Chum, teacher recall Shakur at arts school

September 16, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Some Baltimoreans remember Tupac Shakur, who lived here for almost two years while a teen-ager, as a person who liked to smile and kid around, not the 25-year-old gangsta rapper who served time in jail and was shot in two separate incidents before dying Friday of his most recent wounds.

"I'm upset, but not surprised. I don't think he ever planned to live very long. That's why he accomplished so much in his short life," said Greg Schmoke, 25, son of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Shakur's friend and classmate while the two attended the Baltimore School for the Arts together from 1986 through 1988.

Shakur died Friday of gunshots wounds suffered in a drive-by shooting on a Las Vegas street Sept. 7.

Schmoke remembers Shakur was dedicated to studying theater before rap became his ambition. "He showed potential and great instinct as an actor," said Schmoke, who was a year behind Shakur in school.

Shakur studied theater at the school on Cathedral Street during his sophomore and junior years, said Donald Hicken, head of the school's theater department who sat on the faculty panel that admitted him to the school.

"He was a gentle, affectionate young man who had a tendency to smile and kid around," Hicken said. "But all of that went away when he had to assume [a gangsta rapper] identity."

Just days before the end of his junior year at the school, he dropped out to move to California with his mother Afeni Shakur, Hicken and Schmoke said. Shakur would have graduated in 1989 had he stayed in Baltimore.

"We were disappointed when he told us he had to move," Hicken said. "We had big plans for him in his senior year. We felt he was very gifted."

Shakur came back to visit on several occasions, the last time in 1992, Hicken said.

Maintaining that association didn't please everyone at the School for the Arts.

Stephen D. Kent, head of the visual arts department, said yesterday, "He's a source of embarrassment. He certainly hasn't done a whole lot to make our school proud." Gangsta rap is a form of rap that often has violent and sexist lyrics.

Hicken said he understands the hesitancy on the part of some faculty about embracing Shakur.

"There are two factors. First, he was only there for two years. He's not an official alumni of the school," Hicken said. "Second, there's the lifestyle choice he made. That's not the kind of thing we want young kids to emulate."

After Shakur moved to California, Schmoke said the two didn't stay in touch, but he defends his former schoolmate.

"When people attack the rapper and his lyrics, they are trying to put a Band-Aid on cancer," he said. "When your mother is on crack and your father is in jail, listening to positive lyrics isn't going to save anyone.

"Tupac wouldn't have sold any records or been a success if he didn't write about that lifestyle," Schmoke said. "But he lost himself in the hype."

Many Baltimore area fans have flocked to area record stores to buy the rapper's music -- emptying the shelves in most cases -- and adding to what many call the beginning of Shakur's becoming a martyr of "gangsta rapdom."

"People want anything ever made by him," said Jay Johnson, sales clerk at the Metro Stereo store at Mondawmin Mall. "They just have to have it. They're even trying to buy up posters."

Derek Jones, sales clerk at the Wall in Mondawmin, said the record store collected 20 orders over the weekend, mostly for Shakur's last two albums.

Pub Date: 9/16/96

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