On October 19th, 1995, Tupac Shakur was holed up at Can Am studios in Tarzana, furiously laying down tracks for his soon-to-be hit double-CD, “All Eyez On Me.” Less than a week after Death Row had sprung him from Riker’s Island maximum-security penitentiary on a $1.4 million appellate bond, the 24-year-old rap artist picked me to do his first post-prison interview.
Anyone who mistakenly thought Pac was a lightweight will – after listening to this recording – think again. The interview covers the gamut. He speaks with laser-like precision about everything from inspiring art to political oppression, spitting out complex thoughts like raps: analyzing the plots of Shakespeare, dissecting the roots of gang warfare and government corruption, as well as his own insecurities.
At the time of this interview, I was clueless as to what actually happened to Tupac 11 months earlier in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan, mistakenly perceiving his ambush to be a record company publicity stunt – instead of the first shot fired in what would prove to be a deadly bi-coastal rap war. Even Vibe magazine’s powerful April 95 prison interview (following the release of Bad Boy’s taunting “Who Shot Ya?”) did not wake me up.
In Vibe, Pac singled out the individuals he suspected of setting him up in that near-fatal November 94 encounter, during which he was shot, pistol-whipped, beaten, kicked, and robbed of $40,000 in jewelry. The assailants ripped every ring from his fingers and a fat gold chain and jeweled medallion from his neck, but did not touch the diamond encrusted Rolex on his wrist – a veiled threat to ensure he not mistake the calculated beat-down as a random robbery.
Five months before Pac sat down with me, he called out Sean “Puffy” Combs and Christopher Wallace, AKA Biggie Smalls, in Vibe, accusing them of either setting him up, or having advance knowledge of the brutal ambush he was about to endure, and not warning him. He also boldly singled out aspiring Brooklyn talent agents James Rosemond, AKA Jimmy Henchman, and Jacques Agnant, AKA Haitian Jack, of masterminding the assault.
Indeed, Henchman had lured Pac to the studio that night with a promise of $7,000 to guest-rap on a song with Lil Shawn, a fledgling rap act Henchman represented at the time. Pac recounted the true names of his alleged conspirators to journalist Kevin Powell, but Vibe chose to conceal their true identities, referring to Henchman as “Booker,” and Jack as “Nigel” in the published interview. Sources familiar with the incident say Vibe changed the names after receiving threats from Henchman. A former editor at the magazine denied receiving threats, but could not explain why Vibe substituted aliases hiding Henchman and Haitian Jack’s names.
In October of 95, I was so unaware of the bi-coastal rap war that I suspected nothing when Faith Evans appeared with Tupac at Can Am. Biggie’s estranged wife was recording background vocals for a new Pac song, “Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.” You can hear her singing and talking on the tape.
Sources at Can Am told me Faith also laid down background vocals for “2 Of Amerika’s Most Wanted,” a duet between Pac and Snoop, for which he later concocted a music video mocking Faith’s estranged husband and the head of her record label, using look-alike actors named “Piggie” and “Buff Daddy” in a spoof in which Pac avenges the Quad ambush.
People at the sessions told me one juicy, little known detail about Faith’s Can Am contributions. They said the R&B chanteuse also recorded at least one version of the “Take Money” background vocals that later appeared on Pac’s most inflammatory single, “Hit Em Up” – a caustic anti-East Coast jihad in which the rapper threatens to eliminate Biggie, Puff and a slew of Bad Boy artists and other New York acts.
While listening to this interview, you’ll notice that I barely touch on the Quad ambush, or the East Coast/West Coast War. Not because I was afraid to broach a touchy subject, but because, at the time, I was ignorant of how important the incident truly was – or the fallout it would cause. I neglected to ask Pac a single question about Puff or Big, or anyone he had previously blamed for setting him up. I still wince when I think about this omission.
I did not, however, squander the opportunity to draw Pac out on other topics. The conversation goes all over the map. As always, Pac was witty and perceptive, his train of thought compelling, his insights strikingly original. At one point, he compares the fight between the Bloods and the Crips to the feud between the Capulets and Montagues in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Tupac Shakur had less than a year to live when he sat down to talk in this interview.