Happy birthday, Tupac Shakur: Prisoner confesses to 1994 robbery

Jun 16, 2011

On the eve of what would have been Tupac Shakur's 40th birthday, a prisoner supposedly confessed to being involved in the 1994 robbery of Shakur, which fueled the rivalry between Shakur and Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace.

Chat with Fred Johnson, co-author of Tupac Shakur: The Life and Times of an American Icon as he discusses Tupac Shakur's life, where he might be now and today's recent development.

Related: Prisoner says he was involved in 1994 robbery of Tupac Shakur

Hello everyone.


It is music. Please explain to me how competing musicians can get to a point where people are killed.

Yes, I get the fact that it was music. But it was music that spoke to the urgent issues in urban America at that point in history. That's what made the message so potent and the artists so relevant. The sad reality is that the whole East Coast -West Coast hostility made for good media feasting. It should never have been hyped to the point that it obtained.

There are rumors that Tupac's biopic is cancelled/ the director dropped out.  Can you inform us on what's going on?

I am not totally up to date on the biopic project. My coauthor may know of the status. She's in NYC and has more immediate access to people who'd know such details.

What do you think about the guy who just came out saying he helped rob 2Pac?  Is that important in the history of 2Pac?

This information about the Quad Studios shooting is quite important. Recall that it was this incident that really moved Pac to believe that people were out to get him. More specifically, he began suspecting that Biggie Smalls (Notorious B.I.G.) was involved. This information adds more light to what has been a mystery.

It's amazing to see how Tupac, till this day has a huge impact on society. How do you feel his impact will be 5, 10, 15 years from now?

Tupac, along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg (or whatever his current manifestation is), and that whole generation of artists will remain relevant for the messages that they delivered in their time and for the fact that those messages are still relevant today. The nation's focus has been hijacked by powers and interests that seek to blame the most vulnerable and those with least access to the hallways of influence for deficits, educational setback, and international difficulty. Tupac and his generation of artists challenged those interests in their time, and they did so with a raw passion, power, and message that didn't apologize for their having had the bad manners to have grown up in poverty, in crime ridden neighborhoods, or just plain old seeing their opportunities being pirated by modern robber barons. As long as the poor, the struggling, and those seeking to simply provide for their families are plundered by pirates, Tupac and his message will remain relevant. Of course, he made mistakes and toward the end of his career, he was not the same person he'd been at the start. But his being the son of a Black Panther and his ability to bring together elements like the Crips and the Bloods, yeah, the brother had some clout.

What do you think really happened between Tupac and B.I.G.? Do you think Biggie Smalls was really out to get him?

I'm a historian, so I looked at the matter of the breakdown between Biggie and Pac within the context of the social forces that were working on them and in which they were working. The environment they competed in almost demanded some sort of controversy. Of course, it did not help that on many occasions Pac was willing to provide that controversy but @ the same time, people were foaming at the mouth about rap music. It still had not become as accepted (or, at least, as commonplace) as it is today. The shootings, rumors, verbal insults back and forth, well, even the best of friends would experience some distancing of relationship under those conditions. Let's also not forget that Tupac's family had been dogged by authorities from his childhood. His connection to the Black Panthers always made them a point of interest, so he grew up looking over his shoulder. It would not have taken much, especially after a literal attempt on his life, for Pac to lend an ear to rumors and draw his own conclusions.

Is the investigation into the murder of Tupac Shakur still on-going or has the Las Vegas Police Department closed the case?

Given the length of time, and given that it's been fifteen years, I wouldn't think that the LVPD was expending any extra effort to resolve this one. Look, the bottom line was that - within the perspective of that time - this was just a rapper who met the end he always sang about. Like Malcolm X, more people are prepared to speak of Tupac in relation to violence and social discord than bothering to delve into his efforts to bring communities together and do some good. His methods and music rankled many. His THUG LIFE campaign, in my opinion, was a case of good effort and bad judgment. His behavior before the media at times harmed more than helped. His failure to reach out to Biggie and squash the whole East Coast - West Coast furor demonstrated how caught up he was in the affair. It just doesn't seem likely that, once the excitement dissipated, that tons of energy would have been exerted to find Pac's killer(s).

It is POWER.

Indeed, it is power, and it's powerful. Rap music has gone truly global and was even a factor in elections in Senegal. The evolution of rap, from party music (i.e. Sugar Hill Gang), to social challenge/revolutionary (Public Enemy, etc.), to social responsibility  (Tupac, phase I), to Gangsta (Death Row Records), demonstrates the versatility of the art form and its viability as a market force. The rappers did what those who advocate pulling up one's self by the bootstraps are always talking about. They took what they had, turned it into a major industry, are making millions of dollars and employing people. For others in other industries, that's success. For the rappers like Tupac, they were just enterprising rabble rousers. Go figure.

By the british documentarian?

It's been a while.

Hello everyone. It's been quite nice and exhilarating "talking" with you all. It's appropriate to recall the life and legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur. While his voice was one that, with its gravelly power and message, left many nowhere to hide when it came to matters of social and economic justice, he also had his own demons to slay. We could use another voice today that spoke so powerfully to those seeking to silence the collective voices of citizens who want their government to care as much about their concerns as they do those in the board rooms. Tupac made his mistakes, and we should ensure that this is remembered so that he's not romanticized for things of nobility and virtue not belonging to him. However, he was also a person of great courage, fortitude,  and accomplishment. As an accomplished artist, he could have just sat fat and lived in splendor. Instead, he took his influence and message back to the people who had helped him frame it. He is and will remain relevant.


Peace and power to you all.


Fred L. Johnson III, PhD

In This Chat
Fred Johnson
Dr. Fred L. Johnson III is Associate Professor of History at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Before his career in academia, he served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps and subsequently worked as a Production Scheduler for Packard Electric of General Motors, an Operations Specialist for Contel Page Telecommunications, and as a Corporate Trainer for Aircraft Braking Systems (formerly Goodyear Aerospace) in Akron, Ohio. A graduate of Bowie State College (now University) in Bowie, Maryland, Dr. Johnson earned his Masters and doctorate degrees at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

Johnson has written several novels: Bittersweet, 2002; A Man Finds His Way, 2003; Other Men’s Wives, 2005, and coauthored the biography Tupac Shakur: the Life and Times of an American Icon (January 2010). Dr. Johnson is currently completing the book America’s Blind Spot: U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa, 1945 –present and writing a series of essays entitled While Black People Were Sleeping.
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