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Adrien Broner On His Boxing Return: "I'm Here To Take Over..." But Can He? Redemption Awaits In A Win
In 2021, many boxing fans and commentators have highlighted the breadth of talent currently bringing the sweet science back to prominence, with names like Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, Teofimo Lopez, Devin Haney, Errol Spence Jr., and Terence Crawford all of which have become household names. One fighter, however, that yields as much (if not more), fanfare and intrigue is Cincinnati, Ohio native Adrien Broner.
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As former four-division world champion (super featherweight, lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight), AB was once believed by many to be the future face of the sport. Broner (who boasts a record of 33-4-1 with 24 wins via KO), has been commended for his preternatural skills between the ropes but maligned for his perceived lack of focus and immaturity. According to his detractors, those negative traits were contributing factors that led to a precipitous downfall from champion and showman to a misguided sideshow. That latter tag is something he attempts to debunk with his highly-anticipated return to the ring this Saturday (Feb. 20th) at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, where he will face undefeated Puerto Rican super lightweight, Jovanie Santiago (14-0-1, 10 KOs) in a 12-round bout.
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Airing live on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, the fight will be Broner's first time stepping back in the ring in over two years, when he suffered defeat at the hands of boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao. Yet according to AB, he's fully prepared for the moment and anxious to lace up the gloves. "I feel good, man," Broner tells VIBE, via phone. "I just can't wait until the bell rings and to let my hands go."
Broner's confidence in his abilities is familiar on face value but comes at a time when there's as much doubt surrounding his standing and future in boxing as there has ever been. In addition to his current three-fight losing streak (with his last victory coming via a split decision welterweight match over Adrian Granados exactly four years ago this month), Broner's life outside of the ring has been marred by controversy and legal battles. In 2019, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and unlawful restraint after forcibly kissing a woman at an Ohio nightclub in 2018. The scene resulted in a lawsuit being filed against him by the victim, who was ultimately awarded an $855,682.03 judgment in her favor. However, Broner — who also picked up a DUI charge, violating his probation this past year — allegedly has no funds available to settle the lawsuit according to court documents submitted by Wells Fargo, causing detractors to peg his return to boxing as nothing more than a money grab. This is an accusation Broner swiftly denies, pointing towards Saturday night as the moment those theories will be debunked, "man, once they see me Saturday night, everything gon' change."
Change has been a constant in Broner's life as he attempts to pick up the pieces of his once-promising career, which garnered him early comparisons to a young Floyd Mayweather Jr. While Broner's appetite for the spotlight and his abrasive, cocksure soundbites are reminiscent of Mayweather, his diet and training regimen have paled in contrast to Floyd's, who is renowned for his undying work ethic and relentless drive to be the best. This time, in preparation for his comeback, Broner insists he's learned from the errors of his past ways, cutting down on his consumption of alcohol and women, as well as refining his diet for maximum results. "You know, I made a lot of adjustments," he reveals with a steady tone. "And I stopped eating a lot of crazy foods and everything's gonna show on Saturday night."
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One indicator of the validity of Broner's words was his ability to make the 147lb weight limit for his upcoming bout, a challenge he's struggled with in the past, having last made that weight in 2015. Another sign of Broner's renewed hunger and discipline is the various clips posted on social media of him training intensely, a process which saw him shed more than thirty-five pounds within months. Gervonta Davis, a four-time boxing world champion in two weight classes, was often seen training in close proximity to Broner and has inherited the Mayweather comparisons that once cloaked Broner himself. When asked of his relationship with the rising talent, Broner refers to Davis as family, voicing his desire to help the young champ avoid the same pitfalls that once caused him to stumble."You know, that's my baby brother," he says of the Baltimore bred knockout artist. "Always. Since the first day I seen him, I told him he was special and I always just try to help him. If he asks me something, I tell him the best thing to do. Before he can get in a situation, I tell him, 'We're gonna do something else.’ I just want the best for him."
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The potential star power that awaits Davis in the future could be blinding for many, but as for Broner, he's fully immersed in the present and is fixated on Jovanie Santiago, the next opponent in front of him and one he vows not to take lightly. "Well, in boxing, you can't overlook anything," when asked of any future endeavors or fights he has in mind. "So what's next for me is Saturday night." Broner may be focused on getting his victory, yet, if he does, it will be under different circumstances than he's used to, as the Santiago bout will be his first fight since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This means it will be his first time fighting without a crowd to cheer — or boo — him in his professional career.
This also diminishes the opportunity for the grand spectacle that is an Adrien Broner ring walk, which usually includes a rap star performing one of his favorite songs as he approaches his opponent for battle. "With this COVID, the way it's all set up, they ain't really letting us do much," he says when asked of any potential fireworks or highlights viewers can look forward to prior to the fight. "So I ain't worried about no ring walk. I'm worried about getting a victory." That said, Broner does offer insight into what he's been listening to for inspiration while training, listing a few familiar names of artists he's struck relationships with over the years. "Music is everywhere right now, honestly," he says of the current landscape of hip-hop and who he's checking for. "Every day you look up, it's a new guy with a new song, so I just love good music. But Lil Uzi is definitely always in my ear, Meek Mill is always in my ear and Rick Ross, for sure. And, of course, [Lil] Durk."
Days away from writing the first chapter in what has the makings of a redemption story for the ages, Broner is ready to face the music, sans a live performer or not. He appears as motivated as he's been in years. Watching the pre-fight press conference, remnants of the Adrien Broner we've come to love — or hate — clearly remains. The boasts, verbal jabs, and smugness are belied by experience and perspective, both of which he's added to his arsenal and hopes to reap the benefits come this weekend. "I just want everybody to watch Saturday night and I'll be victorious," he declares. "After this performance, I think the world is gonna know that Adrien Broner is back and I'm here to take over the sport."
The race is not for the swift, but who can endure it. And Jamaica’s foundation deejay Daddy U-Roy is still setting the pace. Ewart Beckford, O.D., known to lovers of Jamaican music as U-Roy aka Daddy U-Roy the Teacher, passed away on Wednesday night (Feb. 17) at the age of 78. As a pioneer of Jamaican deejay music, aka toasting, aka the birth of dancehall, U-Roy's impact on popular music worldwide cannot be overstated. Upon the news of his passing, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson paid tribute to U-Roy as "The god of toasting," adding that "w/o him we wouldn't have the concept of hip-hop."
In the video for Rah Digga’s “Imperial,” Busta Rhymes shakes his locks into the camera and proclaims that “This station rules the nation with version.” Ardent students of reggae roots will recognize the line as a direct lift from “Rule the Nation,” a musical blast from 1970 that forever changed the soundscape of Jamaica, sending tsunami-sized ripples out from the little island that rocked the world. Never before had an instrumental “version” of a popular song been combined with straight-from-the-dancehall microphone toasting to create a hit single. Working with legendary rock-steady producer Duke Reid, a smooth-talking called U-Roy scored not one but three big tunes. “Wake The Town” and “Wear You to the Ball” completed U-Roy’s six-week lock on the top three positions in the Jamaican charts, and proved that deejaying (or, as Yankees would rename it, rapping) was here to stay.
U-Roy’s phenomenal debut came a full decade before MCs from the Bronx started complaining that the Sugar Hill Gang had bitten their style. So if you’re looking for the forefather of all rap stars, look no further. Though he is quick to credit Jamaican pioneers like Count Machuki, King Stitt, and Lord Comic, Daddy Roy is the one whose cool jive slang and hit records busted the dancehall style wide open, paving the way for untold generations of microphone chanters at home and abroad.
It's been more than 50 years since this Rastafarian welder from the Kingston ghetto took up the microphone to nice up the dance for Doctor Dickies’ Sound—later progressing to Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat and King Tubby’s Home Town Hi-Fi—U-Roy is regarded as a living legend anywhere dubplates rotate. Now in his late 50s, he continues to tour and record when he’s not operating his own sound system, the mighty Stur-Gav Hi-Fi, rolling with an awesome crew of lyrical masters that includes Brigadier Jerry, Josey Wales, and Charlie Chaplin. U-Roy’s latest CD, Serious Matter, released by the French label Tabou, features duets with a who’s-who of classical reggae vocalists, from the late Dennis Brown to Gregory Isaacs, Beres Hammond, Israel Vibration, and Third World.
How can one man be worthy to spar with such a powerful range of talent? As Shabba Ranks put it in his song “Respect”—“Just cool, cool. U-Roy done rule. U-Roy a godfather of the deejay school.” Or in the words of another foundation deejay, Tappa Zukie: “U-Roy is like a battery to me. Whenever I see U-Roy is like I charge up. Y’unnerstan? Him just give me the vibes to work. He’s like showing me back the real style. Working with U-Roy is like back in school. He is still the teacher.” If the latest graduating class of MCs and deejays should choose to listen, the Teacher has some valuable lessons to share. But as the old Jamaican saying goes, who can’t hear must feel.
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Teacher, what do you think of the state of dancehall reggae right now?
Hey—there’s a lot of changes in the dancehall ting right now. The music change a little bit an tings. The singers and deejays is like playin’ some different ting, so it’s different from when we started. There’s more slackness now an stuff like that—X-rated stuff.
But this dancehall ting been going on for years. Some people make it look like it’s just since Shabba Ranks and some other youth come that this dancehall ting come around. This ting’s been going on for years. The dancehall type of music was some music weh it’s like you’re too hardcore for the radio play. So a lot of songs, when the radio station hear them, they already been a hit. Because the sound system dance make them be a hit before they even get release. Caw we used to have things like music on dub plate, this is what you would call exclusive pre-release, yunno? Most sound been playing dubplate at dance for years. The radio station can’t afford to play those type of music, because—according to them—it’s not up to their standard. So nowadays these people make it look like “Hey dancehall business just come around yesterday.” Them just acknowledge it now.
You yourself have been making music since when, the 1960s?
From that time up to this, me play sound system. I wan’ tell you me a play sound system from like from ’65. But ’69 was the time when I kinda get more popular to all the Jamaican public.
When you were coming into your own, who were the deejays you looked up to?
There was Count Machuki, Lord Comic, people like that, King Stitt, yunno? Count Machuki used to be my favorite deejay. I think that is one of the most… educated deejays that one can ever listen to. He don’t crowd his music. Whenever he talking on sound system he don’t crowd the singer or nothing. He just space his words, yunno, and he don’t have a whole lot to say so that he crowd tings up. This was one man that really surprise me how he never do a lot of recording. He start recording long after I start record. And I surprise how this man really have no hits—I don’t know why.
Even a Deejay name King Sporty. He used to play for Duke Reid too. Dem time, I was deejay too, but I wasn’t inna dem class. They was ahead of me inna the sound system business. I was just like a likkle schoolkid, goin’ to school and still ask my grandmother to go out on the weekends. Long before I start holding the mike and stuff like that.
But their style was kinda different from mine because I kinda have this style that I… add things onto things. Like for instance, I used to have my style say “WOW!” Yunno? Style like that. In my talking I’d say “Love in the ghetto baby WOW! you got it” These deejays, they never have that style. (Laughs)
How did your recording career start?
Well, me used to have a biiig crowd that follow me from any part of Jamaica I play. It’s from deh so the people dem really like me. But I never even believe that things woulda go the way that they go for me. At that time deejay business was no business that people really have as anything big. Caw hey—I do a song with Peter Tosh name “Earth Rightful Ruler” yunno and it never got much play. Then I did another one name “Dynamic Fashion Way” with Ken Boothe and Keith Hudson and it never still go too far.
Then about a year after that I did “Wake the Town and Tell the People” and “Wear You to the Ball” and “This Station Rule the Nation” for Duke Reid and it just took off. Believe me, I hear these three tune been played on the radio and it even surprise me. I say “Cho!—these tunes get me really known to the people.“ I had one two and three for like six weeks and number one tune for 12 weeks..
Wasn’t that a revolutionary thing for a deejay to voice a record?
[Laughing] Me tell you—it’s really revolutionary thing, beca’ it never happen before. So my style I think is a blessing. I can only say that. I can’t put it no other way, cause believe me: a deejay have 1,2,3 on the chart? On the top 10? Hey—this used to be mostly foreign music and tings like that weh take up the chart. But they go to different record stores and take up a survey of which is the fastest-selling song for this week. Is just reality, the fastest-selling song, man.
Whose idea was it to make those records?
It was Duke Reid’s idea. He was the producer. You see, we used to play Tubby’s sound system. And Tubby’s used to play a lot of Duke Reid and Coxsone music, okay? So somebody from Duke Reid studio come to a dance one night where I was playing and he heard me talking on one of these riddims. And he go back to Duke Reid and tell Duke Reid hey Tubby have a deejay is the wickedest deejay you could ever hear. Right after that Duke Reid siddown and call me. And when I go down a studio he say, Look, I want you voice even one riddim for me. So we talk about likkle money ting, because at the time is like—hey—nothing big never a gwan. Even comparing to what them youth have been pickin’ up now, is like just cheese money. But at the time still, ya happy.
When the song hit number one did you get a little more cheese?
Oh yes [laughing] oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes, yunno. When the song start pickin’ up, I start pickin’ up same way an’ gettin’ some money from him, money that keep me comfortable around my house for the week. When things start getting good, now, I said to him, Hey my royalties I gwine need to have a little house. And so yunno I buy a little house out of my money because I used to really scared of paying rent and them stuff. One time he offer me a car and I say, Hey—I have a bed and I have a stove, and I have my pot and things like this and I don’t see no car that can hold all these things. Yunno? So I get my house and I comfortable, yeah.
Deejay business was the beginning of rap music, right?
Do you think people really know and respect that side of the reggae?
I don’t think so. A lot of people do, a lot of people. But a lot still don’t. I just think that the time gone come when people gonna respect that.
What do you think about the rap mixing with the reggae?
One ting with me, I just like the more cultural side of hip hop. Something that send a message. I don’t like some of these hip hop weh talking bout bitch and mothaf**ker and stuff like that. We don’t need to sell these things to kids. Cause young kids is one of the biggest supporter in music, trust me. And if they hear you say something, is like hey—they gonna do exactly that.
As the teacher, what advice would you give to the younger artists of today?
Well… all I can tell them is hey, just be constructive, man. Yeh, just be more straight to the people. Come offa this gun talk an—yunno. We don’t want to hear about your gun and you have your gun pon you and dem stuff deh. Keep that! We don’t want no violence amongst the society. We want some peace and love, no matter what color you are, whether you white, pink, blue—just love. Ease off this war. War don’t make no sense. I don’t see no progress in war. Yeah. Something like that I woulda like tell them.
But I really like rap, becaw look, it keep the deejay business going. It’s the same form of deejay. It’s still deejay, but you call it rap. Singers come in and sing, rapper come in and say something—yunno I mean? It’s the same thing; it no different. Hey, for me, I really love it becaw it make it look like what I was doin’ wasn’t something stupid at all.
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
It was a chilly January morning when I made my way to Rikers Island for a conversation with Tupac Shakur, what would be his first words to any journalist since being shot last November 30. After passing through a series of checkpoints and metal detectors, I reached a dingy white conference room in the same building where Tupac was being held on $3 million bail. Within weeks, he’d receive a one-and-a-half- to four-and-a-half-year sentence for a sexual abuse conviction in his New York rape case.
Tupac strutted into the room without a limp, in spite of having been recently wounded in the leg—among other places. Dressed in a white Adidas sweatshirt and oversized blue jeans, he seemed more alert than he had been in all our interviews and encounters. He looked me in the eyes as we spoke and smoked one Newport after another. “I’m kinda nervous,” he admitted at one point. After a brush with death and the barrage of rumor and innuendo that followed, Tupac said he’d summoned me because “this is my last interview. If I get killed, I want people to get every drop. I want them to have the real story.”
How do you feel after everything you’ve been through these past few weeks?
Well, the first two days in prison, I had to go through what life is like when you’ve been smoking weed for as long as I have and then you stop. Emotionally, it was like I didn’t know myself. I was sitting in a room, like there was two people in the room, evil and good. That was the hardest part. After that, the weed was out of me. Then every day I started doing, like, a thousand push-ups for myself. I was reading whole books in one day, and writing, and that was putting me in a peace of mind. Then I started seeing my situation and what got me here. Even though I’m innocent of the charge they gave me, I’m not innocent in terms of the way I was acting.
Could you tell me specifically what you mean?
I’m just as guilty for not doing nothing as I am for doing things. Not with this case, but just in my life. I had a job to do and I never showed up. I was so scared of this responsibility that I was running away from it. But I see now that whether I show up for work or not, the evil forces are going to be at me. They’re going to come 100 percent, so if I don’t be 100 percent pure-hearted, I’m going to lose. And that’s why I’m losing.
When I got in here, all the prisoners was, like, “Fuck that gangsta rapper.” I’m not a gangsta rapper. I rap about things that happen to me. I got shot five times, you know what I’m saying? People was trying to kill me. It was really real like that. I don’t see myself being special; I just see myself having more responsibilities than the next man. People look to me to do things for them, to have answers. I wasn’t having them because my brain was half dead from smoking so much weed. I’d be in my hotel room, smoking too much, drinking, going to clubs, just being numb. That was being in jail to me. I wasn’t happy at all on the streets. Nobody could say they saw me happy.
When I spoke to you a year ago, you said that if you ended up in jail, your spirit would die. You sound like you’re saying the opposite now.
That was the addict speaking. The addict knew if I went to jail, then it couldn’t live. The addict in Tupac is dead. The excuse maker in Tupac is dead. The vengeful Tupac is dead. The Tupac that would stand by and let dishonorable things happen is dead. God let me live for me to do something extremely extraordinary, and that’s what I have to do. Even if they give me the maximum sentence, that’s still my job.
"IF WE REALLY ARE SAYING RAP IS AN ART FORM, THEN WE GOT TO BE MORE RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR LYRICS. IF YOU SEE EVERYBODY DYING BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU SAYING, IT DON'T MATTER THAT YOU DIDN'T MAKE THEM DIE, IT JUST MATTERS THAT YOU DIDN'T SAVE THEM."
Can you take us back to that night at Quad Recording Studios in Times Square?
The night of the shooting? Sure. Ron G. is a DJ out here in New York. He’s, like, “Pac, I want you to come to my house and lay this rap down for my tapes.” I said, “All right, I’ll come for free.” So I went to his house—me, Stretch, and a couple other homeboys. After I laid the song, I got a page from this guy Booker, telling me he wanted me to rap on Little Shawn’s record. Now, this guy I was going to charge, because I could see that they was just using me, so I said, “All right, you give me seven G’s and I’ll do the song.” He said, “I’ve got the money. Come.” I stopped off to get some weed, and he paged me again. “Where you at? Why you ain’t coming?” I’m, like, “I’m coming, man, hold on.”
Did you know this guy?
I met him through some rough characters I knew. He was trying to get legitimate and all that, so I thought I was doing him a favor. But when I called him back for directions, he was, like, “I don’t have the money.” I said, “If you don’t have the money, I’m not coming.” He hung up the phone, then called me back: “I’m going to call [Uptown Entertainment CEO] Andre Harrell and make sure you get the money, but I’m going to give you the money out of my pocket.” So I said, “All right, I’m on my way.” As we’re walking up to the building, somebody screamed from up the top of the studio. It was Little Caesar, Biggie’s [the Notorious B.I.G.] sideman. That’s my homeboy. As soon as I saw him, all my concerns about the situation were relaxed.
So you’re saying that going into it…
I felt nervous because this guy knew somebody I had major beef with. I didn’t want to tell the police, but I can tell the world. Nigel had introduced me to Booker. Everybody knew I was short on money. All my shows were getting canceled. All my money from my records was going to lawyers; all the movie money was going to my family. So I was doing this type of stuff, rapping for guys and getting paid.
Who’s this guy Nigel?
I was kicking it with him the whole time I was in New York doing Above the Rim. He came to me. He said, “I’m going to look after you. You don’t need to get in no more trouble.”
Doesn’t Nigel also go by the name of Trevor?
Right. There’s a real Trevor, but Nigel took on both aliases, you understand? So that’s who I was kicking with—I got close to them. I used to dress in baggies and sneakers. They took me shopping; that’s when I bought my Rolex and all my jewels. They made me mature. They introduced me to all these gangsters in Brooklyn. I met Nigel’s family, went to his kid’s birthday party—I trusted him, you know what I’m saying? I even tried to get Nigel in the movie, but he didn’t want to be on film. That bothered me. I don’t know any nigga that didn’t want to be in the movies.
Can we come back to the shooting? Who was with you that night?
I was with my homeboy Stretch, his man Fred, and my sister’s boyfriend, Zayd. Not my bodyguard; I don’t have a bodyguard. We get to the studio, and there’s a dude outside in army fatigues with his hat low on his face. When we walked to the door, he didn’t look up. I’ve never seen a black man not acknowledge me one way or the other, either with jealousy or respect. But this guy just looked to see who I was and turned his face down. It didn’t click because I had just finished smoking chronic. I’m not thinking something will happen to me in the lobby. While we’re waiting to get buzzed in, I saw a dude sitting at a table reading a newspaper. He didn’t look up either.
These are both black men?
Black men in their thirties. So first I’m, like, These dudes must be security for Biggie, because I could tell they were from Brooklyn from their army fatigues. But then I said, Wait a minute. Even Biggie’s homeboys love me, why don’t they look up? I pressed the elevator button, turned around, and that’s when the dudes came out with the guns-two identical 9 mms. “Don’t nobody move. Everybody on the floor. You know what time it is. Run your shit.” I was, like, What should I do?
I’m thinking Stretch is going to fight; he was towering over those niggas. From what I know about the criminal element, if niggas come to rob you, they always hit the big nigga first. But they didn’t touch Stretch; they came straight to me. Everybody dropped to the floor like potatoes, but I just froze up. It wasn’t like I was being brave or nothing; I just could not get on the floor. They started grabbing at me to see if I was strapped. They said, “Take off your jewels,” and I wouldn’t take them off. The light-skinned dude, the one that was standing outside, was on me. Stretch was on the floor, and the dude with the newspaper was holding the gun on him. He was telling the light-skin dude, “Shoot that motherfucker! Fuck it!” Then I got scared, because the dude had the gun to my stomach. All I could think about was piss bags and shit bags. I drew my arm around him to move the gun to my side. He shot and the gun twisted and that’s when I got hit the first time. I felt it in my leg; I didn’t know I got shot in my balls.
I dropped to the floor. Everything in my mind said, Pac, pretend you’re dead. It didn’t matter. They started kicking me, hitting me. I never said, “Don’t shoot!” I was quiet as hell. They were snatching my shit off me while I was laying on the floor. I had my eyes closed, but I was shaking, because the situation had me shaking. And then I felt something on the back of my head, something real strong. I thought they stomped me or pistol-whipped me and they were stomping my head against the concrete. I saw white, just white. I didn’t hear nothing, I didn’t feel nothing, and I said, I’m unconscious. But I was conscious. And then I felt it again, and I could hear things now and I could see things and they were bringing me back to consciousness. Then they did it again, and I couldn’t hear nothing. And I couldn’t see nothing; it was just all white. And then they hit me again, and I could hear things and I could see things and I knew I was conscious again.
Did you ever hear them say their names?
No. No. But they knew me, or else they would never check for my gun. It was like they were mad at me. I felt them kicking me and stomping me; they didn’t hit nobody else. It was, like, “Ooh, motherfucker, ooh, aah”-they were kicking hard. So I’m going unconscious, and I’m not feeling no blood on my head or nothing. The only thing I felt was my stomach hurting real bad. My sister’s boyfriend turned me over and said, “Yo, are you all right?” I was, like, “Yes, I’m hit, I’m hit.” And Fred is saying he’s hit, but that was the bullet that went through my leg.
So I stood up and I went to the door and—the shit that fucked me up—as soon as I got to the door, I saw a police car sitting there. I was, like, “Uh-oh, the police are coming, and I didn’t even go upstairs yet.” So we jumped in the elevator and went upstairs. I’m limping and everything, but I don’t feel nothing. It’s numb. When we got upstairs, I looked around, and it scared the shit out of me.
Because Andre Harrell was there, Puffy [Bad Boy Entertainment CEO Sean “Puffy” Combs] was there, Biggie… there was about 40 niggas there. All of them had jewels on. More jewels than me. I saw Booker, and he had this look on his face like he was surprised to see me. Why? I had just beeped the buzzer and said I was coming upstairs.
Little Shawn bust out crying. I went, Why is Little Shawn crying, and I got shot? He was crying uncontrollably, like, “Oh my God, Pac, you’ve got to sit down!” I was feeling weird, like, Why do they want to make me sit down?
Because five bullets had passed through your body.
I didn’t know I was shot in the head yet. I didn’t feel nothing. I opened my pants, and I could see the gunpowder and the hole in my Karl Kani drawers. I didn’t want to pull them down to see if my dick was still there. I just saw a hole and went, “Oh shit. Roll me some weed.” I called my girlfriend and I was, like, “Yo, I just got shot. Call my mother and tell her.”
Nobody approached me. I noticed that nobody would look at me. Andre Harrell wouldn’t look at me. I had been going to dinner with him the last few days. He had invited me to the set of New York Undercover, telling me he was going to get me a job. Puffy was standing back too. I knew Puffy. He knew how much stuff I had done for Biggie before he came out.
So people did see blood on you?
They started telling me, “Your head! Your head is bleeding.” But I thought it was just a pistol-whip. Then the ambulance came, and the police. First cop I looked up to see was the cop that took the stand against me in the rape charge. He had a half-smile on his face, and he could see them looking at my balls. He said, “What’s up, Tupac? How’s it hanging?”
When I got to Bellevue Hospital, the doctor was going, “Oh my God!” I was, like, “What? What?” And I was hearing him tell other doctors, “Look at this. This is gunpowder right here.” He was talking about my head: “This is the entry wound. This is the exit wound.” And when he did that, I could actually feel the holes. I said, “Oh my God. I could feel that.” It was the spots that I was blacking out on. And that’s when I said, “Oh shit. They shot me in my head.” They said, “You don’t know how lucky you are. You got shot five times.” It was, like, weird. I did not want to believe it. I could only remember that first shot, then everything went blank.
At any point did you think you were going to die?
No. I swear to God. Not to sound creepy or nothing—I felt God cared for me from the first time the niggas pulled the gun out. The only thing that hurt me was that Stretch and them all fell to the floor. The bullets didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt until I was recovering. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t get up, and my hand was fucked up. I was looking on the news and it was lying about me.
Tell me about some of the coverage that bothered you.
The No. 1 thing that bothered me was that dude that wrote that shit that said I pretended to do it. That I had set it up, it was an act. When I read that, I just started crying like a baby, like a bitch. I could not believe it. It just tore me apart.
And then the news was trying to say I had a gun and I had weed on me. Instead of saying I was a victim, they were making it like I did it.
What about all the jokes saying you had lost one of your testicles?
That didn’t really bother me, because I was, like, Shit, I’m going to get the last laugh. Because I’ve got bigger nuts than all these niggas. My doctors are, like, “You can have babies.” They told me that the first night, after I got exploratory surgery: “Nothing’s wrong. It went through the skin and out the skin.” Same thing with my head. Through my skin and out the skin.
Have you had a lot of pain since then?
Yes, I have headaches. I wake up screaming. I’ve been having nightmares, thinking they’re still shooting me. All I see is niggas pulling guns, and I hear the dude saying, “Shoot that motherfucker!” Then I’ll wake up sweaty as hell and I’ll be, like, Damn, I have a headache. The psychiatrist at Bellevue said that’s post-traumatic stress.
Why did you leave Bellevue Hospital?
I left Bellevue the next night. They were helping me, but I felt like a science project. They kept coming in, looking at my dick and shit, and this was not a cool position to be in. I knew my life was in danger. The Fruit of Islam was there, but they didn’t have guns. I knew what type of niggas I was dealing with.
So I left Bellevue and went to Metropolitan. They gave me a phone and said, “You’re safe here. Nobody knows you’re here.” But the phone would ring and someone would say, “You ain’t dead yet?” I was, like, Damn! Those motherfuckers don’t have no mercy. So I checked myself out, and my family took me to a safe spot, somebody who really cared about me in New York City.
Why did you go to court the morning after you were shot?
They came to the bed and said, “Pac, you don’t need to go to court.” I was, like, no. I felt like if the jury didn’t see me, they would think I’m doing a show or some shit. Because they were sequestered and didn’t know I got shot. So I knew I had to show up no matter what. I swear to God, the farthest thing from my mind was sympathy. All I could think of was, Stand up and fight for your life like you fight for your life in this hospital.
I sat there in a wheelchair, and the judge was not looking me in my eyes. He never looked me in my eyes the whole trial. So the jury came in, and the way everybody was acting, it was like a regular everyday thing. And I was feeling so miracle-ish that I’m living. And then I start feeling they’re going to do what they’re going to do. Then I felt numb; I said, I’ve got to get out of here.
When I left, the cameras were all rushing me and bumping into my leg and shit. I was, like, “You motherfuckers are like vultures.” That made me see just the nastiest in the hearts of men. That’s why I was looking like that in the chair when they were wheeling me away. I was trying to promise myself to keep my head up for all my people there. But when I saw all that, it made me put my head down; it just took my spirit.
Can we talk about the rape case at all?
Okay. Nigel and Trevor took me to Nell’s. When we got there, I was immediately impressed, because it was different than any club I’d been in. It wasn’t crowded, there was lots of space, there were beautiful women there. I was meeting Ronnie Lott from the New York Jets and Derrick Coleman from the Nets. They were coming up to me, like, “Pac, we’re proud of you.” I felt so tall that night, because they were people’s heroes and they saying I was their hero. I felt above and beyond, like I was glowing.
Somebody introduced me to this girl. And the only thing I noticed about her: She had a big chest. But she was not attractive; she looked dumpy, like. Money came to me and said, “This girl wants to do more than meet you.” I already knew what that meant: She wanted to fuck. I just left them and went to the dance floor by myself. They were playing some Jamaican music, and I’m just grooving.
Then this girl came out and started dancing—and the shit that was weird, she didn’t even come to me face-first, she came ass-first. So I’m dancing to this reggae music; you know how sensuous that is. She’s touching my dick, she’s touching my balls, she opened my zipper, she put her hands on me. There’s a little dark part in Nell’s, and I see people over there making out already, so she starts pushing me this way. I know what time it is.
We go over in the corner. She’s touching me. I lift up my shirt while I’m dancing, showing off my tattoos and everything. She starts kissing my stomach, kissing my chest, licking me and shit. She’s going down, and I’m, like, Oh shit. She pulled my dick out; she started sucking my dick on the dance floor. That shit turned me on. I wasn’t thinking, like, This is going to be a rape case. I’m thinking, like, This is going to be a good night. You know what I’m saying?
Soon as she finished that—just enough to get me solid, rock-hard—we got off the dance floor. I told Nigel, “I’ve got to get out of here. I’m about to take her to the hotel. I’ll see you all later.” Nigel was, like, “No, no, no. I’m going to take you back.” We drive to the hotel. We go upstairs and have sex, real quick. As soon as I came, that was it. I was tired, I was drunk, I knew I had to get up early in the morning, so I was, like, “What are you going to do? You can spend the night or you can leave.” She left me her number, and everything was cool.
Nigel was spending the night in my room all these nights. When he found out she sucked my dick on the floor and we had sex, he and Trevor were livid! Trevor is a big freak; he was going crazy. All he kept asking me was, “D-d-did you fuck in the ass?” He was listening to every single detail. I thought, This is just some guy shit, it’s all good.
What happened on the night of the alleged rape?
We had a show to do in New Jersey at Club 88. This dude said, “I’ll be there with a limo to pick you up at midnight.” We went shopping, we got dressed up, we were all ready. Nigel was saying, “Why don’t you give her a call?” So we were all sitting in the hotel, drinking. I’m waiting for the show, and Nigel’s, like, “I called her. I mean, she called me, and she’s on her way.” But I wasn’t thinking about her no second time. We were watching TV when the phone rings, and she’s downstairs. Nigel gave Man-man, my manager, some money to pay for the cab, and I was, like, “Let that bitch pay for her own cab.” She came upstairs looking all nice, dressed all provocative and shit, like she was ready for a prom date.
So we’re all sitting there talking, and she’s making me uncomfortable, because instead of sitting with Nigel and them, she’s sitting on the arm of my chair. And Nigel and Trevor are looking at her like a chicken, like she’s, like, food. It’s a real uncomfortable situation. So I’m thinking, Okay, I’m going to take her to the room and get a massage. I’m thinking about being with her that night at Nell’s. So we get in the room, I’m laying on my stomach, she’s massaging my back. I turn around. She starts massaging my front. This lasted for about a half an hour. In between, we would stop and kiss each other. I’m thinking she’s about to give me another blow job. But before she could do that, some niggas came in, and I froze up more than she froze up. If she would have said anything, I would have said, “Hold on, let me finish.” But I can’t say nothing, because she’s not saying nothing. How do I look saying, “Hold on”? That would be like I’m making her my girl.
So they came and they started touching her ass. They going, “Oooh, she’s got a nice ass.” Nigel isn’t touching her, but I can hear his voice leading it, like, “Put her panties down, put her pantyhose down.” I just got up and walked out the room.
When I went to the other suite, Man-man told me that Talibah, my publicist at the time, had been there for a while and was waiting in the bedroom of that suite. I went to see Talibah and we talked about what she had been doing during the day, then I went and laid down on the couch and went to sleep.
When I woke up, Nigel was standing over me going, “Pac, Pac,” and all the lights was on in both rooms. The whole mood had changed, you know what I’m saying? I felt like I was drugged. I didn’t know how much time had passed. So when I woke up, it was, like, “You’re going to the police, you’re going to the police.” Nigel walks out the room, comes back with the girl. Her clothes is on; ain’t nothing tore. She just upset, crying hysterically. “Why you let them do this to me?” She’s not making sense. “I came to see you. You let them do this to me.” I’m, like, “I don’t got time for this shit right here. You got to chill out with that shit. Stop yelling at me and looking at me all crazy.” She said, “This not the last time you’re going to hear from me,” and slammed the door.
And Nigel goes, “Don’t worry about it, Pac, don’t worry. I’ll handle it. She just tripping.” I asked him what happened, and he was, like, “Too many niggas.” You know, I ain’t even tripping no more, you know? Niggas start going downstairs, but nobody was coming back upstairs. I’m sitting upstairs smoking weed, like, Where the fuck is everybody at? Then I get a call from Talibah from the lobby saying, “The police is down here.”
And that’s what landed you in jail. But you’re saying that you never did anything?
Never did nothing. Only thing I saw was all three of them in there and that nigga talking about how fat her ass was. I got up, because the nigga sounded sick. I don’t know if she’s with these niggas, or if she’s mad at me for not protecting her. But I know I feel ashamed—because I wanted to be accepted and because I didn’t want no harm done to me—I didn’t say nothing.
How did you feel about women during the trial, and how do you feel about women now?
When the charge first came up, I hated black women. I felt like I put my life on the line. At the time I made “Keep Ya Head Up,” nobody had no songs about black women. I put out “Keep Ya Head Up” from the bottom of my heart. It was real, and they didn’t defend it. I felt like it should have been women all over the country talking about, “Tupac couldn’t have did that.” And people was actually asking me, “Did you do it?”
Then, going to trial, I started seeing the black women that was helping me. Now I’ve got a brand-new vision of them, because in here, it’s mostly black female guards. They don’t give me no extra favors, but they treat me with human respect. They’re telling me, “When you get out of here, you gotta change.” They be putting me on the phone with they kids. You know what I’m saying? They just give me love.
What’s going to happen if you have to serve time?
If it happens, I got to serve it like a trooper. Of course, my heart will be broke. I be torn apart, but I have to serve it like a trooper.
I understand you recently completed a new album.
Rapping…I don’t even got the thrill to rap no more. I mean, in here I don’t even remember my lyrics.
But you’re putting out the album, right?
Yeah. It’s called Me Against the World. So that is my truth. That’s my best album yet. And because I already laid it down, I can be free. When you do rap albums, you got to train yourself. You got to constantly be in character. You used to see rappers talking all that hard shit, and then you see them in suits and shit at the American Music Awards. I didn’t want to be that type of nigga. I wanted to keep it real, and that’s what I thought I was doing. But now that shit is dead. That Thug Life shit…I did it, I put in my work, I laid it down. But now that shit is dead.
What are your plans after prison?
I’m going to team up with Mike Tyson when we get out. Team up with Monster Kody [now known as Sanyika Shakur] from California. I’m going to start an organization called Us First. I’m going to save these young niggas, because nobody else want to save them. Nobody ever came to save me. They just watch what happen to you. That’s why Thug Life to me is dead. If it’s real, then let somebody else represent it, because I’m tired of it. I represented it too much. I was Thug Life. I was the only nigga out there putting my life on the line.
Has anybody else been there for you?
Since I’ve been in here I got about 40 letters. I got little girls sending me money. Everybody telling me that God is with me. People telling me they hate the dudes that shot me, they’re going to pray for me. I did get one letter, this dude telling me he wished I was dead. But then I got people looking out for me, like Jada Pinkett, Jasmine Guy, Treach, Mickey Rourke. My label, Interscope Records, has been extremely supportive. Even Madonna.
Can you talk about your relationship with Madonna and Mickey Rourke?
I was letting people dictate who should be my friends. I felt like because I was this big Black Panther type of nigga, I couldn’t be friends with Madonna. And so I dissed her, even though she showed me nothing but love. I felt bad, because when I went to jail, I called her and she was the only person that was willing to help me. Of that stature. Same thing with Mickey Rourke—he just befriended me. Not like black and white, just like friend to friend. And from now on, it’s not going to be a strictly black thing with me. I even apologized to Quincy Jones for all the stuff I said about him and his wives. I’m apologizing to the Hughes Brothers…but not John Singleton. He’s inspiring me to write screenplays, because I want to be his competition. He fired me from Higher Learning and gave my idea to the next actor.
Do you worry about your safety now?
I don’t have no fear of death. My only fear is coming back reincarnated. I’m not trying to make people think I’m in here faking it, but my whole life is going to be about saving somebody. I got to represent life. If you saying you going to be real, that’s how you be real—be physically fit, be mentally fit. And I want niggas to be educated. You know, I was steering people away from school. You gotta be in school, because through school you can get a job. And if you got a job, then that’s how they can’t do us like this.
Do you think rap music is going to come under more attack, given what’s happened to you?
Oh, definitely. That’s why they’re doing me like this. Because if they can stop me, they can stop 30 more rappers before they even born. But there’s something else I understand now: If we really are saying rap is an art form, then we got to be true to it and be more responsible for our lyrics. If you see everybody dying because of what you saying, it don’t matter that you didn’t make them die, it just matters that you didn’t save them.
You mentioned Marvin Gaye in “Keep Ya Head Up.” A lot of people have compared you to him, in terms of your personal conflicts.
That’s how I feel. I feel close to Marvin Gaye, Vincent van Gogh.
Why van Gogh?
Because nobody appreciated his work until he was dead. Now it’s worth millions. I feel close to him, how tormented he was. Him and Marvin too. That’s how I was out there. I’m in jail now, but I’m free. My mind is free. The only time I have problems is when I sleep.
So you’re grateful to be where you are now?
It’s a gift—straight-up. This is God’s will. And everybody that said I wasn’t nothing…my whole goal is to just make them ashamed that they wrote me off like that. Because I’m 23 years old. And I might just be my mother’s child, but in all reality, I’m everybody’s child. You know what I’m saying? Nobody raised me; I was raised in this society. But I’m not going to use that as an excuse no more. I’m going to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and I’m going to make a change. And my change is going to make a change through the community. And through that, they gonna see what type of person I truly was. Where my heart was.
This Thug Life stuff, it was just ignorance. My intentions was always in the right place. I never killed anybody, I never raped anybody, I never committed no crimes that weren’t honorable—that weren’t to defend myself. So that’s what I’m going to show them. I’m going to show people my true intentions, and my true heart. I’m going to show them the man that my mother raised. I’m going to make them all proud.
Some names in this article have been changed.
This VIBE Q feature originally appeared in the April 1995 issue of VIBE Magazine | Written by Kevin Powell | Cover photography by Reisig & Taylor