Today, Tupac Amaru Shakur would’ve been 40 years old. Isn’t that crazy? Or maybe I’m just 30 now and realize that remembering exactly where you were when your favorite rapper died means you’re too much for this world of Lil B and “Racks on Racks.” #kanyeshrug
One of my favorite writers (and adopted advisors) dream hampton has a habit, every year she publishes her iconic feature on Tupac from The Source in 1994. Hip-Hop journalism was the wild west then, you could actually write terms like “cuz” in place of “because” and people wouldn’t laugh at you. Writers inserted themselves into stories about subjects (Danyel Smith) and that was alright! You can’t get away with that now … What’s great about hampton’s style in this piece is she shows Tupac’s honest and violently shifting personality, and honestly it reminds me of Complex‘s EIC Noah Callahan-Bever’s feature on Kanye West for VIBE which depicted him as a screaming kid (at like 27 years old … ) and a musical genius with no fear. Love it. Read dream’s piece below and get a bit of history. Enjoy!
Tupac: Hellraiser (The Source, 1994)
I have this recurring dream about Tupac. I’m riding around LA in the middle of the night with Tupac and his boys. Whoever’s driving stops at a red light. Tupac, who is sitting in the front seat, cranes his neck in both directions of the crossroad.
“Nigga what is you doing” He screams at the driver. “Ain’t no cars coming. The whiteman got you so fucked up that he flash a color at you and you’ll stop!”
The rest of us look around at one another. Is he serious?
“Nigga, look if you gon’ sit here and be a l’il bitch, I can’t fuck with you.”
And with that he jumps out of the car.
There is purity to Tupac’s rage. Yes, he’s dangerously emotional, but righteously so. He believes something and is willing to act on it. For him conformity means the death of truth. We plea for him to return to the car but he has already pimped his way into darkness.
January 31, 1994
Blue Palms Recording Studio
“They got toys for guns/ Jails for guns/ But no jobs for guns.”
Tupac likes to add effects to his vocals; Chuck D-style reverbs and echoes that give his voice that Godly quality. He instructs his engineer, a Blackman at a Black-owned studio, to isolate the track so he can perfect the pitch.
In exactly 12 hours, Tupac will be required to appear in a Los Angeles municipal court for a case filed agaist him by Allen Hughes, one half of the directorial team that bought us Menace II Society.
“I been sitting on this all day,” he pulls an 8th of LA’s now famous chronic from his back pocket, appraising the red hairs in the Hawaiian sensimilla. His older brother, Mopreme rolls up no less than six blunts in a row. As everyone else gets more mellow, Tupac picks up steam.
“Nigga, pass that!”
Tupac has been dying to get his clown on. Stretch, Tupac’s producer/collaborator and constant road dawg from Queens, is holding the blunt. “Fuck you—she just passed it to me.”
Tupac’s eyes light up, his whole face starts beaming with smile. A challenge. He looks Stretch up and down for a total of five seconds before he gets in that ass.
“This nigga got blue carnations on his drawers.”
“Fuck you, nigga.” Stretch passes him the blunt but it’s too late.
“Blue mothafuckin’ carnations. Can you believe this, dream? Feminine-ass blue carnations. Look at me!” Tupac raises his shirt—THUG LIFE, his now infamous tattoo sprawls across his abdomen, the small of this back reads EXODUS, his pants are sagging and his boxers are navy.
“I got on some masculine-ass plaid mothafuckin’ drawers! We go shopping together Stretch, niggas could see you bend over and think I wear flowers on my ass!”
He grabs his 40; by now Mopreme is doubled over and the engineer is in stitches.
“That did it for me, all niggas from Queens wear flowers on they drawers!”
“Aw nigga, suck my dick.” Stretch is a laid back brother but he’s had enough.
Tupac throws his head back and laughs, a big beautiful infectious laugh, and all is forgiven.
“It’s all good. Wait! Don’t ever let me say that again. Can you believe that?”
All of a sudden Tupac’s changed the subject to Hammer, and I’m still trying to peep Stretch’s boxers while he’s not looking.
“How does he do it? ” he asks me.
I’m too slow, the chronic is kicking my ass.
“Timing. This nigga manages to come out while everybody else is getting arrested and shit.”
Naw, it’s his crib. It’s cuz he threw his crib up in the video, I offer.
“You might be right,” then from nowhere he wheels his swivel chair my direction. ” You know what Thug Life’s new code is: ‘No mothafucking comment’.”
I ain’t ask you no question yet, I spit back a little defensive.
“Naw, I’m talking about them,” he motions outside the back-door, to the studio’s parking lot, where teams of invisible cracker journalists are hiding in the bushes.
“Why are you so angry? Why do you smoke chronic? Why cain’t you stay out of trouble? Why is the earth round?’ Eat a dick!” He leaps to his feet, frustrated with the pesky media. “Niggas ain’t meant to be understood. Thugging. So back up off me!”
I remind Tupac that the latest attack on him has come not from Dan Rathers, but Dionne Warwick who along with the National Political Congress of Black Women objected to his scheduled appearance at the NAACP Image Awards.
“These niggas ain’t want me there and they gave mothafuckin’ Michael Jackson a standing ovation. Ain’t that a bitch! How much money you gots to sling at them sorry ass Negroes to get them on they feet!”
He rolls a little closer and confides, “I’m fucking grown-ass women. That’s my crime—I’m a freak! I let a bitch suck my dick in the middle of a dance floor.”
He’s referring to November 16th of last year. He was at Nell’s, a New York nightclub, dancing with a young hottie when she dropped to her knees and did her thing. Three days later she would accuse him of rape.
“Goddamn them child molesting fake-ass mothafuckas, damn them all to hell!”
“And Dionne Warwick,” I thought he’d never get to homegirl. “Fucking dream reading, psychic bitch! Don’t get me started, I’ll tell the real on they whole family!” He’s on his feet again, throwing up Thug Life.
Stretch and Mopreme aren’t even listening anymore. Pac notices his audience is diminishing and changes the rules. “The first nigga to fall asleep is getting hot-ass quarters on they forehead. You here that Mo? You gots to stay up and trip with the rest of us, nigga.”
An assistant from the studio is going on a food run to the rib shack. ” Y’all better put your order in, cuz when my ribs come I don’t want none of you righteous vegetarians, smegetarians up in my shit.”
In less that 20 minutes Mo is snoozing. Pac pulls a lighter from his pocket.
“Who got a quarter?”He heats the quarter with a devilish grin on his grill.
“This nigga is crazy,” Stretch says, shaking his head. ‘Oww!!! What the fuck!’ Mo comes out of dreamtime swinging. “Get yo’ crazy ass away from me!”Pac gives Stretch a pound, “I got ’em!” You saw the right? I’ll teach you never to fall asleep on one of my sessions!”
February 10, 1994
Melrose Boulevard, CA
After a relatively boring morning in court we decide to lunch at a sunny, posh Italian restaurant Tupac remembers enjoying. Even as we dine, a New York court is examining evidence in the rape case that has become Tupac’s personal demon.
The rape charges surfaced amongst a barrage of others. Most significantly they came a short three weeks after the cop shooting case earned him front page status. The obvious irony is that he was accused of rape as “Keep Your Head Up”—the most genuine peace offering to B-girls to date—flooded the radio waves and implored Black men to love and respect Black women. The alleged victim claims she was sodomized by Tupac and two other co-defendants. A fourth suspect disappeared from the hotel room before the police arrived and has never been found. While admitting that he and the alleged victim did engage in consensual sex since their first meeting at Nell’s, Tupac emphatically denies that he raped anyone. He claims that he and the alleged victim did not even engage in sexual intercourse the night of the alleged rape. Nor did he aid and abet in, as New York dailies reported, and “gangbang.”
Earlier this week I spoke with a sister who’s been active in nationalist struggle, as has Tupac’s family, for years. I admire this sister for her political consistency, her grassroots work ethics and her genuine desire to understand and support young people. She is torn with ambivalence, as are most of us, because of the charges that Tupac allegedly raped a young woman in a New York hotel room. She’s met with other sisters, her comrades in struggle, and has decided that his behavior is neither revolutionary nor New Afrikan. She and her sisters are planning to share their position with Pac through Watani, also a long-standing political and community activist. I’ve not yet found a way to talk about the real concerns and criticism that Black women in particular have around this case. I decide that these sisters and their obvious integrity is a possible way to get him to respond to these issues. What I don’t realize is that in the week that passed they’ve not spoken with him.
‘Fuck those bitches! I don’t need that shit!”
I’m frightened by his venom.
“I’m on the front lines of this shit. Not 30 years ago. Now! Where were they when we didn’t have no food or fucking electricity? When we were eating hard-boiled eggs and they pulling off million dollar heists and shit!”
He’s referring to the years spent as an infant of the Black power movement when his mother, a convicted and certified revolutionary, found herself struggling to support her baby. The “million dollar heists” were those bank and brinks robberies, some of them foiled, that placed every known member of the Black Liberation Army of the FBI’s most wanted list. “Fuck them! I need support not criticism!”
I’ve opened a painful space for Tupac. That of betrayal. That I should expect Tupac to regard these sisters’s opinion with more weight than anyone else’s has to do with my notion of Tupac’s respect for legacy and the movement in general.
Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, was numbered amongst the Panther 21, members of the New York Panthers accused of conspiracy to blow up the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. She and her comrades stood defiantly on the principle of anti-imperialism during their hearings. They were imprisoned when she was pregnant with Tupac. In 1986 Tupac’s stepfather, Mutulu Shakur (also Mopreme’s biological father), was convicted of conspiracy linked to the Assata Shakur case. An extremely high profile political prisoner, Assata was liberated from prison in New Jersey after being convicted of killing a white police officer who killed her partner Zayd Shakur, one fateful night on the New Jersey Turnpike. In Assata’s autobiography she recalls reuniting with Afeni, then pregnant with Tupac, in a prison gymnasium.
To suggest, as many do, that Tupac should be “responsible to his legacy” in some ways simplifies the legacy. But to suggest that Tupac’s interpretation of this legacy should fit some romantic ideal of “the movement” is to deny reality specificity. Tupac’s childhood, those years underground, above ground, the years when his disillusioned mother began smoking crack, are as much a party of his legacy as the black leather jackets and clenched fist.
Outside the restaurant a vagrant brother is arguing with himself. He’s oily and tattered, but he wants no money. He may not even want an audience for the argument he is staging with his ghosts.
“That’s gonna be me. Watch!” Tupac is actor now; he performs a dead-on impersonation of the schizophrenic brother.
“Standing on a fucking corner talking about, ‘Fucking black panthers hip-hop bitches bitches niggas niggas get away from me you motherfuckas! Back up-It’s loaded.’ He laughs then looks back as he crosses the street. “Yup, if I make it. That’s gonna be me.”
March 9, 1994
Sunset Boulevard, LA
When you’re a rap star you never know when something’s gonna jump off. It’s one of the reasons you roll so thick. There’s the constant threat of being ‘tested’ by that one fan who is sure he can replace you or at least brag to his hood about how he robbed or humiliated you. Ask any number of artists, each will have at least a half dozen stories about the peculiar combination of awe and animosity particular t hip-hop and its audience.
There’s a Shell gas station located on this eternally upscale strip of Sunset Boulevard, around the corner from La Montrose, the hotel Pac lives at when in town. Pac throws his rental Lexus LS 300 coupe in park and rushes into the gas station’s convenience store for magazines and munchies.
While he’s browsing, a group of five brothas from some Crip hood recognize him. One of them decide to fuck with Pac.
“Where you from?”
It only takes Pac a second to place the thinly-veiled hostility in his voice, but it’s the middle of the afternoon, he’s all alone, and he really just wants a little reading material. Under ordinary circumstances (at least when you’re talking to a Crip in Los Angeles), the question carries enormous weight—as in ‘What set are you from?’ i.e. what’s your gang affiliation? Pac is more from Oakland than most places, but he’s definitely not down with banging.
“No you aint, you from Baltimore. But you don’t never claim it. I know cause my homeboy used to take care of you.”
“Well your homeboy lied, cause ain’t nobody take care of me while I was in Baltimore.”
Teenage customers, completely unaware of the escalating confrontation, interrupt, asking Pac for his autograph. While he’s hitting them off with his signature he hears the nigga he’s been beefing with tell his boys, ‘I’m finst to jack this nigga!’
Pac glances a pair of scissors in his peripheral and grabs them, facing homeboy. “Well come on nigga, let’s do this!”
The Korean merchant behind the counter gets nervous and picks up the phone. The four other Crips, who look sorry that they brought their trouble making homeboy out the hood, back up towards the double glass doors.
The Crip with the homie in Baltimore tags Pac in the eye and runs out of the store. Pac chases him around his car before he jumps in and they speed out of the lot and down Sunset.
March 10, 1994
Los Angeles Municipal County Court
Case #RO617, The People v. Shakur
The press begins fighting for prime shooting positions by 8:45. MTV, local affiliates and national networks send out the same gumpy whiteboy cameramen they send everywhere. When Tupac steps off the elevator, the media comes alive. The bright fluorescents turn on his chiseled features, creating blinding glares and casting disfigured shadows. “Don’t touch my lawyer,” Tupac places a protective arm in front of petite Le’chelle Wooderd who is nearly toppled by the swarm.
The Honorable George H. Wu, the judge presiding over the Hughes Brother case, will sentence Tupac after closing statements are made. Attorney Chokwe Lumumba, National Chairman of the Revolutionary New Afrikan People’s Organization, is in LA working on the defense in the Reginald Denny case. He is Tupac’s constant legal advisor and part of Tupac’s extended family, ex- Panther and nationalist comrade to Afeni, who has watched Tupac grow into manhood. He testifies to Tupac’s ambition, his productiveness and his desire to be useful to his community. Le’chelle Wooderd reminds the judge that although the media and the prosecutor’s office have pursued the case like it was murder, it is simply battery. She pleads that his sentence be congruent with his crime, one that for the most part, Tupac never denied.
The attorney from the prosecutor’s office, a perpetually disheveled looking Black woman, ask for the harshest sentencing available. She attempts to weave images of cop-shooter, gangsta rapper, rapist and ghetto bastard into one giant menace to society. At one point she introduces a man who was the subject of a magazine article she read, one born in the perilous Cabrini Green projects of Chicago who apparently overcame white supremacy and capitalism to embody the American dream—a model Negro. Why can’t Tupac overcome his anger and do the same, she almost asks. Throughout her diatribe Tupac shifts in his seat anxious to defend himself. The judge allows him an opportunity.
“Your honor, I don’t know anything about the South side of Chicago or Cabrini Green projects. I never tried to explain my temper by telling you stories about my childhood, poverty, the plight of Black people or even rappers. I work hard and I have a lot to contribute to my community. And I can best do that by being on the streets, not behind bars. I got into a fist fight with a grown man and I’m willing to accept responsibility for my actions. But I’m not the monster she wants you believe I am.”
Judge Wu sentences Pac to 15 days in LA County, a sentence that is, as he points out, relatively moderate. The sentence is suspended and Pac is to report to the jail at 9 a.m. on May 10th.
Reporters rush outside the courtroom to tape the statement Pac promised them.
“Ask me the questions respectfully and I’ll answer them,” he regulates.
MTV asks the predictable: “What advice do you have for you fans?”
Tupac turns his baseball hat backwards. “Think about it. A fist fight becomes battery in the courts. Two and a have half minutes just cost me 15 days.”
October 31, 1993
“Can I get the real niggas in the house to get my back!”
The real niggas are slightly afraid for Tupac. They’ve spent $15 to see him at Clark Atlanta University’s gymnasium and there’s a good chance they will head back to their dorms without a full concert. The promoters, also Atlanta University students, spent nearly a half-hour backstage reiterating the school’s strict rules about drug use to Tupac. (Apparently neither school officials nor hired security are willing to engage in any lengthy debate about marijuana as healing herb, non “drug.”)
He holds the blunt high above his head and the crowd.
“What I want to know is, if I light this will you let them take me to jail?”
The ladies, many of the prim, proper Spelman virgins, shriek at the top of their lungs in support of the most beautiful rapper alive. Nobody’s fool, Pac includes the brothas.
“I need to know where the thug niggas is at!”
A masculine war cries echoes throughout the gym.
“If they arrest me I’ma jump in the sea of niggas and they gone haveta arrest each and every one of us.”
The crows erupts into what they dream is an impenetrable wall of defiance.
It’s common knowledge that Pac is completely unpredictable. And tonight he really surprises. He gives one of those rare things in hip-hop—a good show. And his tightly rolled blunt remains unlit. Until of course he jumps in this Benz and he and his boys, another two cars, head to Midtown where he has a hotel room for the night.
Two traffic lights from the hotel, at the Piedmont and Spring streets intersection, Pac notices some kind of commotion at the car ahead of him as he slows down for the light. From the driver’s seat, Pac can see two whiteboys reaching in the window of the car ahead of him. It’s dark but Pac is certain that the single person in the car is a Blackman. Without a second thought Tupac jumps out of the car and asks what the fuck is going on. The Southern whiteboys lose their grip on the driver and the car speeds off.
The whiteboys, brothers Mark and Scott Whitwell, look up and find their audience is three cars full of Black men. They panic. Mark Whitwell pulls out a gun and tells Pac to ‘Run!’
Tupac can hardly believe his ears.
“I started having’ mothafuckin flashbacks of Rodney King and Kunta Kente,” he remembers. “We been running all our mothafuckin’ lives,” he thinks.
He reaches in his car for his heat. Mark Whitewell fires his gun. Pac, who spends free time at firing ranges, leans over the hood of his car and catches both of them non-fatally; Mark in the abdomen and Scott in the ass.
There’s nothing in Tupac’s personality that would have allowed him to be passive to this kind of attack. In fact, there’s little in his person that would’ve allowed him to sit there and watch—as two whiteboys harassed that Black driver. As so many of us would have. We would have hesitated, considered “reality”, which has so little to do with truth, imagined innumerable “real” consequences and sped by. If we hope to understand Tupac at all, we must realize this is impossible for him.
Truth is these were two whiteboys who’d threatened and attacked him. Reality is they’re both off-duty cops, with the authority of Confederate Georgia behind them. This Tupac finds out only when he is arrested an hour later at his hotel room in the Sheraton. Because the Whitwell brother as so shady—the gun that they possessed was stolen from the room at the precinct where confiscated weapons are held and they were both drunk—a formal indictment has yet to be filed against Tupac.
The night had mythic potential: ‘Black knight slays cracker dragons (centuries old) who emerge in the night, fangs bared.’ In the South no less! It’s the kind of community work we all dream of doing.
Shooting another Black man post crack era requires little courage. The genocidal repercussions of racism are clearly evidenced in our ability as a people to elevate self-hated to an art form and staggering national homicidal count. In this equation, whiteboys in particular, are untouchable. We talk a good game when it comes to the white devil but rare is the brotha (or organization) who even imagaines physical confrontation with his oppressor. Let alone acts on it. It is in this way that Tupac’s actions Halloween night, are so utterly fearless.
April 4, 1994
New York City
“I’m staying right here in this little ass room. Nigga gotta stay out of trouble.”
The Notorious B-I-G is visiting Pac at his hotel. The two did some Gemini bonding the instant they laid eyes on each other more than a year ago and have been road dawgs every since. Pac practices some of his new lyrics on Big over blunts and Hennessey. I videotape the exchange with a brand new camera Pac purchased.
The phone rings and again Pac is required to defend himself. Two nights earlier he’d dropped by NBC studios to watch Snoop’s performance of “Saturday Night Live.” I’d seen him backstage, but hadn’t noticed the pasty whitegirl following around by the tails of his leather coat. I was standing there talking with Malika Shabazz, Malcolm X’S daughter, when Pac rushed by and gave us hugs.
“Is that Madonna?” Malika whispered as Pac walks away. I jump to his defense. “Are you buggin’ Pac wouldn’t be caught dead with that bitch.”
Then they emerged from Snoop’s dressing room, Madonna’s hair dyed jet black, her eyes red from chronic. I just kinda stood there with my shelltops in my mouth.
It’s not that they were intimate at all, even though the outing earned then a “Couple Made In Hell” insert in the Enquier. It’s just that we got that treasonous feeling sisters get when they see a brother with a whitegirl. Not to mention whitegirl culture vulture.
“Look Madonna is just another white bitch? I ain’t even fucking with her,” Tupac insists to the concerned caller. “She’s nothing but money and that was nothing but business.” With that he ends his call and reaches into his bag from the electronic store.
“Big, did I show you what I bought today.” He pulls out a complicated gadget with wires and transistors. “A bug.”
“From now on, bitch wanna fuck me I’m getting it all on tape.” He puts the headset around his bald head to demonstrate.
“Or I could use it to hear niggas talking shit. Put this little piece right here,” he plants a microscopic bug under the hotel’s lampshade, “leave the room.” he actually leaves the hotel room, ” hear ’em scheming on me and come back blasting. Blaow! Blaow! Blaow!” He practically kicks the door in as he re-enters. It’s not the first time I see Bishop, the haunting character from the movie Juice, re-emerge in Tupac.
The phone rings again. This time it’s a girl Tupac has been trying to see for awhile. She’s afraid he just wants the pussy. “No, we can go to dinner anything you wanna do… It’s not like that…Can’t a nigga just want to see you, take you out?” When he hangs up, he has a date.
He turns up his snifter and starts getting dressed. He decides to change shirts. First he drapes his perfectly toned abdomen with a plain white Hanes, then he slides into an official bulletproof vest, he hides the vest with an oversized shirt. He leave his gatt in the room. We walk him down to the lobby.
“Aiight nigga,” Big gives him a pound, “good luck catching a cab.”
“That’s all I got is good luck.”
July 4, 1994
Dear Lord, Can you hear me?/ It’s just me/ A young nigga tryin’ make it on these rough streets/ I’m on my knees beggin’/ Please come save me/ The whole world done made a nigga crazy/ I got my .357 cain’t control it/ Screamin’ die motherfucker/ And it’s loaded/ Everybody run for cover/ Aw shit/ Thug Life motherfucker!/ Duck quick/ Momma raised a hellraiser/ Why cry?/ That’s just life in the ghetto/ Do or die…
There’s a moment in “Hellraiser,” a song on Tupac’s forthcoming album where Tupac submits totally to pain and vulnerability. Of all the things about Tupac, his music is the least noticed and most improved. “Hellraiser” is compelling testimony to that. Like most hip-hop, it’s autobiographical, but it’s his passionate delivery that invokes midnight tent rivals where the testifier is possessed by the holy ghost. The song is actually an open letter from Tupac to the Lord. It’s not your typical rapper venting empty anger.
Dear Lord if you hear me/ Tell me why/ A little girl like Latosha [Harlan] had to die/ She never got to see the bullet/ Just heard the shot/ Her little body couldn’t take it/ It shook and dropped/ And when I saw it on the news, how she bucked the girl/ Killed Latosha now I’m screamin’ Fuck the World!
If I close my eyes, I can imagine him locked in a sound booth, the veins throbbing from his neck, voice hoarse, sweat drippin’ down this face, grippin’ the mic tight like a vice.
Thug Life, motherfucker I lick shots/ Every nigga up out/ drop two cops/ Dear Lord can you hear me/ when I die/ Let a nigga be strapped, fucked up and high/ With my hands on the trigger Thug nigga/ Stressin’ like a motherfuckin’ drug dealer/ And even in the darkest nights/ I’m a thug for life/ I got the heart to fight…