Tupac Shakur’s legacy still looms large in music more than 13 years after his untimely death. You can suss out ’Pac’s swagger in everyone from DMX to Ja Rule; Kanye West continues Shakur’s tradition of being outspoken; and rappers still turn to his back catalog for insightful verses to graft into hip-hop hits.
Part of the reason Shakur’s presence is still felt is because the controversial icon left behind a hefty amount of music, including a formidable collection of unreleased recordings. ’Pac might have been on top of the music world when he died, but his close friend and Naughty by Nature MC Treach said Shakur’s work ethic was fueled by his belief that his demise was imminent.
“We spoke many a time, and he was like, ’I don’t see myself growing old,’ ” Treach told MTV News’ Sway on Tuesday, the day before what would have been Shakur’s 39th birthday.
Treach, who came up with ’Pac when the two were roadies for Queen Latifah and Digital Underground, respectively, said that despite his homie’s affable manner and upbeat energy, ’Pac worked as if he had no time to waste. “You gotta listen to songs like ’If I Die 2Nite’ and ’I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto.’ When he was in that mode, in that zone, you gotta be like, ’What’s going on? You a’ight?’
” ’Pac couldn’t sit down for five minutes,” Treach continued. “He was always going, ’Yeah, everything good, good, good.’ When you listen to him and you see his demeanor, he was more or less, like, on watch. He had a deadline. He was working at a pace, like, ’Where you going? You going on vacation? You going to jail? You doing sh– like you tryna finish everything right now and cover stuff.’ You couldn’t find him half the time; he was gone. He had a plan.”
Treach believes ’Pac’s plan extended beyond just making thought-provoking music; the Jersey rapper said Shakur wanted to realize tangible change among his fans who were living the thug life.
“Ultimately, he wanted to get the thugs all behind him — his thug nation, his thug life — and take them to the next level … unified, building up the community, reinvesting in the community, in the people.”
Treach said he wanted to use music to get the attention of the streets but then eventually make life easier on the streets. “[He wanted to bring] them in thinking it’s a gangsta party, but it’s like … it’s a militant, protect-our-own party. He was truly like a baby Panther. He was like, ’Yo, we gotta do something to reinforce that we gonna protect ourselves.’ ”
Even though ’Pac built his career on a brash, thug persona, Treach said there was way more to the star than his hard-core adherence to the ’hood.
” ’Pac was a clown. Everybody think he just like gangsta, thug-life ’Pac. He’ll have a whole party just around him crackin’ up,” Treach said. “We almost got threw out a couple hotels. I’m talking full-floor water fights.”
Treach said he found it hilarious to see the former Digital Underground associate “runnin’ around with a Humpty nose.”
“He was an actor, he was a musician … anything you could put, if he wanted to do it, he could do that. But he was a fool too,” Treach said. “He did it well being a fool too. You don’t want to be around nobody that’s mean muggin’ all day and got an attitude and hatin’. ’Pac wasn’t nothing like that. ’Pac would have you just wanting to be around because you know you gonna have a ball around him and split some seams just having a good time.”
His fiery flow, revolutionary rhetoric and undeniable artistry are some of the things that have endeared ’Pac to millions of fans around the world. Yet Treach adds that his appeal as a person was very basic: “He had a glow to him. He had something you wanted to be around.”
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