Afeni Shakur, the 56-year-old mother of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, does not fit the image of a savvy record executive.
SHE LIVES ON a farm in North Carolina. She prefers to spend her time overseeing her garden, attending to her grandchildren and taking naps. Yet Shakur is the executive producer of the new documentary “Tupac: Resurrection,” as well as founder and CEO of Amaru Entertainment/Amaru Records, which has released several million-selling Tupac albums.
“I’m not a filmmaker. I’m not a music producer by choice,” Shakur says plainly, wearing a velour sweatsuit during an interview in a New York hotel suite. “Whatever it is I’m doing I do because my son was murdered, and he was not able to complete his work. So as his mother, my whole job and responsibility is to see to it that that happens for him, and I do that with love.”
Yet as Shakur talks about upcoming projects, soon-to-be completed deals and other tasks, it’s clear she’s much more than just a grieving mother.
“I read every agreement of every contract. Anything I put my signature on, I really do read them. And I find things,” says the former Black Panther, laughing about an incident where a company tried to get paid for a photograph they hadn’t even taken.
They didn’t get away with it — Shakur, noticing something amiss, had the situation investigated and the proper person credited.
But savvy? Please, she says.
“That’s not savvy — that’s your mama. That’s how your mama does it as opposed to how they do it,” she says.
Certainly, that motherly instinct has helped keep Tupac’s name and legacy vibrant in the seven years since Tupac Amaru Shakur died, gunned down on a Las Vegas street corner at age 25.
Tupac was already one of rap’s greatest talents — and certainly its most dynamic, charismatic and controversial figure — when he was killed. But since his unsolved 1996 slaying, Tupac’s allure and mystique have grown exponentially.
“Tupac: Resurrection” is just the latest example of Shakur’s star power after death. The film is being released in conjunction with a picture book and a soundtrack featuring new Tupac material.
Although there have been several documentaries produced on her son’s life, this is the first to have a major theatrical release.
“I think from the time it’s released, it will always be the reference material that anybody uses about Tupac,” his mother says. “And that’s because this is a documentary feature film that has Tupac talking about Tupac.”
Indeed, the most remarkable aspect of the movie is that the slain rapper serves as narrator of his own short life. Filmmakers created this eerie effect by poring over more than 40 interviews, then splicing them together to create one seamless narrative.
“It was just very important for the story to be told in his own words,” says Sue Pelino, re-recording engineer for the film, who spent a year editing the interviews. “The only way it could have been better if he had been sitting there next to us.”
FACING CONTROVERSY HEAD-ON
Although Shakur oversaw the content of the film, it isn’t a glowing tribute. It deals frankly with the many controversies that made Tupac such a contradictory figure. For example, he talks about his deep respect for women, then defends himself against sex abuse allegations that would send him to prison. He promotes themes of black power, yet later appears frustrated and overwhelmed by the idea of being a role model.
Director Lauren Lazin said Shakur wanted the film to be “an honest movie, not a whitewash. In some ways, she was tougher on him than I was.”
“She just wanted to make sure it was honest, that we weren’t going to put words in his mouth,” she adds.
Honesty is one of Shakur’s strongest characteristics. She talks with frankness and candor, whether discussing her former crack habit or her son’s own mistakes, which are chronicled in the film.
“I have respect for my son because he had sense enough to take responsibility for his own actions,” she says. “The critics never ever one time fairly criticized my son.”
Making sure that her son and his message are not misrepresented is a key goal for Shakur, who maintains creative control of — and collects proceeds from — just about all projects relating to her son. Even in cases where she doesn’t own his music, like with Tupac’s recordings for Suge Knight’s Death Row record label (now Tha Row), she still has a say in the manner in which it is presented.
Shakur is currently talking with MTV to produce a biopic of Shakur’s younger years, and is looking to produce a Broadway play about his life using his music. She’s also planning a Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts; she’s already started a camp where children can get arts training, through a foundation named for her son.
COMPLETING HIS WORK
This has been part of the plan since the day he died.
“We have a list of things that Tupac left for us to do, so all we’re doing is going over that list, going down that list, checking them off,” she explains. “So at the end of the day, we’ll be able to say we’ve done fulfilled our responsibility to an incredible human being.”
One goal not on her list is searching for her son’s killer. Shakur bristles when asked if she worries about the fact that the killing is still unsolved.
“Not a second. Not even a nanosecond have I concerned myself with who shot him or why they shot him, or what should happen to them. I don’t care what happens to them,” she says fiercely. “I spend my time putting my sons work out, because guess what — they shot him, (but) did not shut him up though.”
Perhaps what’s most striking about Shakur is how she has refused to become embittered. Instead, she’s thankful that Tupac continues to live on through his work.
“We cannot all say that we will be blessed in death like Tupac was,” she says. “God didn’t have to do that. He could have just took my son. We could still be just be talking about how violent he was — ‘He was a gangsta rapper.’ But you know, God changed people’s minds.”
Even so, the pain is still there. Asked if her work has allowed her, in some ways, to overcome her son’s death, and Shakur’s anger becomes clear.
“My son called me every night,” she says, eyes narrowed, speaking sharply. “He called me from the bedroom of the woman he was having sex with. I haven’t received that phone call in seven years. That’s what I know to be true. The fact that I’m working on the work, doesn’t change the reality of my child not being there.
“If my son was alive, I wouldn’t be doing this. My son took care of all of his business, all of our business. So the fact that I’m here doing this — every day that I do this, I know that my baby ain’t here.”
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