If I was white I would have been like John Wayne... I feel like a tragic hero in a Shakespeare play
Interview by Benjamin Svetkey
March 1994, restaurant in Hollywood
Tupac Shakur: May I have the vegetable spring roll and dungeness crab cake.
Benjamin Svetkey: What do you think is going to happen in 15 years for you? 10 years. Where do you see yourself?
Tupac Shakur: Best case: in a cemetery. Not in a cemetery. Sprinkled in ashes, smoked up by my homies. Worst case… I mean that’s the worst case. That’s the worst case. That’s the worst case. Best case: multimillionaire. Owning all of this shit. You know what I’m saying? Because anywhere else, if I was white I would have been like John Wayne. You know what I’m saying? Somebody who pulled himself up from their bootstraps. From poverty. From welfare. Now I am kissing Janet Jackson. I’m doing movies. I feel like a tragic hero in a Shakespeare play, you know what i’m saying?
[2Pac “I Get Around”]
Tupac Shakur: I’m not really that educated. You know. And I’m not really a religious person. But I believe that God wants me to do something and it has to do with Thug Life. You know I want there to be a life for the street element. Instead of we always getting shut out. You know. Instead of defenseless, having power.
[2Pac “Shorty Want to Be A Thug”]
Tupac Shakur: Well my mother was a woman. A black woman. A single mother. Raising two kids on her own. So she was dark skinned. Had short hair. Got no love from nobody except for a group called the Black Panthers. So that’s why she was a Black Panther. Because I don’t consider myself to be straight, you know, militant. You know what i’m saying? I’m a thug. I’m a thug. And my thug comes from… my definition of thug comes from half of the street element. Straight street hustling. And half of the Panther element. Half of the independence movement. Saying we want self-determination. We want to do it by self-defense and by any means necessary. That came from my family and that’ s what thug life is. It’s a mixture.
[2Pac “Hail Mary”]
Benjamin Svetkey: How do people treat you differently? The people that you grew up with. Now that you’re famous.
Tupac Shakur: They believe in the machine, not Tupac. They don’t even know me no more. They just know about the machine.
Benjamin Svetkey: You mean the press machine.
Benjamin Svetkey: Is that painful for you?
Tupac Shakur: Uh-huh. Everybody wants to use me. Everybody. From this level to the street level. I mean I’m used on every level. I have no friends. I have no resting place. I never sleep. I can never close my eyes. It’s horrible. Can you imagine what it’s like for you to be who I am, who I was, and for them to say that I raped a woman? And for the whole world to actually be entertaining the thought that you raped a woman. That’s hell.
Benjamin Svetkey: You’re feeling ripped off by the press.
Tupac Shakur: I am being ripped off, because I’ve never lied to the press. Just as much truth I bring to my work, a journalist should bring that much truth to their work. Why do I have honor and you guys don’t have honor? I’m not a fucking journalist? I’m a thug.
Benjamin Svetkey: Do you think you’ll prevail in court?
Tupac Shakur: I have to see. I believe in God. Whatever supposed to happen supposed to happen. But I can not live in a jail cell. That’s why I don’t rob people and stick up people. But for you to put me there and I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t go that route. I would die in jail. And that’s what they want. They want me to go through that. Then come out. I’m already dead. No creativity. I’m finished.
[2Pac “Changes” continues]
Tupac Shakur: There’s a machine that I have nothing to do with. It’s called the ”Tupac Machine.“ And the media in this country has just fueled it and made me a monster that people just… They say I’m a criminal. They say I spit hateful, vicious, violent lyrics. You know I’m ready to be the bad guy. They gave me that job. I’m ready to have it.
Benjamin Svetkey: When Dan Quayle was suggesting that your album should be pulled off the racks and stuff like that, in a way that could have been the best publicity you could have gotten for the album.
Tupac Shakur: I don’t see that as being the “best publicity you could’ve gotten.” Who wants the Vice President of the country that you live in. The country that you are ready to defend to say that your music is not fit without him even having listened to your album. Without him having known you or to meet you. For him to just make that. To say it out loud over the air.
Benjamin Svetkey: So you were hurt by that?
Tupac Shakur: I was crushed. Crushed.
Benjamin Svetkey: Do you have some great respect for Dan Quayle?
Tupac Shakur: No, I just have respect for government. A little respect for government to say, you know, how could you do that? You know what I’m saying?
[2Pac “So Many Tears”]
Benjamin Svetkey: Do you see yourself as a role model?
Tupac Shakur: No. I see myself as real. Like I mean if I was the President I would have a responsibility, because people put me there. Nobody put me here. They just buy my records. They wouldn’t buy my records if my records wasn’t good. I’m being who i am in the record.
[2Pac “So Many Tears” continues]
Benjamin Svetkey: Is there anything that’s giving you comfort these days?
Tupac Shakur: Recently Madonna came to me. Madonna, um… I met Madonna. She is a supporter.
Benjamin Svetkey: What was that like? Tell me about that?
Tupac Shakur: She told me: “they treat you like the Antichrist and I’ve been through that before and I just want to be a friend.”
Music: TUPAC I Get Around / Shorty Want to Be A Thug / Hail Mary / Changes / So Many Tears
Senior Writer Fast Company
Author, Retired music executive
Journalist and Biographer
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