Tupac Approved The Artwork For Makaveli’s Don Killuminati A Day Before He Was Shot (Audio)
Twenty years ago this month, Tupac Shakur was confirmed dead seven days after a Las Vegas, Nevada drive-by shooting. At the time, Shakur had released one of the biggest albums of 1996 care of double LP All Eyez On Me. However, the Death Row Records artist had recently completed an album under the alias of “Makaveli.” This album was reportedly planned for a late 1996 release, a testament to Shakur’s studio work ethic and determination to put out his message. His group, Tha Outlawz, had taken on names of various other real-life figures, including Yaki Kadafi, Kastro, E.D.I. Mean, Hussein Fatal, and Napoleon, among others.
Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory would hit store shelves on November 5, 1996. The effort reportedly took its name from the time needed to record the tracks. While All Eyez featured production by the likes of Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, and Daz Dillinger, this album was crafted by a small, fledgling staff including Hurt-M-Badd, Darryl “Big D” Harper, and QDIII. Aside from Guy’s Aaron Hall, and Jodeci’s K-Ci and JoJo, guests were in-house Death Row “inmates.” Besides the LP’s vendetta-like theme, perhaps the 12-track effort is best remembered for its artwork. The painted image of Tupac on the cross, a clear homage to Jesus Christ was jarring for many—especially less than two months after his murder. Moreover, it joined the album title, the artistic name change, and several contents of the audio and video therein that fueled rumors that Shakur was resurrected, thus alive.
Ronald “Riskie” Brent designed the cover art for the ’96 Death Row/Makaveli Records release. The Compton, California native just published a book this month, From the Streets to the Industry – My Life & Art on Death Row Records as “Riskie Forever.” Promoting the text with the Murder Master Music Show, Riskie expounded on his most memorable piece of art. In that discussion, he confirmed that Shakur had approved the artwork a day before he was gunned down at the intersection of Flamingo and Koval.
In the interview, Riskie discusses contributing the centerfold of the inserts to All Eyez On Me with Henry “Hen Dog” Smith. Smith was a close friend of Suge Knight’s, who was murdered in his car in late 2002. “Hen Dog” also created the label logo in the early 1990s that would be later turned to gold chains worn by Tupac, Suge, and other artists. “Working with Tupac was a dream come true, ’cause I was already a fan of his before [he or I] got to Death Row…It was a real crazy experience to sit next to him and talk with him about what he wanted to do for albums.” The two would meet, thanks to Suge Knight at a Compton Swap Meet for the “California Love” video shoot. Riskie reported to Hen-Dog and Joe Cool—a relative of Snoop Dogg’s, who designed Doggystyle. Those were the art directors at Tha Row.
Don Killuminati would be vastly different, according to Riskie. “That’s actually a crazy story, ’cause when I first found out about doing the Killuminati [artwork], I had got a call from Suge [Knight] tellin’ me what they wanted to put together. At that same night, we had a [label] meeting which I [addressed in my book] at Gladstone’s [Restaurant]. I took the mock-up to him; I showed Suge. [He] told me, ‘Let’s get to work on it.’ I went to work on it. Maybe about a week later I met up with ‘Pac. I already knew that he wanted to be [portrayed] on the cross, but I never filled in the cross. So when I had to meet up with ‘Pac to show him, he really talked to me—he really wanted a road map. He wanted to display cities across the East and the West.” The conversations began in August and early September.
Death Row did place the parental advisory logo over the nude Shakur image’s midsection. A quote from Shakur asserted that the artwork was not intended to be disrespectful to Christ. The album contained material that poked at Shakur’s feuds with East Coast rappers including The Notorious B.I.G., Junior M.A.F.I.A., Mobb Deep, Jay Z, De La Soul, Dr. Dre, and Nas, among others.
“I turned the artwork to ‘Pac that same say—that same Friday before we left for Vegas, September the 6. The next day he got shot, bro.”
Riskie would stay at Death Row after Pac’s death. He created covers for Daz Dillinger’s Retaliation, Revenge, and Get Back (which paid homage to Marvin Gaye’s In Our Lifetime? cover) and Christmas On Death Row. In his hardcover book, Riskie also reportedly discusses creating artwork to Death Row product that did not release.
Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory released to a #1 position on the sales charts, and has sold more than five million units since. It remains the first of an onslaught of posthumous ‘Pac releases.