"See ya when I free ya, if not when they shove me in!"
- Tupac from the song Holler If Ya' Hear Me
Twenty years ago today a fiery young rapper became a martyr when he was gunned down in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am talking about the one and only Tupac Amaru Shakur. Before his passing, he was already a larger than life figure. The shadow he casts over the hip hop community has somehow grown exponentially in the two decades since his passing. There are twelve year olds everywhere in America who know his name, face, and music, but know little to nothing of artists who were big just a few years ago.
While living, he was outspoken and highly controversial. Depending on what day you spoke to him, or what song you listened to you could get a young man speaking eloquently on the condition of African Americans and offering possible solutions for what ails the community he loves so much, an aggressive militant baring his Black Panther Party lineage for the world to see (his mother was actually a member), a would-be gangsta extolling the virtues of money and bling, or someone bound and determined to exact revenge against a former friend he thinks set him up for an attempt on his life. No matter who we was that day, whatever was coming out of his mouth was driven by an incredible and infectious amount of passion. I didn't know the man personally, never even met him, so I can only go on the music he left us and the numerous interviews that also helped shape his legacy. I've never come across a moment where Tupac wasn't all in on whatever he was saying.
"That was 'Pac, a revolutionary one minute, a thug life motherf---er the next."
-from the 2009 film Notorious
That completely raw passion he exuded has led to him becoming exemplification of black masculinity, for better or worse. It's what made him an icon. It's what allowed him to make such an impact on the world in barely twenty-five years of life. He was one of those people who had an affect on everyone. That affect might be positive or negative, but it was a definite affect. That's why his mythos endures. Whether you liked him or not, you FELT something about him and he knew it. By the same token, he FELT something about you and you knew it.
I knew all that about Tupac before I typed one word of this post. However, it's the type of thing you can forget because it's easy to personalize a figure like him. I mean, he wasn't a head of state nor lead an actual revolution so you'd be forgiven for thinking his impact was just local to hip hop fans, or the black community, or to America. I was reminded how much he meant to people everywhere while glancing over his Wikipedia page, yesterday. I found out there is a statue of him outside of the Marta museum in Herford, Germany.
I've got nothing to add to that.
Before we get too far off the beaten path, this is a movie blog, so let's talk movies. Like lots of rappers, Mr. Shakur tried his hand at acting. Unlike most of them, he was good. Really good. In his big screen almost-debut in the now 'hood classic Juice he gave us an outstanding villain, a power-crazed youngster named Bishop. He appeared briefly with group Digital Underground in 1991's Nothing But Trouble, but I don't count that. After Juice, 'Pac showed up as Lucky in John Singleton's underrated follow-up to Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice. He commanded the screen in a role much different from Bishop, proving he had real acting chops. He would then return to villainy by playing a local gangster named Birdie in Above the Rim. At the time of his death he was just starting to branch out of just being in "black movies." What were to be the first two movies on his path to possibly becoming a mainstream movie star were released shortly after his death. The first was a so-so action flick called Bullet in which he co-starred with Mickey Rourke. The last film, however, gives us arguably his best performance. He stars alongside Tim Roth (as well as Lucy Liu and Thandie Newton) as a pair of best friends who happen to share a heroin addiction in a little film called Gridlock'd. The two have a wonderful chemistry and Tupac never feels like some rapper trying to act. He really feels like Roth's equal as the two play off each other marvelously. It's a criminally underseen film and certainly it's the one that the fewest of people who call themselves his fans have seen. They don't know what you're missing and, maybe, you don't either.