Our colleague, Hazel Rosetta Smith, recounts her memories of the late Tupac Shakur in this personal essay.
By Hazel Rosetta Smith
On June 7, 2023, Tupac Amaru Shakur, legendary rapper, poet, and actor was honored posthumously with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the recording category.
Tupac was born in Harlem, though he lived in Oakland, California during his height of fame. At the young age of twenty-five, he was shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.
Some may know young Tupac performed on the stage of Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theatre. Many may not know that his talent was revealed as an actor prior to that under the direction of Ernie McClintock at the Afro-American Studios’ 127th Street Repertory Ensemble Company.
It was 1984 and the company was in rehearsal for the upcoming season, featuring the legendary actress Minnie Gentry in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun.”
I remember it well. A lanky boy, with a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin, started showing up at the studio with his cousin, who was a member. We were introduced to Tupac, his mother Afeni Shakur, and his younger sister,
Soon enough, Tupac began positioning himself at the side of the stage, quietly mimicking the actors. He had memorized the entire script, line by line. Just as opportunities can come along unexpectedly, the young boy preparing to take on the character of Travis in the play had to pull out and McClintock announced that Tupac would be taking over the role.
As a member of the company, I had close contact with Tupac, running lines with him after rehearsals, and enjoyed listening to his assurance that he was meant to be great.
On Tupac’s thirteenth birthday, we surprised him with a party. My gift for him was thirteen one-dollar bills (good spending money back then) rolled and wrapped with a ribbon, presented in a box marked treasure. Tupac laughed and laughed as he lifted each dollar.
When I asked him what he would do with thirteen dollars, without any hesitation, he placed his treasure box into his mother’s hands. He was thoughtful, kind, and loving to his little sister, but his mother was everything and then some to him, that was clear.
When Afeni announced that she was taking her children south, hopefully away from the throes of problems in the city, we were heartbroken knowing we would miss out on Tupac’s rise to fame. We believed in him and he proved us right.
I followed his career, the good and the ugly. I wasn’t pleased with the language in some of his music or the thug life tattoo across his body. Yet, his face always looked the same to me, like a man-child in dangerous casting.
I will always remember Tupac as a boy looking for a better day. I never thought the “better day” would lead to his destruction. I hope he knew it was true when I said, little brown boy, I loved you so.
[Hazel Rosetta Smith is a journalist, playwright, and artistic director for Help Somebody Theatrical Ministries. Contact: [email protected]