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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."
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
Sheron Barber's lifestyle/creative goods brand is called DR14. He skillfully makes one-of-a-kind products and remixes the highest of high-end (Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Balmain, etc.) luxury label's bags and accessories into new works of functional art. His client base ranges from celebrities like R&B star Teyana Taylor to video gaming company, Activision for the mega successful Call of Duty franchise. Seeing Barber at work and getting into his frame of thought is like taking a trip to a foreign land where everything is made better and more vibrant by vision and not preconceived notions. Follow the man who is on a mission to make the world feel his thoughts through art, design and fashion.
VIBE: So where are you from?
Sheron Barber: Camden, New Jersey.
East Coast origin, now based in Los Angeles...how did you start in the design industry?
I started off like most kids, altering my own clothes. Then I got on the heat press and then screen print and then I had a desire for more so I got into cut and sew. Then I wanted to go even further so I started to focus on leather goods and accessories.
Growing up, who influenced your style?
I don't know if, if any one person in particular influenced my style. I think I was influenced by hip hop as a whole. My style was very street and I was inspired by the streets. I think seeing the neighborhood guys just being fresh, pulling up in their BMWs with their jewelry on. And then, it's funny because when it comes to my design I'm also inspired by things like Transformers or Inspector Gadget. That's why a lot of my designs are like adaptable or they turn into other things.
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What was your first big check from fashion?
The first person to buy a significant sized piece off of me was [boxing legend] Floyd Mayweather. He had me make him a bag with a hidden compartment that housed his watches. I would make over the top bags out of gator and crocodile, and he was the first person to buy one of my bags.
You've built DR14 into a successful creative goods company, but when did you know you was that ni**a?
(Laughs) That's funny. I'm still insecure. When I put something out, I'm never 100% confident. I'm confident that I'll get the idea out of my head, but I don't know how other people are gonna receive it. So I never put something in front of someone and know that they're going to like it or love it...but I don't think that all my designs come from me. I think they come from like a cloud, like a source of energy that I tap into, whether it be through meditation or deep thought.
Sometimes I just see something, a vision. Then I do my best to get my idea out of my head. If I get the vision I had in my head out, then for me it’s a successful design. I'm indifferent to if they like it or not. That's not my job, my job is just to get the idea out of my head and into the world.
You just partnered with some overseas [operations] opening a manufactory. How is it working abroad and getting into all of that?
I think Europe has a long history of artisanship and there is also a great history of artisanship in America, but if you look at the history of fashion in Europe, there's a real knack for artisan level quality. I think if you look at the leather industry there, the garment industry there, there are families and companies that have been participating for hundreds of years.
It stems from Louis XIV. Louis XIV at one point, you know, he was a king from the age of five all the way until the time he was 72. So he had the resources of a nation and later in his life he would commission artists from all over the world. Like if you were a shoe maker he would summon you to make him shoes. If you were a tailor, he would have you make him custom suits. The people who were considered “common people," if you got to make a shoe or a jacket for a monarch it would raise your rank in society and then you would become a member of a family that makes shoes for the king or that makes garments for the king.
So in Europe, a lot of that is still preserved in the fashion industry. What you have [are] families who actually create things. Whether they are shoes, jackets or garments, but some of them have been in the business for four or five, six, seven generations. And in some situations you get the artisanship that has been preserved and that is amazing. So I still make things in America, but somethings I am starting to venture out because I feel like I want to use the best people in the world to help me execute my ideas. I have things that I'm sourcing from different countries in Africa, I have things that I'm manufacturing in different countries in Europe, and obviously my style is from the streets of America. I'm trying to take a global approach.
When it comes to style, who do you consider to be the most stylish ever?
The most stylist individual? That's a hard question. For me I have different people, and I'm inspired by different things. If I had to pick one person that I think just was crazy with it, maybe Michael Jackson. Like seeing Michael Jackson with the glitter socks and glove or the jacket with the zippers, that was extremely inspiring.
It's crazy 'cause I could say that, but I could also say I'm a person who could see a homeless person on the street that's layered in a bunch of clothes, and they could have one really distressed piece that they're wearing for survival and the way they layer it...I can appreciate the actual aesthetic of it. I've found myself emulating that aesthetic. So yeah, I would say anything from Michael Jackson to a homeless person in the street, I'll consider stylish.
How does it feel to be a Black designer and collaborate with major brands like the video game series Call of Duty?
You know, I'm still flattered when anybody wants to work with me. Working with Call of Duty was really a blessing. The [C.O.D.] team showed a lot of love. I don't expect people to wanna work with me. So when they reach[ed] out to work it was just an amazing feeling. Especially when they let me do what I wanna do creatively and Call of Duty really just let me do my thing. They reached out to me to do a bag and I ended up telling them that I wanted to do a chair and they just supported the idea. Then we came up with the concept to do a throne for the winner. So I think to come from a place that I come from, I never saw myself collaborating with major corporations. I'm always flattered and almost in awe. I remember calling my Dad to tell him, 'cause my Dad loves playing Call of Duty, and I was telling him I'm doing a collaboration with them and he was like, "What?!" It's just an amazing feeling. I always feel honored and humble.
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When were you last super happy?
Hmm. I'm not sure, maybe like as an individual, maybe...I don't know. I'm always chasing something. So I don't know if I ever experienced like complete bliss or joy. I'm happy when I get a moment of clarity, but like complete happiness it may have been 10, 15, 20 years. I'm not necessarily the happiest person.
That's deep. Well, what keeps you dreaming then?
I think my dreams are more like visions. I don't...I feel like in a large way I've sacrificed my...even back to the happiness question. I sacrifice my personal joy and my happiness for the art and for the culture. So I'm of service to whatever delivers ideas to me. I'm of service to that entity or that deity. So I can't really take ownership, but when it comes to my designs, I don't really have a dream. I more so have a vision that I'm trying to live out. I feel like it's my responsibility to live out the vision. Every time I have a new idea, it's more of a responsibility or a burden to get the idea out, 'cause I feel like if the idea was delivered to me, it's now my responsibility as a human being to get that idea out of my head into the physical world. So, I'm actually more so haunted by ideas more than anything. Like I wake up with like three ideas and I'm frustrated if I can't get them out of my head and if it's not right, I become like a maniac trying to get the ideas right.
I think from the outside looking in, people may think that I'm living a dream and in a material way sometimes. I have things that people like, but those things don't make me happy and those things aren't a part of my dream necessarily. They're just, I guess the fruits of the labor you know. I like nice things. I enjoy nice things. I aspire to have good taste, and I enjoy being able to purchase the shoes I like, or being able to buy the car that I always wanted. I'm more into design, but, but if an amazing designer designs a chair I enjoy being able to purchase that chair and participate in that part. But as far as like a dream I think I have more of a vision that I'm trying to see through.
With so many fans of your work, who would you like to work with on a new level?
For me, I think who I work with is not about a person, it's more about resources. Again for me as a creator, I'm just trying to get ideas out of my head. I don't draw very well, so I can have an idea in my head and I see it and I could try to sketch it. I might sketch it on a napkin, but if I find like a sketch artist that can help me sketch, that is like amazing.
I'm very good at utilizing the talents of others to bring what I see in my head to life. So when I look at collaboration, I don't necessarily look at it like as who I'm working with, but more so what resources they have access to and how much access they're going to give me to those resources so I can get ideas out of my head. When I look at companies like Louis Vuitton and I know that they work with some of the best leather workers in the world or some of the best garment makers in the world or some of the best hardware developers in the world, or even some of the best woodworkers furniture manufacturers in the world. When I think of runway shows, I have sound design in my head I have entire aesthetics locked in my head. So when I look at companies like Louis Vuitton I would like to work with them just to have access to the resources to bring new ideas into the world.
What calms your spirit when things are going crazy?
I'm a pretty dark person. I don't know if my spirit is ever calmed. Sometimes I think I have anxiety issues. I'm very anxious and it's funny because I think people always tell me that they don't see it because I'm so laid back, but on the inside I'm always working, I'm always thinking, and a lot of the times I'm overwhelmed. Sometimes it's simple things like a smell that brings me back. Like I love the smell of Palo Santo, so a certain temperature with some Palo Santo will like recenter me and remind me that it's not that deep and I can breathe and relax.
So you recently kind of went after GQ and Vogue questioning them and their editors perception of fashion. I wanted to know why do you think black creatives look to white institutions for validation?
I think as human beings we all are in search of validation. There are elements that pertain to white and black, but I think it's really like if you're the best, if you consider yourself the best basketball player in the world then you want to play in the NBA and you want accreditation from ESPN. If I'm the best musician in the world, I want to win a Grammy. If I'm the best designer in the world, I want to put my garments on a runway in Paris and I want Vogue or GQ to write about it.
We say, "This is this. This group is the epitome. This is the group that writes about things that are great.” And I think we aspire to have those groups write about us. It's actually a dying thing 'cause if we look now, like kids today, I don't think are really worried about that. I was on my Instagram the other day and I got hundreds, tens of thousands of people sending me messages. I got thousands of comments, probably more engagement than GQ and Vogue. I just think with them being a staple of fashion and me doing what I've done in fashion, some recognition is deserved. That's not necessarily what pushed me over the top where I started to have that moment with Vogue. You know, I look at them like GQ, Vogue eventually they should write about me, 'cause I do what I do. But I'm not seeking validation, I wasn't actively seeking validation from them.
What actually happened is an independent journalist from Vogue, I guess somebody sent her my work and she doesn't follow me. She doesn't know anything about what I do, she doesn't know anything about street culture and she decided to go on her Instagram and post my work. I guess she reviews bags, and she said, "For everybody that's sending me this bag telling me how amazing it is, I just want to let y'all know that it's fake. It's not a real bag, is a knockoff."And her followers, not my followers or we have mutual followers maybe, started telling her, "It's not fake, is a Sheron bag." And then she's like, you know, "I don't care who made it. It's fake. It's not made by Louis Vuitton nor Hermes." And then they proceeded to tell her, "He buys real Louis Vuitton, real Hermes and then he creates like these custom pieces for his clients." And by then I think she just had an opinion and she just wanted to run with it. She wasn't open to hearing anybody else's opinion. So she continued with, "It's fake." Then at this point I decided to chime in and broke down what's going on to her. "I'm an artist. I buy Louis Vuitton, I buy Hermes, I put them together I make my own stuff." People even continued to tell her. And then she's like, "That's not real design. You're just putting fabric over an existing bag." I'm telling her, "I don't do that. I actually make everything from scratch." She's like, "But it's still not your design even if you put it together." I said, "Well, if you actually follow me, you'll see that I have thousands of designs that I've contributed." You know, she didn't want to hear any of that. She was in attack mode.
So I think I started to tell her about herself just letting her know, "You don't get to judge hip-hop. You don't participate in the culture." She's saying that's not real fashion and I'm telling her, "At one point y'all said that hip-hop wasn't real music, y'all said it was just noise." I said, "Now I'm in a cafe in Paris and y'all listening to hip hop. At one point, y'all said graffiti wasn't real art, but now I go into these different institutions and you have graffiti in museums. Now you're taking what I've done and you're saying that is not real fashion. You know I was never born with a silver spoon in my mouth. So whenever we're dealing with hip-hop culture, just the nature of Black people or hip-hop culture in general, we've always had to take nothing and make something. Whether it be soul food, having to take pig intestines and collard greens and make soul food, or having to vandalize a train just to get your art idea off or having to jack the break in a disco beat and loop it to get your rhymes off. And now I was like, "Yeah, I'mma jack Louis Vuitton's fabric and make my own piece out of it." She's saying that that's not real. But Billie Eilish is one of the most iconic faces that's popping up in all these spaces and that's what the streets actually know her for...wearing reworked garments, and cutting up designer stuff. But she wouldn't know that because she's not a participant. So I just went on a rant basically saying, fuck her, fuck Vogue, fuck GQ and I stand by that, fuck them.
Like a boss! Is there anything you would like to say to the new up and coming designers out there?
My advice for anybody that's trying to achieve anything would just be never give up. If you never give up, you never lose. You don't lose until you fail to get back up. You know, like you could fall 999 times, if you get up a thousand you're still up one. Try to find validation within self, even though I know it's hard, it's just a human struggle, but enjoy the process. There is no end. There's no end goal. No matter how much you try to achieve an end goal, you will learn that there is no ending. It's just a cycle. Perseverance is important. And any idea that you have, do everything in your power to get that idea into the world. I don't care if you want to make a mouse pad or a shoe or a flip-flop or if you have an idea for a computer app, do whatever you have. Use every resource at your disposal to get that idea into the world, 'cause the world needs those ideas.