Tupac Shakur, the notorious rapper whose career was cut short when he died in a hail of bullets at the age of 25 in 1996, may seem an unlikely candidate for memorialization in the form of a Broadway musical. Yet sure enough, “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” an $8 million production “inspired by” the work of the gangsta rapper which includes 21 of his songs, is currently playing the Palace Theatre in New York.
This is not some off-the-wall, crass attempt to cash in on the controversial legend of Shakur. Among the musical’s producers is Afeni Shakur, Tupac Shakur’s mother, a former member of the Black Panthers. Afeni Shakur is nothing if not protective of her son’s creative legacy; his brief but astounding career on the rap charts made him one of the best-selling recording artists of his time. In other words, she’s not doing it for the money.
There’s something else going on here, and it just may be that finally the stars have aligned to present Tupac Shakur — the man whose music former Vice President Dan Quayle said “has no place in our society”; a convicted felon who in a few years was in and out of prison and court for a variety of violent crimes; a man accused of being the perpetrator of several shootings who was himself gunned down in an infamous drive-by that has never been solved — as what he may really have been: a nice Jewish boy who loved his mother.
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in East Harlem on June 16, 1971, to parents who preached a violent form of black nationalism. Despite chronic poverty, Shakur’s mother made sure he always had access to a well-rounded education, especially in the performing arts.
From a young age, Shakur was drawn to the stage: He performed in a production of “A Raisin in the Sun” by Harlem’s 127th Street Repertory Ensemble at the Apollo Theater at age 12. At age 15, his family moved to Baltimore, where he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, studying acting, poetry, jazz and violin, performing in productions of Shakespeare, and playing the role of the Mouse King in the ballet “The Nutcracker.”
In other words, Quayle’s public enemy number one — the gangster-in-chief who threatened the very foundations of American civilization — got his show business start as a violin-toting, Shakespeare-quoting ballerina.