interview with a teenage Tupac. It begins streaming Sept. 21 on Hulu.

ABC News’ Josh Margolin, Alex Stone, Gabriel Rivera and Davi Merchan contributed to this report.

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