Hi, I’m Kurt Loder, and this is „The Week In Rock,“ coming to you from Times Square in New York City.
It was one year ago, September 13th, 1996, that the controversial rapper Tupac Shakur, shot down by assailants who remain unidentified, died in a Las Vegas hospital at the age of 25. The controversy surrounding Tupac’s life and his work, however, has lived on. So we called in rapper Treach of Naughty By Nature, a close friend of Tupac’s since their days as roadies — Treach with Digital Underground, Tupac with Queen Latifah — to hash over the events of the past year.
FAN 1: We can feel where that man came from. His suffering and his pain is the same suffering and pain we going through.
FAN 2: I wish I would have had a chance to actually meet Tupac. His music meant a lot for our people.
MTV: In the year since the death of Tupac Shakur, the emotions his murder stirred up have quieted. But the debate over his legacy, who he was and who he might have become, has begun to rage. Was he a gangsta who kept it real all the way to an early grave? A James Dean style cultural rebel? Or was he — might he have become — a political voice for the dispossessed in the tradition of Malcolm X? Only now are those questions starting to emerge, after a year in which, at least in the minds of many fans, Tupac was still very much alive.
TUPAC SHAKUR: Look, y’all can watch. I feel so confident and so sure about the man I am that you can watch me. You can watch me when I fall, when I cry, when I get shot, when I go to jail, when I die — you can watch it.
MTV: Maybe it was because everyone did watch, and because Tupac had spoken about death so frequently, that his murder seemed somehow both expected and unreal, just another chapter in his dramatic autobiography.
Four days after he died, Tupac’s label, Death Row Records, released „I Ain’t Mad At’cha.“ That set the tone for a year in which release after release of Tupac’s records, films and videos, showed him in violent, even deadly situations, but never dealt with the reality of his brutal death. Rumors that he was still alive burgeoned in November once fans got their hands on the cryptic notations inside the posthumously released „Makaveli“ album. Some even suggested that Tupac had taken the real Machiavelli’s advice and faked his own death.
TREACH: Right now, it’s like he’s the black Elvis. You know what I mean? „Yo, I’ve seen Pac. He out there. He’s somewhere.„
PROFESSOR MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, Author of „Race Rules“: You have an album with Machiavelli at the heart of it and Machiavelli’s faking your own death, and people ascribe, rightfully so, tremendous intelligence to Tupac. But I think what they are trying to do is avoid the fact that you deal with bullets and guns and you get brutal, you die.
SNOOP DOGGY DOGG: People in general who feel that gangsta rap is dead, my album is gonna show you that gangsta rap is not dead, ‚cause I plan to keep it alive.
MTV: One year ago, Death Row Records had a sound and reputation unlike any contemporary record company, and Tupac was the label’s newest and brightest star, willingly molded into the very epitome of the gangsta rapper. Without him, Snoop was again thrust to the forefront, but his long-awaited second album failed to make an impression, especially when released just a week after the hyper-vitriolic „Makaveli.“
Meanwhile, the night that was the beginning of the end for Tupac may also have marked the beginning of the end for Death Row. Label head Suge Knight was sent to prison for probation violation thanks to a videotaped altercation just hours before the shooting. Federal investigators continued to probe Death Row’s alleged gang ties and illegitimate business practices, and the company’s mighty stable of rappers was suddenly dwindling — turning what was once America’s most profitable independent label into the music industry’s most chaotic and unstable commodity in just 12 months.
TUPAC: If I die, whatever, it can happen. If anything were to happen to me, it’s about three albums ready. And I like that.
TREACH: When you think the end could be near, you’re gonna want the people — you’re gonna want the world to know everything you got inside. That’s why he stayed in the studio, he stayed making something new because he had so much in a little time to tell.
MTV: Tupac left behind over 170 tracks and several hundred unpublished poems; but someone needs to cultivate that raw material into a legacy. With potentially lucrative tracks and substantial revenues to be earned from his image, there’s been tremendous legal wrangling over his estate.