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"...tarry...until ye be endued with power from on high" —Luke 24:49
D’Angelo was raised Pentecostal. Speaking in tongues. The Holy Ghost coming down on the anointed. Shouting and tarrying. Sanctified. Pentecostalism is to Christianity what hip hop is to black music. It’s hardcore. Pentecostalists don’t call the way they worship by its ancient name. To call their religion ancestor worship would be blasphemous. By the time D’Angelo was a small boy, his grandparents had broken away from the other Pentecostalists in Virginia. In relatively rural Richmond, his grandfather forbade his family—on any level—with other dandified church members or Baptists. “They were strict,” D’Angelo says. But they wielded influence over the family because of their deep spirituality. They “had the power,” he says.
All his life, D’Angelo has watched the faithful become occupied by spirits—what in Haitian voodoo ceremonies is called “being mounted.” For in a sanctified church—where women aren’t allowed to wear pants or makeup, male leaders are titled elders, church mothers stand alert in white nurse’s uniforms prepared to revive anyone overcome with Spirit, and service is several days a week and many hours long—if there is no mounting, there is no true salvation. When D’Angelo’s older brother Rodney was 9, he caught the Holy Ghost. Began speaking in ancient tongues, “I was scared,” D’Angelo admits now, “because I could see how real it was. He was taken over. Completely.” Possessed.
“I saw this one lady, she used to catch demons,” he continues. “She used to always catch’ em. And one night at this revival in the mountains, she caught a demon. She was going out of her way to disrupt. She ripped the Bible apart. She was being sexual. Stripping. Foaming at the mouth. She was speaking an evil tongue. I had never heard before, but I knew it was evil. And this brother from the choir, he and the evangelist tried to get it out of her—to exorcise her. And she was screaming, ‘No! No!’ She crawled out of there on all fours. There was a graveyard out back, and she was jumping on the hoods of the cars. And the whole church went out and made a circle around her and started praying and singing. Then my grandfather laid hands on her. And it was over.” At the time, Michael D’Angelo Archer, the youngest of three sons of a sanctified preacher (himself the son of a preacher) and a “powerful” mother, was 12.
D’Angelo recorded his long-awaited new album, Voodoo (Virgin), at Electric Lady Studios, which Jimi Hendrix built on Eighth Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The studio pet, a white cat named Jimi, would follow D’Angelo around and curl up in his lap while D worked out some lyric or chord. And of course, he has nightmares about conjuring Marvin Gaye. Yes, he knows that on “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” the single from Voodoo, he sounds like Prince; it’s an homage. He was challenging the dirty mind The Artist abandoned for Jehovah. But Voodoo isn’t about them. It’s about his grandmother and grandfather. And tambourines. And the tarrying that still goes on till four in the mourning. Because sometimes it’s the slow-coming, baring one’s soul. Becoming naked to God, vulnerable to the ancestors. And their ancient tongues. Sometimes it takes three whole years of tarrying to call Spirit down.
"WHEN YOU WITNESS A BIRTH, THAT'S DEFINITELY A TRUE WORK OF GOD," SAYS D'ANGELO. "I JUST FELL ON MY KNEES AND CRIED."
When, “Brown Sugar,” D’Angelo’s first single (from the album of the same name), dropped in the spring of ’95, Raekwon ruled the streets, Biggie ran the radio, and Tupac was recovering from gunshot wounds in a prison cell. Twenty-one-year-old D’Angelo and his sticky ode to cannabis seemed to come out of nowhere; he simply could not have been anticipated. Black radio gave the single a cautious embrace then caught up as momentum for the record soared. (I distinctively remember my stripper girlfriends from Detroit going on and on about this song that was making them rich weeks before radio broke it.) With an 8-track sensibility, keys that recalled choir organs, and D’Angelo’s often incomprehensible but guided falsetto, Brown Sugar the album (EMI) was the early tremor of what lovers of soul hoped would be a seismic shift, a repatriation, if you will, to real music. There were a couple of funky bands (whose members played instruments) that managed to break through back then; actually there were exactly two: Tony Toni Toné, who were headed for a breakup, and Mint Condition, who seemed locked in some powerful curse that kept them from the success and recognition they deserved. Mostly what was passing for R&B were Jodeci knockoffs. Actual soul music—music where notes sounded wet like teardrops, music delivered to our parents by Minnie Riperton, Al Green, and the Isley Brothers—was like a distant memory. Brown Sugar was the elixir no one knew to want. Like a promise made in silence, fulfilled. Then we began to learn who D’Angelo was; scouring his CD cover for the standard Babyface or Teddy Riley production credit, we were alarmed to learn that he’d written, produced, arranged, and performed the album himself—as a teenager, in his bedroom in Richmond. This kind of self-containment, delivered from the edge of nowhere hadn’t been witnessed since…well, since Prince.
D’Angelo became a major story. R. Kelly would earn and keep the crown of R&B king, but D’Angelo was something deeper. He became a symbol for integrity and musicianship and artistry. An ambassador for something so old it was new. As other soulful artists, like Erykah Badu and Rahsaan Patterson, followed him, journalists scrambled for a name for this “new” category of music. Neo-soul, retro-roots—but none of them truly stuck. When other singers, like Chico DeBarge and Maxwell, submitted their efforts, they, too, were lumped into this category. With Voodoo, a brave deconstruction of his sound, D’Angelo has pushed the game even further than he had before. As prodigious jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who plays on Voodoo, puts it, “D’Angelo has set the standard for other artists.” Even other renowned musicians recognize—D’Angelo is virtually peerless.
That there was a five-year gap between Brown Sugar and Voodoo is something of a story in itself. Of the half-dozen cover stories and feature articles you’ll read on D’Angelo, most will begin with the fact that his sophomore album took so long to be completed. In the record industry, he’s accused of being indulged beyond reason, in a marketing sense. His cover of “She’s Always in My Hair” from the Scream 2 soundtrack (Capitol, 1977) was like a hand-written to Prince, but it never received a promotional push and remained a kind of secret between them. The one original song that dropped between the first and second albums, the brilliant “Devil’s Pie" from the Belly soundtrack (Def Jam, 1988), signaled the funkier, more experimental direction D’Angelo was headed in but was perhaps too self-indulgent for fans hoping for another melodious standard like “Lady.” Raphael Saadiq, who cocreated “Untitled,” says D’Angelo is hyperaware of pushing the limits of his sound. “We always say, ‘Do you want to go there with the music?’ because we have to fight all the things that are out now.” So D’s short answer to this most frequently asked question, Why so long?, is “I had to get it right; I just wanted it to be right.”
The long answer is slightly more involved. In the beginning, he suffered from severe writer’s block. Then he witnessed the birth of his son, Michael D’Angelo Archer II, with his ex-girlfriend, singer Angie Stone. “When you witness a birth, that’s definitely a true work of God….I mean, it’s a part of you,” says D’Angelo. “I just fell on my knees and I cried. I was so humbled I couldn’t get it together. The nurses were like, ‘All right, get up!’” And he did. The floodgates opened. He and Stone took their newborn son home and wrote “Send It On,” a love letter to their child about heritage and flow and spirit and love. “Voodoo started the day we were with our son,” says Stone, who cowrote four tracks on the album with D’Angelo. “I felt like he approached the album as if it were a celebration. ‘Send it On’ jump-started the project, and I credit our son for that. The song had a spiritual overtone that came with revelation and faith and ‘Thank you, God, for such a beautiful gift.’” In the end, the album’s beleaguered release date came down to just that—releasing Voodoo. The record had become, during the three years he recorded it, very much like another child—a baby to him and the people who helped create it. After thousands of hours of experimenting and free flowing, Roots drummer and D’Angelo’s “copilot” on the album, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, and Russell “The Dragon” Elevado, D’s indefatigable and loyal engineer, had a hard time letting go of the experience of making Voodoo. “I didn’t want it to end,” D’Angelo told Ahmir on the Tuesday in January that the album hit record stores. “Me either, man,” replied Ahmir, “me either.”
D’Angelo insists that the length of time it took to deliver Voodoo wasn’t about some slack worth ethic or all-consuming herb habit. It wasn’t about his tender age (26) or an exceedingly ambitious vision of what his sophomore album should be. It definitely wasn’t about challenging pop music’s mandate that an artist cough up a 74-minute disc every two years (D’s too busy being an artist to raise some radical protest like that). Nor was it about a crippling fear. “I wasn’t really thinking about the sophomore-jinx thing,” he says. “I was really thinking about the whole picture—not just the second album, but all the albums that come after that. It had to be evolutionary, and whatever it took to get that…”
"I WASN'T THINKING ABOUT THE SOPHOMORE-JINX THING," SAYS D. "I WAS THINKING ABOUT THE WHOLE PICTURE."
D’Angelo is what vanguard jazz musician Charlie Hunter (who plays guitar on Voodoo) calls “the perfect blend of the intellectual and the visceral,” someone whose ability to make music is matched by his knowledge of music history. He is perfectly willing to contextualize his own evolution. “I realized that everything that exists, all music, comes from Africa,” D’Angelo explains. “I started to see all the connections of music pointing back to Africa, and I wanted to express all those genres. Like what Sly [Stone] was trying to do, like what Prince was trying to do, and Jimi too.” To shed light on his own falsetto and his willingness to marry major and minor chords, D will reference Same Cooke—“the way he would do his vocals, with his musicians all playing major chords”—then he’ll grab his guitar and demonstrate an example into the phone receiver. “And he [Cooke] would just come out of nowhere in this minor key—it’s hard to put in words the effect that has on you—the chills. It’s just evolutionary….I want to be free like that.”
D’Angelo can go on and on about music. But his confidant and “Soulaquarian” brother Questlove believes that in the beginning he suffered from writer’s block for the same reason most of us do—because of the same reason most of us do—because of the demise of his love relationship. “My theory on D’s writer’s block,” Ahmir says, “was about something Angie said to him once, kind of saying he wanted to turn what was tumultuous about their relationship into songs.” Voodoo is reserved in that way, like a slow striptease, not quite the naked autobiography we’re sure to witness on his future recordings, God willing. I ask him about his relatively conservative approach to writing. Conservative, compared to the freedom he expresses as a vocalist and to a greater extent as a producer and thinking musician. I accuse him of being private, of protecting the people in his life, of keeping secrets. “That’s exactly what I do,” he admits. “I’m just so…so private, like you said. It’s hard,” he stutters. “Writing is a place I want to be completely open; it’ll happen.” Not that D’Angelo isn’t achingly intimate. We haven’t heard ecstasy-inducing lines like, “…I’d love to make you wet / In between your thighs ‘cause / I love it when it comes inside you," since Marvin Gaye told his second wife, “I want to give you some head.”
When it came time to physically reveal himself for this project, D’Angelo went all the way. The video for “Untitled,” a nearly uninterrupted shot of D’s naked torso, is two seconds short of pure exhibitionism, but it comes off because, well, he seems to be getting off. Where D seemed trapped behind his keyboard for the whole of Brown Sugar, hiding a chubbier physique with peacoats and leather jackets, he’s stripped down now. And the “Untitled” clip gives the impression that an incredibly skilled friend of his is doing some work of her own just below the camera’s frame. “Me and Dom [his manager, Dominique Trenier] talked about the concept for the video for a half hour. Then we didn’t talk about it again. I just showed up. And it was really about concentrating on my performance. I had to sing the song 17 times.”
D’Angelo is really shy. He listens more than he talks, especially when he first meets you. He doesn’t frequent New York City’s hot nightclubs on a regular basis or hobnob with other celebrities. He keeps a close-knit circle of like-minded artists around him and drives his Range Rover home to Richmond whenever he needs a break from Manhattan—which is monthly. Yet he can be overwhelmingly familiar. I once had a two-hour conversation with him, for an interlude on Voodoo (I’m the chick laughing right after “Feel Like Makin’ Love"), and he held my hand the entire time. When I said something that delighted him, like, “I told my mother I’d slit my wrists if she didn’t get me tickets to the Jacksons’ Victory tour,” he’d kiss me on the cheek. Even with other men he’s constantly touching. He hears what you’re saying, but what he really wants to do is feel you. Or as DJ Premier, who coproduced “Devil’s Pie,” puts it, “When you converse with him, he gives you a pound, every 20, 30 seconds; he just keeps shaking your hand, that’s his thing.
Still, you know he could just easily throw you up against a wall, like you’re being arrested, and keep you there till the sun comes up. Or fight a nigga. He can do that too, all that. He is stormy and light, and cerebral and earthy. He truly is, save his issue with revelatory writing, his music. "I’ve never come across a spirit like that,” says Chicago rapper Common, who was recording his album upstairs at Electric Lady while D’Angelo worked in the basement. “His spirit is too strong… It comes from another dimension.”
"MY THEORY," SAYS QUESTLOVE, "IS THAT HE WANTED TO TURN WHAT WAS TUMULTUOUS ABOUT HIS RELATIONSHIP INTO SONGS."
“I’ve been reading this book about angels,” D’Angelo tells me over the phone from his hotel room in Atlanta, where he’s donating the first check to the Curtis Mayfield Scholarship Foundation, which he helped establish. “And it was saying that every angel controlled an element and that it controlled the exact opposite elements too. Like fire and water.” Yes, I tell him, I haven’t read the same book but I’ve seen those yin-yang principles constructed in other places: in the Yoruba myth of Ogun; the Biblical myth of Lucifer; and in the autobiographical myth of Marvin. The hero-warrior who, in a rage, murders his entire family; the most glorious and revered angel in Heaven banished to be forever loathed and feared; the lonely son who’s as afraid of his sexuality as he is of his father’s God. We speak incoherently of being too vulnerable, opening oneself up to spirits that are destructive or, worse, suicidal. I ask him about channeling, about inviting musical forefathers in. Asking for the bright parts of what these immortals once were. Dancing around their cavernous shadows. “Like not letting Jimi have you entirely, just be with you for a few chords or something.” I suggest. He laughs. “It’s too real for me. That’s why I don’t even want to talk about Marvin or all that stuff,” D says. “On one hand it’s arrogant, on the other hand it’s like… playing with something dangerous. It’s too real.”
As with a lot of gifted artists, one of D’Angelo’s greatest challenges will be to break out of the music history that precedes him. The very history with which he is obsessed. It’s a challenge that must be met because there will never be another Marvin. Prince is still alive as The Artist and still making important music. We don’t need another one. Those who criticize D’Angelo, who say, for instance, that “Untitled” is too direct an allusion to Prince, have no idea that it’s Prince who rings D’Angelo up. Eric Clapton, who performed with D at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame’s banquet last March, is equally wowed; he dropped by Electric Lady to see what the wunderkind was up to. When B.B. King first met D’Angelo three years ago, he pulled D’s manager Trenier aside and told him, “That boy’s not 22 years old. I’m telling you, he’s not.” But he was.
Since then, D has read Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye and the latest biography on Muhammad Ali. He and Questlove have screened endless hours of performance footage featuring James Brown, Parliament, and Sly & the Family Stone. He studies black genius, black male iconography. Still, he’s got to live it. He’s got to have his love affairs, his failed attempts at perfection, his battles with the music industry. Last September, when D’Angelo performed “Chicken Grease” on The Chris Rock Show the night after The Artist previewed some of his songs from Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (Artista, 1999) at a media listening party, a wide-eyed D’Angelo wants to know how The Artist was, whether the material was banging. Questlove, forever generous, gives a glowing review. But I can only look D’Angelo dead in the eye and beg of him, “Man, even if you get saved and turn 40 and everything, can you just try to stay, I dunno, nasty?” Everyone in the dressing room thinks this is a fine joke, but I’m not laughing, and D stares back at me and swears he hears me. “I feel you,” is what he says. “I’ma stay nasty.”
On the phone in that hotel room in Atlanta, after talk of demons and speaking in tongues, tragic soul singers and their major and minor chords, I remind D’Angelo of that promise he made a few months earlier. There are rumors that he will abandon the instrument from which he commands his sexiest sounds: the keyboard. I’ve heard his next album will be an attempt at the kind of raw, guitar-driven funk-rock Sly Stone had summoned from above. D’Angelo offers no confirmation, only the confidence enjoyed by the chosen: “I got a bullet in the chamber.”
Additional reporting by Abby Addis and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.
This article originally appeared in the April 2000 issue of VIBE Magazine | Written by dreamhampton | Cover photography by Dah Len.
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