“All Eyez On Me” Marks Tupac Shakur’s Posthumous Return to American Cinema

The brief but always compelling life of Tupac Amaru Shakur felt practically written for the silver screen.  It had all the elements of a blockbuster: an enigmatic hero, a rogues gallery of villains, sex, violence, a triumphant rise, a tragic downfall, and a ready-made soundtrack of hits.  Tupac, who was unusually self-aware for someone so young, knew how captivating his every move was – “I feel so confident and so sure about the man that I am that you can watch me when I fail, when I cry, when I get shot, when I got to jail, when I die – you can watch it.”  His compulsion to reveal himself made him a magnet for criticism.  Music journalist Touré claimed that his public persona was an elaborate, self-destructive, performance.  Noted cultural critic / jazz enthusiast Stanley Crouch described him as an “anarchic individualist” who corrupted America’s youth.  Whoever Tupac truly was, few have been ambivalent about his passion for dramatizing his own life and the lives of others.  Tupac was not just a music icon.  He was a multi-talented artist who sometimes characterized his rap career as a means to an end – “I’m an actor. I just happen to rap in my spare time instead of being a waiter,” he explained on the set of Gridlock’d in 1996.

Given Tupac’s incredible life and flair for the dramatic, it should surprise no one that Hollywood has been itching to tell his story for more than twenty years.  Within months of his death on September 13, 1996, HBO Films announced an adaptation of Armond White’s (yes, that Armond White) book, Rebel for the Hell of It: The Life of Tupac Shakur, for cable.  If you are now asking yourself, “How did I miss an HBO film about Tupac,” stop – it never materialized, becoming the first of many failed attempts to portray ‘Pac’s life.  Over the past two decades, only the excellent, Academy Award-nominated, documentary Tupac: Resurrection made it to theaters.  Until now.

On Friday, June 16, 2017, a day on which Tupac should have celebrated his 46th birthday, Summit Entertainment / Morgan Creek Entertainment released All Eyez On Me, the already controversial film that purports to tell the “Untold Story of Tupac Shakur,” to theaters everywhere.  All Eyez On Me has walked a long, perilous, road to your local cinema and, contrary to what you may have read online, it was not greenlit in order to capitalize on the success of the 2015 N.W.A biopic, Straight Outta Compton.  All Eyez On Me was first announced in February 2011 after years in “development hell” and went through three different directors (Antoine Fuqua, John Singleton, and Carl Franklin) before Benny Boom (Next Day Air) got the nod.

The filming of All Eyez On Me began in December 2015, years after the settlement of a lawsuit between Morgan Creek and Amaru Entertainment over the rights to Tupac’s story and just days before the expiration of Morgan Creek’s rights to Tupac’s music.  Shooting wrapped in April 2016 and the film’s supporters within the Hip Hop community have been working hard to generate interest and secure distribution ever since.  One of the film’s producers, L.T. Hutton, who worked on Tupac songs like “Watch Ya Mouth” at Death Row Records, has promoted the film online, on television, and in person around the country.  Rap artists who knew or admire Tupac, like Snoop Dogg and The Game, have praised the project.  The film’s pre-release acclaim has come from at least one surprising source.  Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, the Bad Boy Records founder who former L.A.P.D. detective Greg Kading has accused of putting a million dollar murder contract out on Tupac and Suge Knight, was reportedly moved by a screening.  One very important party has refused to participate in the campaign.  Tupac’s estate, now overseen by former Interscope executive Tom Whalley, has been eerily quiet.  Weeks before All Eyez On Me’s release, the estate announced a new Tupac documentary directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave and Shame).

All Eyez On Me, which is approximately two hours and twenty minutes long (twenty-five minutes shorter than an earlier, pre-Summit Entertainment, cut), attempts to tell the entire story of Tupac’s life.  [SPOILERS AHEAD.]  In fact, it begins before Tupac is even born. The film opens with Afeni Shakur (played by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira), who is visibly pregnant with Tupac, giving a speech on the steps of a New York City courthouse following her exoneration in the Panther 21 trial.  The film then fast forwards more than twenty years to Tupac’s incarceration in Upstate New York. A prison interview of Tupac frames the film’s depiction of his first 24 years. Some of the scenes from this first part of All Eyez On Me include:

  • Tupac’s early years in New York City and the impact that the F.B.I.’s harassment of Black Panthers like his mother Afeni and step-father Mutulu had on his childhood;
  • Tupac’s move to Baltimore, Maryland, his relationship with Jada Pinkett-Smith, and his early acting experiences at the Baltimore School for the Arts;
  • Tupac’s relationship with Kenneth “Legs” Saunders, a surrogate father figure who taught him about the “Street Life”;
  • Tupac’s life in Marin City, California and introduction to Leila Steinberg, his first manager;
  • Tupac’s time with the Digital Underground, the Oakland, California rap group that gave him his start in the music industry;
  • Afeni’s crack cocaine addiction and the effect it had on her relationship with Tupac;
  • Tupac’s signing to Interscope Records and the controversy surrounding his first two albums, 2Pacalypse Now and Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…;
  • The murder of six-year-old Qa’id Walker Teal at an outdoor celebration of Marin City’s fiftieth anniversary on August 22, 1992;
  • The filming of Juice and Above the Rim, two memorable films that starred Tupac, and Tupac losing a role in John Singleton’s Higher Learning because of the legal troubles he was embroiled in;
  • Tupac shooting two off-duty Atlanta police officers who were harassing an African-American motorist on Halloween in 1993;
  • Tupac’s creation of the “Thug Life” code with his imprisoned step-father Mutulu;
  • Tupac’s early, mentor-mentee, relationship with The Notorious B.I.G.;
  • The alleged sexual assault of Ayanna Jackson in November 1993 that led to Tupac’s incarceration; and
  • The botched robbery of Tupac at Quad Recording Studios in New York on November 30, 1994, the night before he was convicted of sex abuse.

As long as All Eyez On Me is, that is still an awful lot of ground to cover and the film moves quickly from point to point in Tupac’s life.  It hits all of the important markers but hardcore Tupac fans are unlikely to learn very much and those who are less familiar with his life may find it hard to follow.  To be completely honest, Tupac’s complicated, eventful, life may best suited for a mini-series on an outlet like HBO or Netflix.

Following the wrap-around interview’s conclusion, All Eyez On Me proceeds to Tupac’s release from prison and the last eleven months of his life.  Some of the moments from Tupac’s Death Row Records era that are portrayed in the film include:

  • Tupac’s relationship with Suge Knight and the violent atmosphere at Death Row during the 1990s;
  • Tupac’s recording of “California Love” with Dr. Dre and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” with Snoop Dogg and Daz Dillinger;
  • Tupac’s “relationship” with Faith Evans, his feud with her husband, The Notorious B.I.G., and the release of his classic diss record, “Hit ‘Em Up”;
  • The strained relationships between Tupac and Jada Pinkett-Smith (who has criticized this film’s accuracy on social media) and Tupac and Snoop Dogg at the end of Tupac’s life;
  • The Death Row concert at the House of Blues on July 4, 1996;
  • Tupac’s love affair with Kidada Jones, the daughter of producer / mogul Quincy Jones;
  • Tupac’s unhappiness with the way that Suge Knight and Death Row Records were handling his finances;
  • Tupac’s promotion of Death Row East in Bryant Park following the MTV Music Video Awards in New York on September 4, 1996;
  • Tupac’s assault of alleged South Side Compton Crip Orlando Anderson at the MGM Grand on September 7, 1996; and
  • The drive-by shooting hours after the MGM Grand fight that resulted in Tupac’s death six days later.

Two things are noticeably absent from the end of the film: (1) the six days that Tupac spent fighting for his life at University Medical Center in Las Vegas; and (2) an exploration into who may have been responsible for his murder.  The film ends as Tupac is pulled from Suge’s BMW and placed on the asphalt in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip.  It does not include Tupac’s infamous alleged last words – “Fuck you” to the police officer who was questioning him about his shooter’s identity.

Because I am not a film critic, I am not going to analyze the merits of this film’s direction, editing, cinematography, or acting in great detail. As someone who has studied Tupac’s life and music for over twenty years, however, I do want to provide a few of the stray observations I made in my notebook as I watched the film. Below are a sample of them:

  • For the most part, the film is factually accurate, probably more so than Straight Outta Compton.  Some things are depicted differently than they appear in Tupac’s historical record, however, including the length of Tupac’s relationship with Kidada Jones; Tupac’s performance of “Hail Mary” at the House of Blues; Tupac’s reading of his poem “Jada” to its subject, Jada Pinkett-Smith; Tupac’s managerial role at Death Row East (actually run by Eric B) instead of Makaveli Records; and the timing of the attempted theft of Trevon “Tray” Lane’s Death Row pendant by Orlando Anderson at the Lakewood Mall;
  • I had been skeptical about Demetrius Shipp, Jr. (whose father co-produced Tupac’s single, “Toss It Up”) because of his lack of acting experience and the herculean task of portraying someone as well-known, beloved, and charismatic as Tupac.  While there is no Tupac but Tupac, I thought Demetrius did a more than adequate job capturing both Tupac’s mannerisms and the various, often contradictory, sides of his personality.  There are a few moments in the film where Demetrius comes very close to embodying Tupac’s essence;
  • The film has an admirable respect for the smaller details, most of which will only be noticed by hardcore Tupac fans.  Examples of All Eyez On Me’s attention to detail include the original title of Tupac’s album All Eyez On Me (“Euthanasia”); the green Nike jersey that Tupac was wearing when he was fatally wounded in Las Vegas and other items of clothing / jewelry that adorn him throughout the film; the dance moves of the Digital Underground during performances of the “Humpty Dance”; and Tupac’s chain-smoking of Newport cigarettes;
  • Characters in the film who are depicted without the use of their real names are given amusing pseudonyms.  Jacques “Haitian Jack” Agnant is “Nigel,” the false name used when Tupac’s controversial Rikers Island interview with Kevin Powell was published in the April 1995 issue of Vibe magazine.  In the film, “Nigel” appears to be an amalgamation of “Haitian Jack” and James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond, the Brooklyn power player who is suspected of ordering the Quad Studios robbery.  Ayanna Jackson, the woman who accused Tupac of sexual assault in 1993, is named Brianna in the film;
  • I found the post-production substitution of Snoop Dogg’s voice for that of actor Jarrett Ellis slightly distracting but the audience at the screening of the film I attended found it hilarious.  The performances of Money-B, E.D.I. Mean, and Young Noble as themselves took me out of the film a bit as well;
  • Some of this film’s critics have argued that Death Row C.E.O. Suge Knight is not sufficiently menacing in All Eyez On Me.  Such critics overlook that Tupac’s relationship with Suge was different than the relationships depicted in Straight Outta Compton.  According to many who were at Death Row in 1996, Tupac and Suge had a mostly friendly, arguably family-like, bond for most of the time that Tupac spent there;
  • Other critics have contended that Tupac is portrayed too negatively in the film and that his revolutionary qualities are underemphasized, particularly during the scenes depicting his time at Death Row.  Such critics forget the fact that Tupac could have been depicted more negatively.  The film does not show his association with alleged M.O.B. Piru Bloods in his last year, his alleged involvement in the brutal beat down of Bad Boy Records employee Mark Anthony Bell in December 1995, or his alleged assault of Death Row producer Sam Sneed at a label meeting in February 1996;
  • Bad Boy Records, which played an important part in the feud between Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., is rarely mentioned in the film.  Bad Boy’s founder and C.E.O., Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, is similarly M.I.A.  That’s a shame because their absence makes it difficult for Tupac newcomers to understand the nature of Tupac’s beef with Biggie.  In his song “Against All Odds” and his infamous interview with Angie Martinez, Tupac explained that the persons he believed were responsible for the Quad Studios robbery were extorting Bad Boy / Puffy.  Tupac therefore set out to destroy Biggie, Puffy, and anyone connected with Bad Boy in order to diminish the bottom lines of the people who had nearly killed him;
  • The criticism that All Eyez On Me is not “real” because some of the artists who Tupac respected and worked with do not appear in the film is an unfair one, in my opinion.  This film, as released, is already populated by numerous artists who Tupac knew and collaborated with.  All Eyez On Me’s script would have been too unwieldy had the writers attempted to include every artist who enriched Tupac’s musical legacy.  I do feel, however, that a few of the people who were important to Tupac’s life story, like producer Johnny J (who appears to have been cut from the film), his friend-turned-foe Randy “Stretch” Walker, and his one-time wife Keisha Morris, probably merited inclusion;
  • All Eyez On Me’s very existence has also been criticized.  Scarface, who recorded “Smile” with Tupac and is one of the greatest Hip Hop artists who has ever lived, suggested it should not have been made, saying that Tupac should be allowed to “rest” in peace now that both Tupac and his mother Afeni are deceased.  Given the fact that Tupac wanted to “spark the brain that will change the world” and specifically recorded albums for posthumous release, I find it hard to believe that he would object to the continued interpretation of his life’s meaning.  Whether or not All Eyez On Me is a proper vehicle for our edification is a different question that requires a subjective answer, however; and
  • The use of music during the final scene of All Eyez On Me is interesting.  After the Mike Tyson – Bruce Seldon fight at the MGM on September 7, 1996 (it is a shame that Tupac’s Tyson fight song, “Let’z Get It On,” was not included in this film), Suge Knight and Tupac drove toward a charity benefit at Club 662 in a black BMW 750.  Prior to the drive-by shooting that took Tupac’s life, they were pulled over by Las Vegas police officers for playing music too loudly.  Tupac and Suge were reportedly listening to Tupac’s then-unreleased album, Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.  In All Eyez On Me, however, Suge and Tupac are never pulled over and instead listen to a song performed by E.D.I. Mean of the Outlawz that sounds like it was recorded after Tupac’s death and “Blackberry Molasses,” a 1996 single by an Atlanta R&B group called Mista.  While the substitution of “Blackberry Molasses” for Killuminati highlights Tupac’s eclectic musical taste, the scene seems to suggest that Suge Knight did not enjoy R&B music, a suggestion I believe is inaccurate.

Although I do not think that All Eyez On Me is an ideal Tupac biopic, I did find reasons to applaud it.  I believe that the people who are responsible for its production sincerely wanted to do Tupac’s story justice when making it.  People who are interested in Tupac’s life, whether they are longtime fans or just curious about him, should see the film and make up their own minds about its merits.

Despite negative reviews and criticism from some people who knew Tupac, All Eyez On Me scored a forceful defense from Hip Hop journalist Ben Westhoff in L.A. Weekly and has been well-received by most audiences.  It performed well at the box office its opening weekend, surprising industry analysts by earning more than $26 million.  Whether or not the film will have legs at the box office remains to be seen.

One last note: although producer L.T. Hutton has discussed a soundtrack for All Eyez On Me in interviews, no release date has been set for one. I have created a playlist featuring most of the music featured in the film.  You can stream it here on Apple Music.

Excerpt from “Lost in the Whirlwind: A Guide to the Music and World of Tupac Shakur”


June 16th is always an important day for Tupac Shakur’s family, friends, and fans. To celebrate what should have been Tupac’s 46th birthday, I wanted to share an excerpt from my upcoming book, Lost in the Whirlwind: A Guide to the Music and World of Tupac Shakur, with you. I have chosen the section of the book about my favorite Tupac album – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.

Below you will find a link to a .pdf copy of the excerpt. At the beginning of the section excerpted are general details about the album.
Following that is my discussion of it, after which is a list of related articles elsewhere in the book.

Excerpt from Lost in the Whirlwind – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory

The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory can be purchased on compact disc and vinyl on Amazon.com and streamed on Apple Music, Tidal, and Spotify.

Former Associate of Suge Knight Confirms Tupac’s Killer, Details Death Row’s Alleged MOB Piru Blood Association, in Moving Interview

At a time when “realness” was practically everything in Hip Hop culture, one of the most infamous unions of rap music and the street was allegedly forged between Death Row Records, the label co-founded and once run by Marion “Suge” Knight, and the MOB Piru Bloods, a gang rooted in the east side of Compton, California. Rumors over the nature of the relationship between those organizations have spread over the past twenty years but few people with personal knowledge have been willing to speak about the subject on the record.

Former L.A.P.D. detective Greg Kading and documentary filmmaker Mike Dorsey are two of the people who have worked to shed light on the alleged history of Death Row and the MOB Piru. Their 2015 film, Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Murders, revealed much about the feud between Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. They have continued their investigation since Murder Rap’s release and recently interviewed James “MOB James” McDonald, a former MOB Piru member with intimate knowledge of what went on behind the scenes at Death Row.

James McDonald is the brother of Alton “Bountry” McDonald, a MOB Piru who was murdered on April 3, 2002 and was once one of Suge Knight’s closest friends. James knew Suge since they were teenagers, did security for Suge prior to the formation of Death Row, and is the person who introduced Suge to Alton and the rest of the MOB. According to James, Suge was never really a gang member but he used the MOB as a tool to build his fearsome reputation. The relationships between Suge, Death Row, and the MOB were symbiotic at first. MOB members lent street credibility to the label and acted as muscle for Suge and artists like Tupac at concerts and events. In exchange, Suge gave the MOB members who were closest to him the promise of a better life: the glamour of being associated with rap’s hottest label and cars, houses, jewelry, and money whenever the MOB felt like leaning on Suge for gifts. Over time, the relationships soured. The MOB was left holding the bag when Suge went to prison and, according to James, was never fairly compensated by Suge for its services. More tragically, MOB Piru infighting related to Death Row allegedly led to the deaths of Alton and others like Wardell “Poochie” Fouse, the man Greg Kading believes murdered The Notorious B.I.G.

During his interview, James also talks about Tupac’s transformation over the course of his eleven months on Death Row. The fact that the ordinary rules of MOB initiation did not apply to Tupac because of his money and fame did not stop him from acting like he was part of the gang. James was put off by Tupac’s representation of the MOB and complained to Suge about the “M.O.B.” tattoo on Tupac’s right arm. From James’ point of view, Tupac was playing a very dangerous game. He believes Tupac sealed his own fate when he decided to “prove himself” by attacking South Side Compton Crip Orlando Anderson at the MGM Grand in retaliation for Anderson’s attempted robbery of alleged MOB Piru associate Trevon Lane earlier that summer at the Lakewood Mall. James does not mince words when it comes to the role that Suge played either. He also blames Suge for not shielding Tupac from the street politics he had no business being involved in.

James also confirms a number of other allegations in the Murder Rap documentary. He recalls that the rumored bounty allegedly placed on Death Row jewelry, which precipitated the Lakewood Mall incident, escalated the rivalry between the MOB and the South Side Crips. On the night that Tupac was fatally wounded, James was posted in the parking lot of Club 662, awaiting the arrival of Suge, Tupac, the Outlawz, and various other Death Row / MOB members. James observed South Side Crips inside of a Cadillac that was briefly parked in the lot prior to the shooting of Suge’s BMW. He called his brother, Alton, who had been involved in the beat down of Orlando Anderson at the MGM, and warned him that the “Southside is up here.” For whatever reason, James’ warning was not heeded and Death Row’s entourage proceeded toward 662 apparently unconcerned by the possibility of a drive-by shooting.

James’ interview also corroborates that the MOB Piru knew that the South Side Crips were responsible for what happened. Shortly after the shooting, MOB members arrived at 662 and spread word that “the South Side dumped on us.” James explains the motivation behind the war that took place in Compton in the aftermath. Although Tupac was not a bona fide MOB Piru member, he was killed on their watch and the MOB had no choice but to retaliate in order to protect its credibility.

At the end of his interview, James confesses the regret he has for what happened to his brother. He feels responsible for introducing Alton to Suge and holds Suge responsible for the hazardous lives led by every MOB Piru who knew him.

On The 20th Anniversary Of Tupac Shakur’s Death, New Projects Reflect Continued Interest In His Music & Life

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On the 20th Anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s death, author Michael Namikas highlights projects that are continuing his legacy. Click here to read the full article at HipHopDX.com.

All Eyez On Him: Celebrating 2Pac’s Magnum Opus

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On the 20th Anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s “All Eyez On Me,” author Michael Namikas highlights the importance of the rap icon’s most popular album. Click here to read the full article at HipHopDX.com.