Remembering Tupac

A new documentary celebrates the short and troubled life of talented rapper Tupac Shakur


November 13, 2003|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

In the mercurial world of pop, a young artist's tragic death intrigues us. We suddenly want to study every nuance of his art to figure out what made him so great. We evaluate (or magnify) various aspects of his life: his accomplishments, his relationships, what should have been, what could have been.

Always thinking about that almighty dollar, record companies flood the market with collections of outtakes and remixes. Book publishers rush-release biographies and journals. Film studios search for scripts based on the life of ...

Buddy Holly. Billie Holiday. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. Kurt Cobain. The list flows on, and their legacies grow and deepen as the years pass. We buy the T-shirts, the CDs, the DVDs. Because they're gone, we hold on tighter.

Tupac Shakur, yet another artist taken during his prime, is celebrated more in death than when he walked the Earth. More than 15 books, three college courses and a play have examined his life and explored his legacy. Six posthumous albums have gone either gold or platinum.

Since his still-unsolved murder in Las Vegas on Sept. 13, 1996, the rapper-actor-poet has become a legend whose name conjures many images all at once. A defiant and regal man standing shirtless with "Thug Life" tattooed across his abdomen. A sensitive street poet holding a sad-eyed girl. A cocky guy strutting out of a courtroom. A hedonistic "playa" surrounded by half-naked women.

Tupac: Resurrection, a new documentary from MTV/Paramount Pictures that opens tomorrow, features those images and many more. It cryptically and unevenly details the rapper's life in his own words.

Phoning from her office in Times Square, Lauren Lazin, the producer and director of Resurrection, says, "Tupac was a remarkable American, and many can learn from his story. There's a whole generation of music listeners and moviegoers who are still very interested in his life. We're so engrossed in talking about his death. I hope that with this film we can celebrate his life and caution young people to the mistakes he made."

When the movie opens, you're in the car with Tupac, riding down the glitzy strip where he was gunned down. You don't see his face; you just hear his voice. Then four shots blast. There's darkness. Images of a golden sunrise, wind-blown sand dunes and billowy clouds fly across the screen. "This is my story," Tupac declares.

And the journey begins in New York City on June 16, 1971, the day the artist is born. His mother, Afeni Shakur, a well-known Black Panther, is militant, sharp and proud. Just a month before Tupac's birth, she was acquitted of conspiring to bomb several New York public buildings.

A one-time crack addict, Shakur instills in her son a strong sense of community and political awareness that later informs the rapper's lyrics. Shakur's story folds into her son's through archival clips of Black Power demonstrations and through photos from her private collection. Tupac's insightful narration, poems and music carry the film. You experience the bleakness of his childhood, the anger and confusion of his adolescence, the intellectual awakenings and insecurities of his manhood.

The narration was culled from 40 different interviews. Interspersed with home videos, film clips and photomontages, the production runs seamlessly. The film basically tells in chronological order the rapper's rise from poverty in New York, Baltimore and California to international superstardom with the 1991 release of his double-platinum debut, 2Pacalypse.

"He was very charismatic and humorous," Lazin says. "Tupac had a really powerful political message that got lost in all the controversy."

When he was alive, it was hard to appreciate or understand Tupac's vision and progressive ideas, because his wild antics and run-ins with the law were al ways in the news. Just in 1993, he was arrested for attacking a limo driver, spent 10 days in jail for assaulting a rapper in Michigan, was arrested for shooting two off-duty police officers in Atlanta (charges were dropped) and accused (and later convicted) of sexually assaulting a woman he met in a New York club.

In November 1994, Tupac, who was on trial for the sexual-assault charge and weapons violations, was robbed of $40,000 worth of jewelry and shot five times in the lobby of a Times Square recording studio.

Resurrection explores all of this through Tupac's words. He admits to tripping on his own power and being arrogant. The man wasn't above inflating his own worth as an artist, either. "I did not create thug life in America," he says. "I diagnosed it." In the film, you get a kaleidoscopic portrait of an intelligent, passionate "pavement poet" full of contradictions.

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