True Blood: Billy Garland, Tupac’s Father, Speaks [Feature From the Sept. 2011 Issue]
Did you feel like he understood you with all that, in the end?
I don’t know. I wish we would’ve had one of them…maybe got drunk together and just let it all hang out. It was always people freakin’ around. The first time we meet, there’s six people in the room. What can I ask him? And I felt so bad. And now I wanna be a part of him and his crew. I start my grown ass smoking the chronic. Never had chronic in my life. Chronic will fuck you up. I got fucked up. Now I’m stoned stupid, don’t know what to say. But I’m tryin’ to, you know—like the Indians. When you go with the Indians, everyone smoking the pipe and shit. “I’ll smoke. Give me that.” And there’s a fuckin’ kid over there with a fuckin’ big-ass bowl of fuckin’ pot. And they got this box of cigars, and they’re rolling blunts all fuckin’ night. And I’m bluntin’. “Yeah, I can hang. I’m a tough muthafucka.” But I was fucked up. Jasmine Guy’s apartment—that’s whose apartment it was. I almost passed out. I wake up. Jasmine and him on the couch. I’m the last fuckin’ one. I felt like an idiot. First time I see you, I’m in the fuckin’ place passed out! You know? I felt so stupid. I said, “Damn.”
What was that first sit-down like, when you went to visit him in jail? That was when you got to talk to him more, with fewer people around.
Oh, I was so excited. [Laughs] I got a speeding ticket driving from New Jersey to Dannemora prison, wanting to see him so much. And when I left that visit, I turned to him as I’m walking out the door, when they said visiting hours are over, and I said, “I love you.” He said, “I love you, too, Pops.” So that’s all I needed.
Were you ever concerned that, because so much time had gone by and you guys were reconnecting, he would think, Hey, I’m a celebrity. Now here my father is. He wants something from me.
No, I never thought that.
You weren’t worried that he might?
I didn’t think that ’til later. But I never thought about it then. I just wish I’d have wrote and communicated more with him. ’Cause I was doing some things then. Wasn’t in the greatest interest of being a father. You know, it was the ’80s and ’90s, and I did some things. The social drugs that were out there, I did some of those. They seemed to soothe the emotions over, if you know what I’m saying. You tend not to think so much about…
And then, by the time you get yourself together, he’s a man.
Exactly. Well, the only bad thing I feel? A month before he died, he called me. And for some reason, he woke me up. And I felt bad we didn’t talk more. So he did reach out. ’Cause I had been calling Death Row and found out they weren’t giving him the messages. So maybe he’s thinking, Well, my dad doesn’t care for me. So we had that disconnect. But then Afeni said to me, the night that he died—and I tend to wanna believe her—it was in September, and she said that that November he was planning on sending for all the siblings, and we were gonna have Thanksgiving together. And that just swelled my heart. ’Cause I don’t think she would’ve said that if it wasn’t true. So that made me feel good. You gotta remember, we had a kid who had nothing, who got a little. But not really a lot before he went to jail. Not really superstar status. Didn’t really see his money develop. Not to go to the bank and take out $50,000. Sent to a prison for something we know he had nothing to do with.
Were you a fan of the music?
Yes, I loved it. And that’s what’s so funny. This is a kid who writes about things that I love. Political things. You got other rappers—what do they write about? I call it “gas, cash and ass.” A new car, flashing money and pretty girls in the videos. That’s all it is. The lyrics, the beats are wack. But they make gazillions of dollars rapping about that. He tells a story. A profound one.
And he came from an authentic background. That was such a huge factor for his fans.
Yes, he did. Very political. They always say he came from a Panther. No, he came from two Black Panthers. You have to understand that. And that contributes a lot to that. So I didn’t mind it. I knew he was living his life. He wasn’t even out a year. Got out in [October], got killed in September. He was living his life, feeling good about himself, feeling like a star.
How angry do you think he was when he got out of jail?
He never showed it.
’Cause the public perception was that he was angry at Biggie and Bad Boy and the East Coast…
He’s raging, and in comes Suge to put the battery in his back, you know?
But you know what? It’s a funny thing. First time I saw him after 15 years, I went to the hospital, Biggie came and walked up to me and said, “Mr. Garland, I’m sorry for your inconvenience. If there’s anything I can do for you, feel free to call.”
That was after the first shooting?
The first shooting, the one that everybody thinks Biggie had something to do with. There’s no way in hell that a man who was involved in a shooting would do that. Not the way he did it. There was no fear; there was no hesitation. You could see he was just as concerned about ’Pac as anybody.
How did you find out he was shot the second time?
I think somebody called. I can’t remember. I jumped on the next plane out there. And I went in the room, and he was comatose—induced coma. Staples here, little swollen here. And they said that, if you talk to him, he might be able to hear. So I would just stay in the room for hours and just kinda talk. But, uh, it was never no response. He never responded. And that lasted for six days. And the one time I leave the room, I go back to the hotel, get in the car to go to the hotel, and I gotta hear it on the news: Tupac Shakur died. I made a U-turn. I think I hooked up with Afeni down at the Golden Nugget [Hotel and Casino], and we talked a little bit. And then I left town that night. I didn’t even wanna stay in Vegas. I haven’t been back since. Fifteen years.
At first, did you think he’d survive?
Yes. I knew he was strong. I just thought he would. He’d been through a lot of shit. I knew he would. I was shocked.
When was the last time you spoke?
The time he called me on the phone. After I tried to reach him.
And you had the quick conversation?
Yes. And it haunts me to this day. It really does. I had so much to say. You know, don’t you wish you could take that back? If you thought you’re not gonna see somebody or talk to them again, for the rest of your life? To know that you didn’t basically offer anything of substance, just, “What’s up? How you doin’?” You know, “Yeah, Pops, yeah. I’m busy doing this, doing that.” You know, “Okay.” I had been up all night, I ain’t gonna lie, doing shit. I was still out of it. I gotta live with that. Certain shit you gotta live with. It hurts, but you gotta just live with it.
After he passed, there was a lot of talk that he was still alive.
Nah. Ridiculous. Ridiculous. I saw the wounds.
Did that hurt?
Nah. People kinda… I like people, but they’re kinda…silly, I guess. Lack of a better word.
Yeah, okay. I didn’t really wanna say that, you know? I don’t wanna call people who like Tupac nutty.
But it’s interesting how Tupac fans are die-hard. They can be a little crazy.
Today. People stop me and ask me for an autograph. I feel stupid. But I feel honored. ’Cause I know they don’t want me; they want him. And they want something related to him. So I do. I sign that picture. I sign this. Makes me feel good. Then I go about my way, and I realize, you know, he’s gone. Only benefit I got is listening to… I got a couple of his unreleased music, and I listen to it, and it feels like he’s talking to me from the dead. I can hear his voice, and he’s saying something, and I think, I have that, you know? I don’t think many parents who’ve lost a kid can say they can hear their kid again. And I do. See what I’m saying? On a consistent basis. And here’s the kicker: If he wasn’t my son, I’d still fuckin’ like him. He’s the best fuckin’ rapper out there, ’cause nobody can rap! And the beats! You understand? The way he lays it down! I got that. That’s all I got. On my phone and at home, I listen.