Picture Me Rollin’: Demetrius Shipp, Jr. Channels Tupac Shakur’s Aura On Iconic VIBE Covers
Tupac Amaru Shakur was one rare individual. How did this mortal man take the entertainment world by storm and still represent his core values, talents and intelligence in an industry/society looking to strip him of his very soul? We knew he was different by the way he spoke with passion on just about anything he was involved in. Shakur’s heightened skill level in poetry, acting and rapping drastically set him apart from his era of entertainers. No one else made cult classic creative works in music and film while simultaneously staying rooted in the extracurricular street shit that traps young black men. Somehow Shakur found time to become an advocate for social justice or a very vocal proponent of what would now be called the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, with his Black Panther organization lineage, one of community activism and only using force if confronted, Shakur was surely about that action.
During the last three years of his newspaper headline-making life, Shakur was entrapped in a whirlwind of studio sessions, street fights, shootouts, movie and video sets, star-studded clubs and shows, school visits, spot dates, court sentencings and the slammer. In that time the multi-platinum recording artist would give VIBE Magazine his most impassioned interviews, both in and out of prison. Kevin Powell, then staff writer, struck up an incredible accord with Shakur that made their meetings epic in nature when printed in the pages of the monthly publication. Not only were the interviews by Shakur profound and full of static, frenetic, remorseful, vengeful and uncontrollable energy, the photos that accompanied these pieces were equally as encapsulating and brimming with vigor. Be it his stoned, ice grill piercing through the lens or the way his bushy and thick eyebrows said everything his huge pupils tried to conceal. With his clenched jaw, holding back all the rage and revolution he was bound to explode with, Shakur knew that the bandana tied up on his clean-shaven head represented his connection to the hood’s pain worldwide. What a symbol of his image. He alone owned that inexpensive piece of squared cloth and intertwined it with his love for those that were just like him, living a thug’s complicated life.
Shakur shot with VIBE at least three separate times in the ’90s for print covers. With his history tied to ours, we saw the prime opportunity to honor his legacy on the eve of his major motion film biopic release, All Eyez On Me (which hits theaters on June 16), and recreate those solo covers Shakur was so known for. To complete this task, we enlisted Hollywood’s new super talent and Shakur’s lead in the film, Demetrius Shipp, Jr. The uncanny resemblance made the idea a no-brainer to pull off with our production team and the photographer saddled with the hugely stressful project. Getting the details just right was the focus and the young shooter of the stars, Cam Kirk, was up to the challenge:
“When I first got contacted about the project, I will not lie, I was nervous. Tupac has been an idol of mine, so to recreate a piece of art he created with VIBE Magazine and some of the greatest photographers in the word, was a huge task. To prepare, I researched the photographers that shot the original covers and tried to put myself in the mindset they were in when they shot with Pac. Working with the VIBE team and Demetrius definitely eased a lot of the pressure, as we came together on set and just vibed instantly. Demetrius’s presence and image is scarily close to Pac, so honestly, he made the recreation process pretty easy.”
All that was needed was to execute the shoot to the best of levels. In order to keep his promotional run hairline in tact, Shipp (aka Meech) was in the makeup chair to get a rubber bald head secured to replicate Shakur’s signature shaved head. In the film, Shipp cut his hair down for the realism. As for styling, the team couldn’t have been tighter in securing the shirts, glasses, black shoulder holsters and the infamous leather strapped straight jacket. A true effort in excellence.
With full pride, we can say that the production team aced the shots and the fun-loving atmosphere propelled the creative flow to the images and videos we have provided. We believe Pac would be honored with the homage to his image and the vision of those who created/photographed the original shots of dopeness.
Read Demetrius Shipp, Jr’s interview below and watch the videos on how the cover shoots and All Eyez On Me came together.
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: The process of me getting into the mind of Tupac started back [when I was] just doing a lot of studying on him, myself, looking at all of his videos that they have, all of the footage on YouTube. And then my acting coach, Angela Gibbs and I, we took it a step further to read the books that he read, to learn Shakespeare, to dive into the history of the Black Panthers, and just kind of get an overall glimpse – as close as possible – into his world and his ideas and how he was raised.
Did you get a chance to talk to any of his friends? Anybody close to him?
Yes, E.D.I. Mean was onset. He was with the Outlawz in a group with Pac and he gave me a great deal of information and insight on Tupac as the man, and how they were as kids, and just the realness and the intimate details on what was taking place throughout his years.
You’ve been going after this role since 2011 and then you finally got it. What, during the process of the whole ordeal that you went through, you didn’t expect?
To be honest, I didn’t expect for this to happen because there were so many years of it not happening. It was one of those things that I didn’t believe was real. It was like 2011, 2012, ‘13, ’14. Then 2015 came and I was like, “They pulling my strings again and I don’t know about this [laughs].” I was really reluctant to go out and audition again, but I did. The thing is, that audition was my best one of all the years and it wasn’t even like I was studying during that entire time, it just kind of happened that way. I actually felt confident after that, in myself. When I left, I was like, “I can for sure do this. 100%.”
If Tupac were alive today, how do you think he would react to the film? What would he say?
Ahh, man. If Tupac was alive today… Well, I have to just go off of the people that knew him well and their reaction to the film, and they love it. They love the performance. They’re not praising my performance in trying to protect my feelings and trying to make me feel good because this is a dear loved one, who they lost and who everybody holds tight. So, when they’re critiquing it’s all honest, so I have to believe that he would be pleased with the performance.
How does the film tell the story of Tupac’s personal relationships with people in his life?
It gives you short segments. Especially the things that caused some things to happen. ‘Cause it’s hard to cover the details of everybody’s relationship. Even after me shooting the movie and talking to people, everybody’s like, “I had this relationship with Pac,” and, “Me and Pac did this,” and, “We was here and we were there.” So, it’s hard to cover all of that in the movie. But, you know, in telling the story, the relationships that were important and impactful and things were happening along with that. Like Biggie Smalls, for instance. Everybody knows that, but they don’t know exactly what the extent of what their friendship was. So, it shows them being actual real friends and then things transpiring after that.
You mentioned Biggie Smalls. Jamal Woolard, who plays Biggie in 2009’s Notorious, comes into All Eyez On Me. Did he give you any advice about what to look out for when playing someone so iconic?
He gave me advice, but it really wasn’t advice geared towards my performance and what I was doing for the movie. Other than just like enjoy the ride and have fun in doing it.
Did you have a favorite Tupac track before you made the film and is it still your favorite?
Yeah. “Dear Mama” is my favorite song from Tupac, man. It touches you and I think that that’s the most important thing with music. I mean, we can all agree that it’s for the feel and that song is gonna make—I mean, if you have any sort of rhythm when you hear that song, it’s gonna touch you. Especially with it being a song dedicated to his mother. Everybody comes from their mom, so it’s definitely something that’s gonna touch.
Is there a particular lyric or anything that—not in that piece, but just in general, lyric-wise where you’re like, ‘He killed it on that’?
I will say this: Rapping-wise, there has never been anybody to match Tupac’s energy when coming on a song, like when rappin’. It’s unmatched. You can’t duplicate it. My favorite one is “Can’t See Me.” The way he got on that track, he was all over that beat. All the verses on “Can’t See Me,” but just how he came on that song was dope.
We talked before about how ever since you were young people would always say you look like Pac. Do you feel as though, now that everything has happened full-circle, that this is something you were born to do?
It certainly feels that way, man. It’s just a lot of stuff that ended up happening to let me know that this was really destiny. I’ll just give you a story. I was on set and everybody knows I play music all day. So, when I showed up to set, I had my speaker and I’m blasting it in the trailer when I go to the makeup. When I go on set ‘til they’re about to say action, I’m playing my music. So, on this particular day, I’m playing Frankie Beverly and Maze “Golden Time Of Day,” and I was just singing it all day, right? And then the next scene that was coming up was the Marin County scene with the shooting or whatever.
So, I get out my van. I’m playing it, I’m singing it and E.D.I is like, “Yo, why is you singing that song?” And I’m like, “What you mean? I’ve been singing it all day.” He was like, “Bro, the scene we’re recreating, the only reason why Pac wanted to go to the Marin County Fair that day is ’cause Frankie Beverly and Maze was there.”
Yeah. That’s the only reason he wanted to go. To see them perform. Yeah, that’s some crazy stuff. That’s just one of the stories, bro. That’s just one.
What wisdom or lesson from Tupac resonates with you most?
That’s tough, man. That’s real tough. You got me with a question right there. Hold on…I would say just the importance of having great discernment. I just gotta leave it right there. I can’t even elaborate on that one. To have great discernment between the people that you are allowing to attach to you and you are attaching yourself to. That’s it.
Photographer: Cam Kirk at Lightbox Studio in Los Angeles, California.
Stylist: Simona Sabo
Glasses: Iconic Frames Collection
Makeup Artist and Groomer: Sonia Cabrera.
Makeup Assistant: Chenoa Garcia
Music By: King Henry / Platinum Boy Music
All Eyez On Me hits theaters on Friday, June 16.
This content was created in partnership with Lionsgate.