20 Years Later: Tupac Is Hip-Hop’s Prophet Of Rage And Revolution
I have never met anyone like Tupac Shakur, and I doubt I will ever meet anyone like him ever again. In the past few days I have done a number of media interviews, locally, nationally, and even internationally, that reaffirm why ‘Pac is the most incredible global hip-hop icon we have ever seen, and probably ever will.
When I met him in the Spring of 1993, at the “Jack The Rapper” music conference in Atlanta, Georgia, little did I know, then, that I would spend the next three years of my life, and the last three of his, documenting Tupac’s every move, as a musical artist, as an actor, as a rebel, as a man-child — as a man. He, ever the sign of Gemini, was many things to himself, and many things to other people.
But at his core, Tupac Shakur was fearless, free, vulnerable, contradictory, and someone forever trying to find himself in a world that did not quite know what to do with a Black male like him. Born of a Black Panther Party mother named Afeni Shakur, his life was one of constant change and fast movements. It began while Afeni was in jail, as part of the famous Panther 21 case (they were accused of plotting to bomb several New York City public spaces).
Just one month before ‘Pac was born, on June 16, 1971, Afeni was released. Ms. Shakur would tell me, in one of our conversations during my VIBE years, that she truly believed her son was going to die as a result of her imprisonment. He did not, and mother and son, and later his sister Sekyiwa (daughter of activist and political prisoner Mutulu Shakur) struggled through years of financial difficulties, various dwellings, and moves from New York City to Baltimore to Marin City, in the Bay Area of California.
Pac’s life was one I knew so well myself as the son of a single Black mother with little to no help from anyone. This is what brought me to ‘Pac, to his life and art, because in him I saw myself, and many of us boys and girls from America’s ‘hoods trying to make a way out of no way. And when you come from where we come from — that means much pain, much trauma, and many things we experienced in our childhoods follow us right into our adult years. That was no different for Tupac.
I cannot even begin to describe what a rollercoaster it was during the three years I knew Tupac, and documented his life. We were more then devastated when he died this month, 20 years ago. I was in Las Vegas when it was announced. The transcript you will read is from the very last time I ever spoke with Tupac, for VIBE’s LIVE FROM DEATH ROW February 1996 cover story which featured him, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Suge Knight. It was eleven months after I had conducted the interview with ‘Pac in jail — at New York City’s Rikers Island.
[Here’s unreleased audio from Pac’s Rikers Island jail interview with Kevin Powell (April 1995)]
He was a very different person, very on edge, as compared to the very reflective and humble person in the Riker’s interview. Little did I know Tupac would be dead a mere nine months later.
[Ed. Note: To fully put this never-before released interview into perspective one must understand the intense climate of the Hip-Hop nation at the time of this Q&A. There were high tensions on both sides of the country that made it dangerous for artists and crews to maneuver freely between coasts. Tupac, freshly released from jail, was publicly in a state of furious flux. He had a new record deal with new standards of success to hit and old beef debts to settle. Yet, at times he showed the flash of an olive branch and the prospect of coming together, albeit under stringent rules. This is a window into ‘Pac’s state of mind at his most candid. Three months after leaving prison, ‘Pac speaks plainly on topics that so many of us have speculated on.
VIBE is inextricably connected to Tupac—as it is to the golden era of ‘90s Hip-Hop. While the standard-bearer for journalism about Hip-Hop, many felt the magazine also played a part in fueling the tensions of the time. We print this transcript not to perpetuate negative narratives, but to add another chapter to our journalistic tradition—to show Tupac as he was toward the end of his days. This rare glimpse at the end of Tupac’s story finds him erratic, introspective, and brilliantly insightful as always. We offer it with deep appreciation for ‘Pac, and with respect for his family, friends and fans.
VIBE respectfully offers this piece without any ill will to those involved.]
That’s as together as we can get. For money.
What about getting together as black men?
We are together as black men, they over there, we over here. If we really gonna live in peace, we all can’t be in the same room, man. Because Yellow M&Ms don’t move with green M&M’s. I mean, you don’t put M&M peanuts with M&Ms plain. You hear me?
But we all black, brother…
We all black and everything…but I’m not talking about division. I’m talking about realism. You don’t hang with us. You live different than we live. We all brothers, but we don’t all live the same. Even in a real family. I don’t live with my mother, I don’t live with my brother. We all come together for Thanksgiving we all get together for Christmas. If any of them call I don’t wish nothing bad to the nigga. They call and say why don’t we do a celebrity this this this in my neighborhood, I’m wit it.
What about if they say they’re concerned about this hostility that’s out there that people are feeding into. Can you and Suge and Puffy and Biggie sit down?
But that’s corny. That’s just for everybody else to be calm. For everybody else they could understand what’s going on. They just wanna hear what the conversation is about.
I know my life’s not in danger. Suge know his life not in danger. I don’t feel as if I gotta worry about them. They shouldn’t feel like they gotta worry about me. Puffy wrote me while I was in jail. I wrote him back. I told him I don’t got no problems with him.
Even if there is no beef, don’t you think it would be better to be clarified?
What’s that gonna stop if we sit down and have a talk. They know they can sit down. Niggas can start some shit and say whatever they want. Cause at the some point the Nation of Islam or somebody is gonna sit them down and we can make peace. That’s why niggas is not being held responsible for the things that they do wrong. I don’t want no problems, I don’t want it to be fighting, I don’t want no arguing, I just wanna make my money. You can’t tell me I’m gonna sit down and hug and kiss niggas to make everybody else feel good. Straight up, there is no beef. If there was a beef niggas would know. *They know it ain’t no beef. Puffy was at the fight [in Vegas, where Suge has a club].
We in the Hip-Hop generation represent leadership. In the absence of us taking some stands, if anybody like you who’s very visible, or Puffy or Suge saying, “There is no beef,” then regular people who don’t understand that are gonna continue to think that there is a beef.
I believe in fate.
Fate. Fate. I know niggas didn’t want to sit down and have no conversation until Puffy started fearing for his life. I was in jail nigga. Living in jail when everybody was having this beef. One West Coast nigga in New York, maximum security prison. Nobody want to have no sit downs then. Had to deal with my struggle every day. Some shit like that.
What did you learn from your experience? It was 11 and half months or something like that…
I learned that fear is stronger than love. And no matter how much love I got for my peoples, man, if somebody else making them scared, my people gonna do me in. And I learned that a lot of people support me for just being me. And I have to give back. And a lot of people look up to me to give back. So I have to be able to give back. But I can’t give back if I’m broke. So I have to be about my business and my money now. Before I wanted to talk and explain what I’m doing. I’m not doing that no more. Nobody’s gonna understand me. I just came up with that. After reading what people was writing in VIBE. Ain’t no need for me to make people try to understand me. I’m gonna be out here and do my music, do some movies. Try to give back to the hood any way I can. I’ma give out food every Christmas, I’ma give out turkeys every Thanksgiving. I’ma have a Mother’s Day program.
I think you’re oversimplifying. 99 percent of the letters from readers supported you. A lot of people dissed the people who responded to you.
I seen it, I read every VIBE. I had a subscription, man. Every article you did, I read every VIBE that came out. Then I started seeing this shit, I was like God damn. They can just say that. Puffy talking about, “If you a thug, you need to be a thug forever.” And VIBE just printed it.
I’m not accountable for what they did.
It’s not the same situation now where I can just speak. I don’t care about them. It’s because of them I’m invigorated and I’m rejuvenated to do what I got to do.
You said you were moving away from…
I’m striving for that. Every day I’m striving for that. Every day. You won’t see me all up on TV getting high. I’m not making it where the kids… I’m not making it like I’m glorifying getting high. That’s a hell of [a] motherfucking thing, to shake an addiction like that. But shit, I gotta do what I gotta do.
You said it’s gonna get deep. What did you mean by that?
It’s gonna get deep, man, because… Um, what the East is doing, they think is… I understand it. I’m from there. It’s really like unifying the East coast. Because it was really like, in a slump. But they’re doing it wrong. Cause they’re using the West coast as a rallying cry. And they making it look like WE are the perpetrators of this big East coast — West coast thing. They never had no problems. They could come out here and perform and they clap. We go out there and niggas is booing. That Source Awards, that’s what start it. Not start it, but that Source Awards is what put it to a new level. They was booing and shit. Me personally being from both coasts, but I represent the West coast, I think that’s disrespectful.
What about Suge making a comment about Puffy at this year’s Source Awards. Wasn’t that kinda disrespectful?
No, that’s not disrespectful. That’s his opinion and that’s real. All he was doing was saying if they tired of having a manager shake his ass in their video. We don’t do like that on the Row. That’s real.
Can’t that contribute to the whole East-West thing?
Not as much as it does when y’all niggas… Um, when niggas goin’ on the radio. It ain’t about the West Coast, it’s all about NY. Boo hoo hoo. Fuck the west, we the best. We started it. All them other niggas.
I be listening.
Suge has got the heart to say it in front of you. All these other muthafuckas been saying it behind our backs.
By getting deep, to you, does that mean that some violence or death…
I told you what I want. I want it to go on records. Let’s make some money for the hood. The hood is [what] need us now. Fuck a nigga ego. I don’t care. I could put all that shit aside and we could make records. And give money to the hood. Build some community centers with this. We can make it where we have block parties. Where we have Death Row and Bad Boy have rapping contests all over the hood and boom boom boom. We could do whatever.
Tell me about your album, It’s called All Eyez on Me.
All Eyez on Me. The first single is “California Love”, with me and Dre and Roger Troutman. And then I got a single coming out two weeks after that with me and Snoop called “Two of America’s Most Wanted”. “California Love” is just giving it up for California. You got “Crooklyn”, you got “Crooklyn” [Part] 1 and [Part] 2. You know, this is our “Crooklyn”. “Two of America’s Most Wanted”, that’s about me and Suge and our cases and our problems. We two of America’s most wanted.
You mean me and Snoop?
Me and Snoop.
Can you explain the title of the album?
Everybody lookin’ at me right now. The police lookin’ at me, the females, my enemies, reporters, people that want me to fall, people that want me to make it. My mama. In jail, the guards. Everybody lookin’ at me. All eyes on me.
How does that make you feel?
It make me feel good. I like the challenge. I know I gotta get out here and put some good work out. I’m really into this album cause I want it to sell. I’m really trying to break some records with this. Cause no rapper’s ever put out a double album. It’s never been done before.
How many songs did you say was on it?
It’s 28 songs. All brand new songs. All new. None of it was written in jail. All of it happened soon as I got out.
You once said you were gonna go in a different direction. Is there any like introspection on this album, like you mentioned Marvin Gaye in the last interview…
No. This album is like, hey….I never did an album like this before.
Can you describe it in a phrase?
Relentless. It’s like so uncensored. Aw maaaan. All my albums to me be sad. When I was in jail in New York, niggas was like, “Man, come out with an album that’s not like you’re dying.” The reason I did an album Me Against the World is so I could do an album like this. This is an upbeat album. It’s about celebrating my life. Celebrating being alive. Then I got this Outlaw Immortals project. That’s the new Thug Life project.
So Thug Life is not dead?
It’s not dead. It’s Psych and Mopreme and some other homies from Thug Life. The project I’m involved with is called Outlaw Immortals. That’s what happens when you pass thug life.
Wow. You have a single with Faith [Evans], I understand.
[Laughter] Yeah, sure do.
What’s that called?
“Wonda Why They Call U Bitch?”
What’s the song about?
Exactly what it sound like. Everybody’s wondering why we call females bitches. We don’t call all females bitches. It’s just certain things and we give examples. Leaving the key with her mother and she’s fucking and she’s just out. She’s just a tramp.
How did you hook up with Faith, given all this stuff you’ve been talking about?
We met in the club and bumped it. Me and Faith don’t have no problems.
But you can’t talk about it on the record?
Naw. Everybody that need to know know. [high-pitched laughter]
The rumors about you and Faith… Uh, spending a lot of time outside the studio.
You mean the rumor that I fucked her? Heh heh heh.
I’d rather turn the tape recorder off if you gonna say that, bro.
[Laughing hysterically] I ain’t gonna answer that shit, man. You know I don’t kiss and tell, man.
Is there anything you wanna add? Cause this is real deep.
I wanna add that man… I want niggas in NY to not feed into this shit.
What about niggas on the West coast?
They not feeding in, they about their money and shit. I’m talking about the East coast. Cause I love a lot of niggas out there. I love a lot of people out there. I got a lot of support from NY when I was in jail. That’s really important to me that NY don’t think I’m trippin on you. This is just something that’s been in me for a long time. They just dissing us. I can’t take it no more. But I love all my fans, all the people that supported me, down for me. People like Freddie Foxxx who stayed down for me. People like Latifah and Treach and I heard that Smif-N-Wessun gave me some love on my album. I got nothing but love for them.
But see people like Mobb Deep…stupid. Thug Life we still living it. That’s what gonna start this whole new… What you see, this Outlaw Immortal shit…that’s what started this.
Biggie and them being in VIBE talking all that shit. Stretch, Fab Five…all them people. All that. That’s what started all this. You hear what I said in my interview, I’m chilling. So-that’s what it is. This Outlaw Immortal is off the hook, kid. Off the hook. There’s a song on there called “Hit ‘Em Up” that’s gonna be one of the most talked about. You remember like Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline”, “Hit ‘Em Up” [is] gonna be like that. It’s coming out a couple months after my album. On my record label and Death Row.
What’s that called?
Why that title?
I fell in love with that word. I feel like that’s me. I’m gonna die, I just wanna die without pain. I don’t wanna die, but if I gotta go I wanna go without pain.
Kevin Powell, writer, activist, public speaker, is the author of 12 books, including his critically acclaimed autobiography, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood. You can email him, email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter.