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Ready To Live

Make me wanna holler / The way they do my life

-Marvin Gaye

It was a chilly January morning when I made my way to Rikers Island for a conversation with Tupac Shakur, what would be his first words to any journalist since being shot last November 30. After passing through a series of checkpoints and metal detectors, I reached a dingy white conference room in the same building where Tupac was being held on $3 million bail. Within weeks, he'd receive a one-and-a-half- to four-and-a-half-year sentence for a sexual abuse conviction in his New York rape case. Tupac strutted into the room without a limp, in spite of having been recently wounded in the leg-among other places. Dressed in a white Adidas sweatshirt and oversized blue jeans, he seemed more alert than he had been in all our interviews and encounters. He looked me in the eyes as we spoke and smoked one Newport after another. "I'm kinda nervous," he admitted at one point. After a brush with death and the barrage of rumor and innuendo that followed, Tupac said he'd summoned me because "this is my last interview. If I get killed, I want people to get every drop. I want them to have the real story."

How do you feel after everything you've been through these past few weeks?

Well, the first two days in prison, I had to go through what life is like when you've been smoking weed for as long as I have and then you stop. Emotionally, it was like I didn't know myself. I was sitting in a room, like there was two people in the room, evil and good. That was the hardest part. After that, the weed was out of me. Then every day I started doing, like, a thousand push-ups for myself. I was reading whole books in one day, and writing, and that was putting me in a peace of mind. Then I started seeing my situation and what got me here. Even though I'm innocent of the charge they gave me, I'm not innocent in terms of the way I was acting.

Could you tell me specifically what you mean?

I'm just as guilty for not doing nothing as I am for doing things. Not with this case, but just in my life. I had a job to do and I never showed up. I was so scared of this responsibility that I was running away from it. But I see now that whether I show up for work or not, the evil forces are going to be at me. They're going to come 100 percent, so if I don't be 100 percent pure-hearted, I'm going to lose. And that's why I'm losing.

When I got in here, all the prisoners was, like, "F*ck that gangsta rapper." I'm not a gangsta rapper. I rap about things that happen to me. I got shot five times, you know what I'm saying? People was trying to kill me. It was really real like that. I don't see myself being special; I just see myself having more responsibilities than the next man. People look to me to do things for them, to have answers. I wasn't having them because my brain was half dead from smoking so much weed. I'd be in my hotel room, smoking too much, drinking, going to clubs, just being numb. That was being in jail to me. I wasn't happy at all on the streets. Nobody could say they saw me happy.

When I spoke to you a year ago, you said that if you ended up in jail, your spirit would die. You sound like you're saying the opposite now.

That was the addict speaking. The addict knew if I went to jail, then it couldn't live. The addict in Tupac is dead. The excuse maker in Tupac is dead. The vengeful Tupac is dead. The Tupac that would stand by and let dishonorable things happen is dead. God let me live for me to do something extremely extraordinary, and that's what I have to do. Even if they give me the maximum sentence, that's still my job.

Can you take us back to that night at Quad Recording Studios in Times Square?

The night of the shooting? Sure. Ron G. is a DJ out here in New York. He's, like, "Pac, I want you to come to my house and lay this rap down for my tapes." I said, "All right, I'll come for free." So I went to his house-me, Stretch, and a couple other homeboys. After I laid the song, I got a page from this guy Booker, telling me he wanted me to rap on Little Shawn's record. Now, this guy I was going to charge, because I could see that they was just using me, so I said, "All right, you give me seven G's and I'll do the song." He said, "I've got the money. Come." I stopped off to get some weed, and he paged me again. "Where you at? Why you ain't coming?" I'm, like, "I'm coming, man, hold on."

Did you know this guy?

I met him through some rough characters I knew. He was trying to get legitimate and all that, so I thought I was doing him a favor. But when I called him back for directions, he was, like, "I don't have the money." I said, "If you don't have the money, I'm not coming." He hung up the phone, then called me back: "I'm going to call [Uptown Entertainment CEO] Andre Harrell and make sure you get the money, but I'm going to give you the money out of my pocket." So I said, "All right, I'm on my way." As we're walking up to the building, somebody screamed from up the top of the studio. It was Little Caesar, Biggie's [the Notorious B.I.G.] sideman. That's my homeboy. As soon as I saw him, all my concerns about the situation were relaxed.

So you're saying that going into it...

I felt nervous because this guy knew somebody I had major beef with. I didn't want to tell the police, but I can tell the world. Nigel had introduced me to Booker. Everybody knew I was short on money. All my shows were getting canceled. All my money from my records was going to lawyers; all the movie money was going to my family. So I was doing this type of stuff, rapping for guys and getting paid.


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