2Pac, A Rebel With a Cause [XXL ARCHIVES]

Originally published in the October 2002 issue of XXL

In 1993 Tupac Shakur was at a firing range in Los Angeles filming a video interview for a local cable show. He fired shots at the paper targets with stunning accuracy. While he didn’t shoot smiley faces à la Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, he left the targets Swiss-cheesed up something awful. “He dead,” he said, admiring his handiwork. “He real dead towards the left side of his face and the whole upper head and this whole side. He dead.” When he squeezed, he didn’t breathe; he kept it lined and even.

“Now you know I’m talking it like I walk it,” he said. “Now all I really gotta do is shoot a live target. But it ain’t get that deep yet. And I’m not really trying to prove nothing. So it’s all cool. Until then, I’ll keep shooting paper.”

He showcased his small arsenal. A .223 caliber 90-round assault rifle loaded with hollow-tip bullets, a 10 mm Glock, a Mac 11, a 9 mm handgun, a .357 Magnum and a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun. He also had a knapsack full of ammunition. “If they ever come get me for some bullshit and I don’t want to go to jail—which I don’t—I got this for them,” he said loading up the assault rifle. “I ain’t going to jail. Not unless I want to, not unless I did something. I’ll go. But I ain’t finna go for nothing, youknowhuti’msayin? So if they come for me, I’m putting a 90-rounder in…”

When Tupac Amaru Shakur moved to Atlanta that autumn, he was already a household name. The year before had been a busy one. In a case that made national headlines, prosecutors cited a song, “Soulja’s Story,” from 2Pac’s debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, as an influence during the trial of a Black teen who shot and killed a Texas law enforcement officer. On the song, ’Pac rapped: “Cops on my tail, so I bail ’til I dodge ’em/They finally pulled me over, and I laugh/‘Remember Rodney King?’/And I blast on his punk ass… Keep my shit cocked ’cause the cops got a Glock, too/What the fuck would you do, drop them or let ’em drop you?/I chose dropping the cop.” During his reelection bid, Vice President Dan Quayle denounced 2Pacalypse Now as having “no place in our society.” The death of a six-year-old boy was also linked to Tupac after the child was struck by a stray bullet at a community celebration in Marin City, California during a violent altercation between ’Pac and some former friends.

In March ’93, the rapper was arrested after getting into a fight with a limousine driver who objected to marijuana smoke coming from the back seat. The charges were eventually dropped, but less than a month after that incident, ’Pac was arrested for taking a baseball bat to a Lansing, Michigan rapper who supposedly upstaged him during a freestyle session at a concert. He was sentenced to 10 days on the other side of the wall.

’Pac had moved to Atlanta—the ’90s Black Mecca that became a second home to everyone from Too $hort to Erick Sermon to a then-unknown ’bow-throwing MC named Christopher Bridges—in order to get away from the drama that seemed to be following him wherever he went. “Where do I go to stay out of trouble?” asks ’Pac in a scene from director QD3’s 2002 Tupac documentary, Thug Angel: The Life Of An Outlaw. “That’s why I came to Atlanta. What do they want me to do? There’s no place called ‘Careful.’”

On Halloween of that year, ’Pac was heading back to the midtown Sheraton Hotel after performing at Clark Atlanta University. He pulled up to the intersection at 14th and Juniper streets, not far from the hotel. There he is reported to have observed two White men harassing a Black driver. ’Pac took it upon himself to intervene in the situation. When the Black man fled, the two White men, brothers Mark and Scott Whitwell, realized that ’Pac was crew deep and that they were outnumbered. Mark pulled out a gun.

“Apparently ’Pac was like, ‘Go ’head and shoot me,’” says QD3, who also has production credits on ’Pac’s All Eyez On Me and Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory albums. “’Pac put his arms up like, ‘Shoot me, whatever. You can shoot me. What’s up?’”

“The guy took a shot and he missed ’Pac,” he continues. “Then ’Pac pulled out his own strap and shot back.” The time at the firing range paid off: Mark was shot in the abdomen, Scott in his buttocks.

As it turned out, the Whitwell brothers were off-duty police officers. Tupac was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault. At the ensuing trial, however, even witnesses for the prosecution testified that Mark Whitwell fired the first shot. Furthermore, Scott admitted under cross examination that he and his brother had been drinking that night. The charges were eventually dropped, with assistant district attorney Charles Hadaway saying that ’Pac had acted in self-defense. (In 1998, after ’Pac’s death, a Dekalb State Court jury issued a default judgment of $210,000 against Tupac’s estate in favor of Scott Whitwell.)

“For two White cops in Atlanta, a Southern state, to be shot by Tupac, the son of a Black Panther, and Tupac got off?” says QD3. “Something very wrong went down… All the odds were stacked against him.”

“When I heard ’Pac had shot two police officers, I was like, Whoooo!” says Digital Underground front man Shock-G, who gave ’Pac his first break in the music industry. “That nigga really is Chaka Zulu out this muthafucka, he ain’t having it! I didn’t know the details, but knowing him personally, I knew it was just. He wasn’t a murderer.”