Allen Hughes Says Tupac Was Delusional & Lost Himself In A Role
This week, Allen Hughes’ anticipated Tupac and Afeni Shakur docuseries Dear Mama will make its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. The series, announced in 2019, is expected to arrive on Netflix by year’s end.
Hughes knew and worked with Shakur. Allen and his brother Albert had met Pac at a Waffle House during his days as a Digital Underground back-up dancer and affiliate. They also directed early music videos by the artists, including “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” from Shakur’s 1991 debut 2Pacalpyse Now. That treatment became a tool the Hughes Brothers used to convince New Line Cinema executives to green-light Menace II Society. “That was the breakout for him, and us,” Allen says. That 1993 film was originally supposed to star Pac. However, a bitter feud broke out, which ended after Shakur and Allen had a physical altercation that the director says, included 10 Pac affiliates serving him with a beat-down at Pac’s behest during a Spice 1 music video shoot. “The last time I saw him was with 10 Crips and they were all beating me up,” recalls Allen Hughes in a new two-part interview at Hell Or High Water with John Heilemann. “But he did apologize, in print, later. I wish, in hindsight, that I would’ve saw him in Clinton [prison] in Dannemora.”
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Approaching 30 years after Menace, Allen Hughes’ Dear Mama arrives to look at the lives and relationship of Tupac and his late mother Afeni. In Part 1 of Hell Or High Water, at 47:00, Hughes speaks directly. “[Tupac] was aware that it wasn’t Biggie and Puffy,” he says, referring to the 1994 Squad Studios robbery-shooting in Manhattan. “He had become such a great myth-maker. To be a great artist—to be an artist, period, it comes from delusions; you’re delusional. If you’re fortunate, maybe a third of your delusions become art; two-thirds of it is bullsh*t. I think [the public] saw Tupac’s two-thirds, the delusions that weren’t the art.” Hughes alludes to Shakur’s struggle between activism and artist, something that crystalized in the five years between his debut album and his September 13, 1996 death.
“Somewhere along the line, he chose to become a gangster. There’s nothing more unartistic than a gangster,” alleges Allen. “He lost himself to that lost role he played,” the director says of the musician who has becoming an active Hollywood draw during the ’90s.
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John Heilemann plays a 1996 MTV Video Music Awards clip with Shakur and Snoop Dogg. The two were label-mates at Death Row Records, which was then solely controlled by co-founder Suge Knight. Just nine days before his death, Shakur and Snoop react to losing the “Video Of The Year” award and being in the same room as The Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy—rivals from Bad Boy Records. That New York City trip included Snoop making an armistice towards Biggie, Diddy, and Bad Boy. As a result of that position, Heilemann reports that Suge Knight removed Snoop’s security, and created a chasm between Tha Doggfather and Pac. “Snoop gets on the plane, and he tries another gesture towards Tupac Shakur. ‘Hey man…’ and Tupac just pushes him away,” says Allen Hughes. “So Snoop bring the real street guy out of all of these guys—let’s just point that out and probably one of the most intelligent sages I’ve ever known in my entire life—that type of Muhammad Ali energy, wisely walks to the back of the plane, finds a fork and a knife and a blanket.” Hughes says that the cutlery was a defense tool. “[He was] waiting for the jump-off with one eye open.” Days later, Snoop decided to pass on attending the Mike Tyson versus Bruce Seldon fight in Las Vegas, Nevada due to flaring tensions. Snoop has previously confirmed the September ’96 disagreement with Pac—their final interaction.
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In 2022, Snoop owns Death Row Records. Tupac has been dead for almost 26 years. Asked about that contrast, at 54:00, Allen Hughes says, “[Snoop Dogg] understood, having just beat a murder trial [six months earlier] and where he comes from in Long Beach and the work he put in and the work that got put in on him and his homeboys—most of whom aren’t here—he absolutely understands the gravity of the moment. He can feel it; he knows what it is—’cause he’s a street cat. Tupac, on the other hand, while he came up in the inner-city or an urban, f*cked up ghetto, he’s not a street kid; he’s an artist and an activist. He’s a performing arts kid, and he’s delusional.” Hughes repeats his earlier point that great artists are delusional. According to Hughes, Tupac lacked the switch to turn off the delusions.
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“The thing I think Tupac was addicted to most, when I look back is—when he’s in a room with us and he sees us all reacting to whatever he’s saying, especially [women]—if they’re smiling, he goes to 10. You thought 10 was the level? He’s at 50 now. And he’s so charismatic that he lost himself in his power to move a room. And he’s playing that role, like I said. I don’t even know how aware he was that he was playing that role.”
Allen Hughes says the most famous Las Vegas murder is the killing of Tupac Shakur. “I don’t think he knew he was gonna be murdered that [night]. When you walked over or ran over to that killer that’s [a] known shooter and [punched them and kicked them] and then left and then thought you could go to a club afterwards—no, that guy got with his guys and came back and got his guys. Over and out,” says Allen Hughes, referring to Tupac’s final act of delusion. He is referring to Compton, California’s Orlando Anderson, who Tupac and Suge attacked in the lobby of the MGM Grand moments after Tyson won the fight. “There’s never been a mystery of who killed Tupac,” says Allen Hughes of the man who was later gunned down in May 1998, and appeared at Suge Knight’s hearing following the September attack.
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In the final part of the sequence, Allen Hughes—who was mentored by Eazy-E, discredits Suge Knight. “He was dumb as f*ck; let’s just call it what it is. You see him talk, and you see the moves he made, and what he had? That’s just dumb.” In 2017, Hughes directed The Defiant Ones, a docuseries on the bond and overlapping arcs of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. “When you look at the power of Tupac, I never met anyone who could talk sh*t that well.” He adds that he heard an advance of “Hit ‘Em Up” months before Pac’s death, and warned an elated Iovine that Pac or Suge would likely die in the future.
#BonusBeat: A 2021 episode of Ambrosia For Heads’ What’s The Headline podcast that interviews T. Eric Monroe about photographing Shakur and others: