On June 29, 1996, Paola Zukar of “Aelle Rap Magazine” interviewed Tupac in his hotel room at the five-star Principe Savoia.
It is very difficult to write an introduction that could explain such a character, his significance within Hip Hop culture and his terrible loss: everything has already been written and said about him, every possible good and every evil he might have committed. The U.S. media tried hard not to let him out of their sight for a moment, and as soon as Tupac said a word, made a gesture that did not conform to the rules, it was immediately covered with headlines ‘America’s Nightmare,’ ‘Life of a Thug,’ and so on. The fact is that the more we talk about something, however we do it, the more this something interests public opinion to the point of morbidity.
From his sad past of hardship and broken families, through his four-year prison sentence for rape, to his ambush in New York when he miraculously escaped unharmed from a horrific shooting, Tupac has always been a man out of any possible pattern. He was as rich as the sea, he went around covered in gold like Zsa Zsa Gabor, he was one of the most in-demand actors because of his natural talent and his ability to play particularly dramatic roles, he was the rapper who sold mountains of records, but most of all, he had it firmly etched in his mind why his life was able to take this incredible turn: “Success and power are two of the most important words in contemporary life, without these two components you are nothing. It is sad but undeniable.”
One may object to this viewpoint of his, but wait until you know his side of the story and then discuss it. “Only God can judge me,” is the phrase Tupac most often uttered, “no man is worthy and clean enough to judge me, we’ll see when my time comes.” Tupac Shakur was once again the victim of an ambush that cost him his life, and by the time you read this article, the history of Hip Hop will probably have definitely changed. Meanwhile, his latest work “All Eyez On Me” continues to reap platinum records, and now more than ever the album title proves prophetic. Tupac has never had too easy a relationship with life, but it is certain that, once again, he has kept intact the fundamental principle of his existence, a principle he has proudly worn tattooed on his belly for five years now: “Thug Life.” Forever…
As your first time in Italy, I’d say you’re not doing too bad-you’re jumping from party to party, from fashion designer to fashion designer, are you really enjoying this kind of life?
“Eh yes, I’m having a great time here, I’m being spoiled.”
First of all, I’d like to know a little bit about the huge changes involving Death Row, because I think your label has always been more than an office and a production studio for you
“You want to know what’s going to change after — after — Dre’s departure? Oh, there’s no problem, we’re up to five million copies sold, you know? We do what we’re supposed to do, we don’t stop.”
And you now also participate in executive work with Suge?
“I have been collaborating on a managerial level since day one. I have always done that. I have never been a disciple, but a leader.”
Would you like to change anything within Death Row?
“I would say no. Why change anything if as we are we have unparalleled success? We are the most successful black firm in our country and perhaps in the world. Why fix it if it’s not broken? Right?
Right. One of the things that is definitely most striking about your appearance is the way you have painted your body; the tattoos make you look more like a book than a man. The images, the words, the symbols you wear on your body you also gladly put them up: on the cover of your latest CD, you can be seen in 360 degrees… Maybe some of the things you have written permanently, like ‘outlaw,’ will change as time goes by
“When I’m 99 years old and sitting somewhere with a group of 99-year-olds, I want to have outlaw still tattooed on my arm, because then I’ll know how I’ve lived until then. All the people who reject tattoos want to get away from their memories. Memories are nothing but permanent tattoos printed in the brain. It doesn’t matter how much you smoke, how much you drink or what you do with your life — your memories will stay there, forever. People today are becoming so cold, they forget everything too easily, but I want to remember everything, my tattoos will always be on my skin: I want to remember every battle, every wound, every revolver shot, every pleasant moment, every unpleasant moment, every smile and every tear. That’s what each of these tattoos represents.”
One of the best videos of recent times was your “Temptations,” the video in which Coolio and Ice T are two doormen in a hotel where dozens of rappers from across America give their definition of “temptation” … you were still in prison at the time, so you are not present in any scene. Did you still have a chance to take part in the project?
“Sure. I wrote the story. While I was in jail.”
There were dozens of artists in that video, from Salt ‘n Pepa to Warren G, from Isaac Hayes to Treach of Naughty By Nature; on your latest work, also there are something like twenty guests, twenty rappers who bring their style from all over the United States and show their affection for you, on the first album you release after your prison years. There’s Method Man, Snoop, Dramacydal, Redman, and others-it’s not easy to see something like that….
“It’s part of my military state of mind. I like to have allies; allies are important to win wars, to make a government work, to form a corporation. To keep a business going, you need allies, not friends. You see, friends come and go, while allies help you achieve a common purpose. The difference between success and failure? A good ally. Throughout my career I have tried to do favors for those who worked with me, and in the last twenty months, my turn has come. Now it’s my turn to collect favors, and it was like a power show. I showed my power.”
What kind of characteristics does someone have to have to be your loyal ally?
“My enemies are your enemies, I’m on your side, you’re on mine, my fight is your fight. Allies are better than friends.”
In fact, “Me Against The World” also represented this principle a bit, didn’t it? I mean, with “All Eyez On Me,” the concept is definitely reiterated….
“‘Me Against The World’ was a perfect title! Perfect! The titles of my albums show exactly what happens to me at any given time, the difficulties and joys I go through. In fact, they are more like prophecies than titles; I wrote ‘Me Against The World’ two years before I was shot, before I went to jail, and my lyrics said exactly that I was going to jail and that someone wanted me dead. I wrote “All Eyez On Me” as soon as I got out of jail and I was really talking about the success I was going to have and the boundaries I was going to cross. My albums are written for the future, they are plans, projects, and the titles represent what will happen to me in the future. In fact, look now-I have ‘all eyes on me,’ even in Italy. Five million copies sold, I’ve sold more albums than anyone on Death Row, I released the most successful and best-selling double rap CD, you know? ‘All eyes on me’… When I want someone to buy my album, I want people to feel inside where I’m coming from and I also want the title of my work, to represent precisely those feelings, I wouldn’t want it to be something like… ‘Tupac!’ or ‘Three’…
This, however, is the positive side of having all eyes on you, I mean aside from the millions of copies sold and the fans, there are others who are intent on keeping a close eye on you and never giving up on you. The media, the critics, and even the police, the judiciary, the enemies–do you really feel the constant presence of these stares?
“Yes, because I’m a fun guy to watch. (Laughs). The good part is that I can brag a lot, I can get excited about all the things I’ve done, the albums I’ve sold, etc., but the bad part is that I carry the marks of every struggle I’ve had to go through to get here, a mark for every door I’ve had to break through, for every mark I carry a scar. You know, there’s also a lot of pain.”
Are you afraid of changing as you go on in years? Are you afraid that your fans will no longer recognize themselves in you if you change your style?
“I feel untouchable. I feel that my fans could never dictate what kind of style to follow, they can’t really tell me how I should be. Black people can’t tell me what I’m like, rap listeners can’t tell me what I’m like…I don’t feel like I can go as far as saying, like Krs-One, ‘I’m Hip Hop,’ but certainly no one in Hip Hop can tell me what Hip Hop is; if I sell five million copies and the others put together can’t even touch me, no one can tell me a [bleep] about what Hip Hop should be. That’s why when Hammer sold nine million records, he was the best rapper in the world, nobody could tell him a bleep; in this world it’s the numbers that decide, in an imaginary world where you are all friends and play together in the neighborhood is another thing, but in the real world the foundation is: “money”! Money is power, if we want to be men of power, if we want to have economic freedom, if we don’t want to be slaves, money represents power. So the king is the person who sells the most records of all-I sell five million records? This is Hip Hop. Because Hip Hop should be something that reaches every person in every corner of the world, right? So, my stuff makes everyone buy my record, that’s Hip Hop, how can it be anything else?
Speaking of ‘power,’ it seems to me that you have been accumulating a lot of it lately, and it also shows in the people you hang out with: Mike Tyson is the sportsman who earns more than anyone else in the world, it seems to me, and I’ve seen that you hang around with him a lot and…
“No, we hang around together, I don’t hang around with anybody.”
In the sense that you are still often seen together, you and Iron Mike and Suge Knight. And all the economic power that surrounds you, you don’t hide it at all. Now, since one of the hardest things to do, when you accumulate a lot of money and power, is to maintain it, how do you plan to approach the future? With what intentions?
“Anyone who wishes to have power needs to study it. That’s what I did and still do, I study. I study power, because I know that tomorrow it might be gone. But if I really lost it, my records would speak for themselves, they would still speak. I’ve been through times that no one has ever even touched, unimaginable difficulties … I know it could be over tomorrow for me, but this is fun, it’s just fun for me; I’m the kind of person who loves to live, and no matter how long it lasts, life will always be beautiful for me.”
On your latest work you have 27 tracks, where did you take the time to write?
“I wrote them all in the recording studio, writing three a day. I love producers who have a fever for basics, who never stop to give me new bases, I listen to them, think of a probable song, throw down some rhymes, write a freestyle, go to the second verse and start rapping, if I like it I go on like that and build the chorus, then I go to lib and close. Then, I sit down, listen to it, smoke a little, have a drink, have someone else listen to it with me, and if there’s something to change I work on it again, otherwise I move on to another song. And so on.”
One of your most beautiful songs ever is “Only God Can Judge Me” (‘Only God Can Judge Me’)…
“I wrote part of ‘Only God Can Judge Me’ in prison. I only wrote the words, I wrote them while listening to Eric Clapton’s version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”; I wanted this song to sound just like “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” you know? In jail you can’t borrow rap music tapes and so I was taking what I could, what they had there. So I listened to what the song really meant to me: ‘take this gun, I can’t shoot anymore, I’m tired,’ the man didn’t even care that God was watching him, he was saying things the way he really felt. At that moment, was there anyone who could judge him but God? And that is the truth! That’s why I am so sassy, because I know that no one can judge me, no one, except God. And God can’t judge me either, not until it’s over. He didn’t give me a beginner’s manual when I was born, He didn’t give me an instruction book, so nothing I can do on this planet can be wrong. Everything I do could be right, and do you know why? Because the people who make the rules are far worse than I am. Nothing I could do could be wrong.”
However, there are unwritten rules that everyone knows as right or wrong, there is an ethic that we all know….
“But that same ethic watches as people die. That ethic knows what America has done to the black people, a people that instead of helping to overthrow the system, they help to demolish the governments of other countries and then…to hell with them all. It is not ethics that drives the world, it is not ethics that keeps us in check, it is power. It is the fear of bullets, destruction and chaos that keeps us fighting. People are not guided by morals, because what I’ve seen them do is not at all … ‘moral.'”
But still you have to admit that we all know what is right and what is wrong at some point. Even those who do evil do it knowing, however, that they are in the wrong, whether they do it anyway is another matter….
“But I still disagree with you; what is wrong? If you really think about it–what if the person who places a bomb is right? Could we be wrong?”
And you take a man’s life is wrong. There is no discussion.
“This is bad, true. But what if the man in question was sick and it was euthanasia? Taking someone’s life unfortunately is normal, think about capital punishment, we kill people for killing other people. I kill him, then they kill me, and who kills them? Do you understand? Can you say this is morally right?”
Never. That’s the biggest mistake you can make, and that’s only done by justice systems that have failed, that don’t know how to function as they should, capital punishment is the failure of justice.
“The fact is that we have no morals; we can be ‘morally’ unimpeachable and even ‘politically correct,’ but we have no morals. As a nation, as a world, as a human race, we have no morals. We never help those who cannot defend themselves and are weak; we stand with those who are the greatest. Is America the strongest? Then we all love America and tolerate whatever it does. Stars, celebrities could shit on our children and we wouldn’t say anything, Michael Jackson kept kids in bed and we love Michael Jackson because he wrote good songs for us. As a human race we have no morals, so we can’t pass judgment on anybody. And for the same reasons, I say don’t judge me. Until there is real reparations for American Indians, until we give African nations back to Africans — there are no more Africans in Africa! Only white people! The Dutch, the British, etc. are people who do not belong in Africa! How can we talk about morality if it does not exist? We talk about power. Because the world is based on that and nothing else. Power and war. Those are the only two things that America, the media and governments could give me advice on, because those are the only things that they are able to show me and show the whole world.”
We agree that this is the way things are, but now it’s a matter of taking one side or the other, either you accept the way things are and make a profit, or you go your own way knowing that you are not complicit with them. Negativity can be fought….
“You see, for you it’s negativity, for me it’s reality, and that doesn’t give you any chance to move with your imagination, that’s why you see it as negativity. If I told happy, light-hearted stories à la De La Soul, you might think I am the new Messiah, since I paint such a pleasant situation, but in three or four years, you would be ready to sacrifice me, because you would keep looking for the beautiful image I promised you. But if you listen to what I tell you, in three or four years you will be ready for what will happen, because you expected it: I will prepare you for what will happen. There are people who want to sell five or six million records and tell you the stories; I have already sold them and I’m certainly not trying to sell happiness, I’m trying to give awareness of what’s going to happen. So when there are more riots, let no one come knocking on my door … I will write ‘Tupac Shakur’ and everyone will pass by without looking for me. Because I feel my conscience is clear.”
Just one last thing: One of the most impressive tattoos you have is the cross you wear on your back that says ‘Exodus.’ What does it mean?
“‘Exodus 1831,’ exodus means ‘departure,’ and I had it done when I got out of prison the first time, I still can’t believe I went to prison because I had gotten into a fistfight with someone, anyway… Exodus…, the escape from society, the exodus, because at a certain point in my life, I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. I had money, I was successful, I was trying to set myself up, and the more money I made, the more they tried to put me in jail. So I escaped. In prison I read Nat Turner’s “Confessions,” which told of the only revolt made by blacks that was really successful and that happened in 1831, the year Nat Turner and his people turned the whole plantation upside down, killing everybody. I did it to remind all the racists and all ‘these bastards of skinheads and the like that not all blacks are peaceful and quiet like slaves. America likes to make us remember how they had made us slaves, and I like to remind them that we can run around its plantations, knocking anyone out. That’s what the symbol behind my back means to me, and every symbol I wear has a story like that. I just want to say one thing: this interview will not exhaust your readers’ knowledge of who Tupac really is, because this is just one day in my life, one out of 365 and out of several years, this is but a glimmer of who I am. So they have to study, train, ask questions, grow, criticize, understand, unite and discuss to understand things thoroughly, to continue what I do. If I am the messiah for them and then they shoot me, when I fall down they would come back suckers, because they would not really learn anything. In the meantime that I am here, they have to use their brains by studying and studying again, so that when I am no longer here, there are 30,000 guys, stronger than me, to continue what I have undertaken.”
Hardly, Tupac could have said anything more prophetic. At the time of going to press, we know neither the motive nor the names of those who committed the murder. All we can do is reread what he told us and follow his advice, study and improve so that Tupac did not live, however briefly, for nothing. And in the meantime, I wonder what Tupac Amaru Shakur would have been like if he had been born under a different star — keep ya head up and hold on in there, brother, only God can judge us.