Were he alive Tupac Amaru Shakur (aka 2Pac), who was fatally shot in Las Vegas in September 1996, the phenomenally popular rapper & actor would be celebrating his 40th birthday today, June 16th, 2011. At the Rockit Room in San Francisco tonight Sellassie and a bunch of other local hip-hop artists will celebrate the event in a concert honoring the slain local rap hero who, while born in Harlem & raised in both NYC and Baltimore before relocating West in the late 80's, began his rap career in the Bay Area. And many others will be thinking of Tupac Shakur today too, from the millions of diehard 2Pac fans all over the world, to family and friends including his former crew members in Digital Underground; the legendary Bay Area hip-hop crew that Shakur came to fame in. 2Pac joined Digital Underground, at a young age, first as a roadie and backup dancer and then as a rapper which, in turn, helped kick start his extremely successful, illustrious, and ultimately tragic solo career.
This week I caught up with both Digital Underground's Jimi "Chopmaster J" Dright, who along with Shock G and Kenny K co-founded the group in 1987, and with Money B, who along with DU's DJ Fuze also formed the side-project Raw Fusion, to ask them each about Tupac. After all it was their ever-talented & most unique P Funk-fueled hip-hop crew, that took Pac under their wing and into their fold when he was a mere bright young teenager from the Marin City projects with a knack for writing poetry.
After paying his dues working behind the scenes the members of Digital Underground gave the young, ambitious, charismatic future star his first major break by allowing him to display his rapping skills in a verse on Digital Underground's "Same Song." It also provided Tupac with his first (albeit brief) Hollywood part since the song appeared not only on Digital Underground EP This is an EP Release but also on the soundtrack to the 1991 Dan Aykroyd film Nothing but Trouble in which the members of the group also made a memorable cameo. A year later Shakur would land his first of many major film acting roles, playing the character Bishop in the hip-hop drama Juice.
Pac also contributed to Digital Underground's 1991 album Sons of the P and in turn members of the group, particularly Shock G and Money B & DJ Fuze, worked closely with Pac in Richmond's Starlight Sound recording studios on Shakur's debut solo album, 2Pacalypse Now, the politically charged late 1991 release. Pac also appeared on Digital Underground's 1993 album The Body-Hat Syndrome
And members of Digital Underground would collaborate with Pac on his sophomore solo release Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. in 1993 including on the light hearted, fun party track "I Get Around. For Pac's 1995 album Me Against the World Shock G would provide production for certain tracks. Tragically the following year 2Pac would be fatally gunned down at the young age of 25 leaving behind an incredible musical legacy including posthumous releases that actually outnumbered the ones released during his lifetime.
When I caught up with both Chopmaster J and Money B this week I asked them each the same two questions: what were their earliest impressions of Pac and what was the greatest quality that they saw in him as a person? "My earliest impression of Pac was that of a wild child that was extremely passionate about whatever he was talking about," replied Chopmaster J, continuing that, "And for a 17 year old to come off that articulate and intelligent, being from the Marin City projects, was compelling! It's what drew me into working with him and Strictly Dope!" Strictly Dope was the early, pre Digital Underground, rap group that Pac was in with a young aspiring Ray Luv - both of whom were mentored by Leila Steinberg whose poetry classes made an impression on the young Tupac. Money B also well remembers Strictly Dope. "When I met Pac I thought he was a good rapper, not great. I thought Ray Luv was good too," recalled Money B. "Obviously I met them at the same time. I did see something in Pac that stood out. He was always able to grab the attention of any room he was in."
As for Tupac's greatest quality, Chopmaster J, who like Money B lives in LA these days, offered: "The greatest quality I saw in Tupac was his genuine loyalty. If Pac said he was your friend he was your friend! Also his ability to verbalize his appreciation and willingness to help. I always tell the story of how Pac came at me with "J what can I do to help so that I can be put on?" Where everyone else was like, "J put me on man I got skills I can make you rich". Pac was sincere & smart. Youngstas always tell me they wanna be like Pac, I tell them read a book that's being like Pac!"
Meanwhile Money B said that, "The greatest quality I saw in Pac was his passion and work ethic. I had never met, nor have met since, someone with that much drive and determination to accomplish what he wanted. Never seen someone work so hard."
Personally I only met Tupac one time and not in the Bay Area but in New York City one hot June day sometime into the first half of the 90's during a New Music Seminar outdoor event. My impression of that brief meeting was that he was a really intense and focused individual who appeared to have no time to waste on trivialities.
It's been noted by many, and I fully agree, that the ever-prolific 2Pac seemed to have some kind of intuition that his time on this earth was limited and hence why he worked so hard to leave behind such a vast body of work, both music and film, in his short lifespan.
Honoring that legacy at the Rockit Room tonight in San Francisco for Tupac's 40th Birthday Celebration will be host Sellassie along with sets by Marvaless, V.I.Pete, August7, Testimony, Crookit Letters, and Silly Mob, plus DJ Beats Me. The Rockit Room is located at 406 Clement St, San Francisco. 9:00pm doors. $10. 21+ More info.
The wonderful Happy 40th Birthday YouTube video at top of this blog was produced by & uploaded today byAllSeeingGuy. Below are three 2Pac videos including his classic uplifting "Keep Ya Head Up" & the Digital Underground featured "I Get Around" - both from 1993's Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., plus Digital Underground's "Same Song" from the movie Nothing But Trouble with Pac fittingly playing an African king. Rest in peace King Tupac Amaru Shakur. You will never be forgotten!
2Pac "Keep Ya Head Up" (1993)
Digital Underground "Same Song" (1991)
2Pac "I Get Around (feat. Digital Underground)" (1993)