Revolutionary. Fly guy. Lover of women. Accused rapist. West Coast G. East Coast marked man. Provocateur. Poet. Martyr. Over the course of his conflict-filled 25 years on earth, before being snuffed out by a spray of assassin’s bullets on a Las Vegas boulevard in 1996, Tupac Shakur was many things to many people. “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world,” Pac famously said.
On Friday, coinciding what would have been the firebrand MC’s 46th birthday, he turns into something only a handful of hip-hop recording artists have managed to become before him: the subject of a major motion picture biopic.
Summit Entertainment’s long gestating All Eyez on Me drops the needle on Shakur’s life before he even emerged into the world—attending a Black Panther rally while still in the womb of his outspoken activist mother Afeni Shakur—then proceeds to detail the assassination attempt, rape charges, tireless recording booth sessions, jail sentence, East Coast-West Coast rap beef, and deal with the devil (specifically, Death Row Records’ thugged out impresario Suge Knight) that kept Tupac in the glare of the cultural spotlight and at the top of the album charts until his final breath.
“There’s who he was, who he wanted to be and who he had to be in order to survive in the world he occupied,” explains Eyez producer LT Hutton, the former head of A&R at Death Row who had a close personal relationship with Shakur and spent the last nine years setting up the film. “My responsibility was to give you a full picture of the complexities of this man so you can form an opinion. And if you already have one, you get a little bit more compassion through this story. This is not a fluff piece.”
Finding genesis in 2008—before the first mainstream hip-hop biopic Notorious (2009) arrived in theaters and long before Straight Outta Compton earned critical raves and became a box-office phenomenon—All Eyez on Me has had a rocky road to the screen. One characterized by producorial in-fighting, big money lawsuits and a revolving door of directors, including Academy Award nominee John Singleton who has lambasted the project publicly and on social media.
Now, in an era when the performer’s musical legacy has been burnished by two decades of non-stop radio play, his personal politics are mirrored by the Black Lives Matter movement, the cult of personality surrounding Pac remains undiminished by time and—most confoundingly—his killers still have yet to be brought to justice, Eyez stands as the first of an oncoming gold rush of Tupac-related or -centered TV and movie projects. Most notable among them: 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen’s feature-length documentary about the rapper that was announced in May as part of a new deal with Shakur’s estate/Amaru Entertainment (the company controlling the rights to Tupac’s image and music set up by Afeni, who died at age 69 last month). “I am extremely moved and excited to be exploring the life and times of this legendary artist,” said McQueen, who won a best director Oscar in 2014. “Few, if any, shined brighter than Tupac Shakur. I look forward to working closely with his family to tell the unvarnished story of this talented man.”
USA Network has picked up to series a true-crime drama titled Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. which will reportedly focus in on two major police investigations into the killings of Shakur and the Brooklyn rhyme-sayer also known as Christopher Wallace; it is set to air early next year. Toward the end of 2017, A&E network will broadcast the six-part documentary series Who Killed Tupac? (examining key theories behind his murder vis a vis today’s social justice movement).
Then there is the planned rap bio-drama DPG 4 Life—to be produced by frequent Shakur collaborator and member of Tha Dogg Pound Daz Dillinger—that focuses on Pac’s embattled tenure at Death Row. And LAbyrinth, a biographical crime-thriller, stars Johnny Depp as a disgraced LAPD detective investigating the murders of Biggie and Tupac.
Which is all, perhaps, only too appropriate for the first solo rap artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (last month), whose enormous discography of posthumous albums includes several multiplatinum hits—1997’s R U Still Down? (Remember Me) and Until the End of Time among them.