Tupac Month: Rosie Perez Remembers Tupac on His 15th Death Anniversary
Fifteen years since his death, Rosie Perez still finds herself clearing up rumors about the status of her relationship with Tupac Shakur.
“We weren’t romantically involved," she tells XXL over the phone. "I’m grown now, and if it was true I’d say, ‘yeah, we did it.' Those are rumors, 100%. That’s misogyny in hip-hop — women can’t be friends with guys, apparently."
By no means is Perez making any excuses for her tight bond with Tupac. Yes, they were close — very close — just not as close as the rest of the world imagined. The fact that their relationship was platonic, yet intimate, made their friendship that much more special.
Perez and Tupac met while on tour in the early '90s, Perez as a choreographer for Heavy D and ‘Pac as a dancer for Digital Underground, and the two developed, in her own words, an instant friendship. Their closeness is what set the rumor mill off almost 20 years ago, when a visual of the two friends holding hands at the 1993 Soul Train Awards surfaced. But there’s a good explanation for the documented affection, says Perez.
“He did that for me as a friend,” she recalls. “This guy I was suppose to go with to the Music Awards bailed out on me at the last minute. Pac called up to say hi and to ask if I had extra tickets. And I was like, ‘This motherfucking motherfucker fucking fuck!’ He was like, ‘Fuck this motherfucker. Let me go up in there with you. Come on.’ He said, ‘Let’s go together. And, let’s hold hands and let that motherfucker see you on the screen. Fuck him. Watch how crazy I am.’"
That night on their way back from the award show, after people began to speculate about their relationship status, Perez remembers Tupac telling her, “'I don’t see you like that,'" she says of their conversation. "'You’re family. You’re my sister. You’re one of the girls that you marry.’ I remember being so touched and quiet… and then the storm of women that wanted to beat me up that night because I was with him. It was ridiculous. I was like, ‘How many people you hooking up with?’ He was just laughing. We had a ball.”
Perez, who recently recovered from neck surgery and will appear in the films Small Apartment, Steel Town and Gods Behaving Badly soon, took 30 minutes out of a busy July day to chat with XXLto clear up rumors, set the records straight and take Tupac fans down memory lane, through her own eyes. Rest in peace, 'Pac.—Mariel Concepcion
XXLMag.com: You and 'Pac met years ago while on the road. What was the initial spark?
Rosie Perez: What was cool about it was, in hip-hop then – I don’t know how it is today because I’m not on the road – it was the genesis of the whole dance craze and I was literally the only female hip-hop choreographer. There were other female choreographers out there, but not part of the commercial scene. And it proved to be very difficult being a female in a misogynist world. That was the genesis of my reputation of being a bitch. I wasn’t a bitch, I was just assertive and I didn’t take any bullshit. I rather say I am an alpha female. And, he [Tupac] immediately respected that. It was pretty amazing because he was very cute, very charismatic. The other dancers were like, ‘wow!’ and he wasn’t even known. Females just gravitated towards him. But with us, it was just instant chemistry and friendship. I remember distinctly his smile coming towards me and saying, ‘hey, what’s up.’ It was that easy with him in general. I had my guard up but it came down in seconds.
What was it specifically for you that drew you to him?
I think we both recognized instantly we were both dented cans. We had bumps and bruises from the processing, but we both knew the goods were real good inside. With him, there was no false bravado going on in the beginning. It was just the genuine smile approaching. But you also knew he was someone you wouldn’t mess with. He also had that thing that was like, ‘respect me!’ You could feel his hard knocks. He wore his heart on his sleeves. That was a good thing and a bad thing. That was the charismatic element about him. But he didn’t have to try. He didn’t try whatsoever.
For years people have assumed the two of you were romantically involved. Tell me about how/why those rumors started?
Everybody was surprised by our friendship and a lot of people didn’t understand how well we clicked, either, because we were both so busy. And that’s when the rumors started.
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Were you just hearing the rumor, like everyone else? Or were people coming to you with it?
I remember when he came to In Living Color and got arrested. I was really pissed off when the rumor came out of that because I was so upset, I was crying so hard. That was a horrible episode. His mom, everybody was so upset. I remember this one stupid ass rapper, when I was crying, he said, ‘yeah right, she and him didn’t get down like that.’ I remember I wanted to punch him in the face. Heavy was like, ‘you need to calm down.’ But I was fuming.
At some point you guys sort of drifted. Tell me about that time.
Things changed [between us] because we didn’t see each other as much. And, one thing I never tripped on is if you cool with me and I’m cool with you, you don’t have to call me everyday. Where we see each other, we pick up where we left off. But, there was an angst that was prevalent before. That angst that was there in the early 90s was more about him needing to express himself. ‘I need the world to know who I am. I have something to say. I wanna have fun.’ And what was pushing that was a lot of hurt. I saw a lot of rawness come to the surface, and, he was different, very different, at least in that regard. As a friend, he was always the same.
Tupac shared his poetry with his close friends. Did he ever share it with you?
We used to like to talk about movies and books and everything. I’m probably the only one that didn’t embrace his poetry. I’m just not a fan of poetry. ‘I don’t want to have someone recite poetry to me,’ I told him and he laughed so hard. He thought it was so funny. I was like, ‘I’ll read it, but you know, I ain’t your girl, so…’ He wa like, ‘you’re stupid.’ ‘Then I’ll be stupid,’ I’d say. ‘It’s just not me.’ He’d tell me, ‘people don’t know how smart you are. Write it down and I’ll read it later.’ I truly believe everybody has a right to tell their story when they want to, and I think he told as much as he wanted to put out.
What were your thoughts when you heard about the whole East coast/West coast beef? And did you ever share those thoughts with Tupac?
The irony with the beef between him and Biggie was Faith [Evans]. That wasn’t the guy I knew. He would’ve never used a woman as a weapon to get back at a dude. And, I remember watching that like, ‘Oh my God. What the hell?’ That was weird. We talked then but we never spoke about that. He understood that I never wanted to participate in that pettiness… I can’t stand gossip. You talk about surface-y things. ‘Oh, did you hear…?’ and then you drop it. Leave it behind us and move on to politics. And that’s where we went. I didn’t even want to hear it. I thought the whole thing was stupid.
Where were you when he died? And, what was your reaction?
When he died, I was home and I just did a lot of crying. I was in disbelief. I was just really, really, really sad. Just, really, really, really sad. I remember speaking with his mom and she asked me if I would come to the funeral. I said, ‘no.’ It was too heart-breaking for me. Around that time is when we started to become distant. It was just a quick call, ‘How you doing? Let me get back to you. Alright.’ It was just really hurtful. It was really hurtful. It was around the time he got arrested at In Living Color, close to that but not immediately after. It was just too hard, too painful. What was really amazing for me to find out was how many people were close to him. Some people say, ‘Oh, they really weren’t that close.’ How do you know? I respected everyone that said they were close to him, every girl that said, ‘I was involved with him and we had a connection.’
Did you ever get to meet the woman that Tupac eventually married?
I never met the woman he married. That was later on, when we didn’t see each other as much. But when he was involved with a woman, he was real. It was real. That was his woman. That was his lady. And, if you spoke with them, they can tell you, he was a sweet guy, a really sweet, tender man. And I’m sure that he was also a motherfucker. But when he was in a relationship, he was real. I believe those women. There was one for sure. I don’t want to mention her and disrespect her privacy. But, I know with her it was real.
Did you know any of the women he had relationships with?
When his book came out it was the first time I read his poetry. One was about my close friend from Brooklyn. They used to go out. I remember calling my friend and crying. I don’t think anybody really fully knew who he was as a whole.. I think all the pieces of literature that came out after his death prove that…That broke my heart, too. If there’s not one person in this world that can truly know who you are completely, it’s a sad thing… I felt that despite all the men and women that laid that claim, I don’t thin anyone knew the whole person. I don’t know if he was capable of allowing that. And I don’t say that in a disrespectful way, I just mean it in that he was probably smart enough to know it would’ve been a huge risk.
Before he passed, when was the last time you spoke to him?
The last time I spoke to him was when he got arrested in California for In Living Color. The cop told him to shut up and he told him they didn’t have a right to talk to him like that. They arrested him… It was a whole big mess. They were antagonizing him and pushing his buttons. I was screaming for him to calm down and his mother was screaming to calm down. I’m over there crying like a bad telenovela. ‘Hay Dios mio, please, stop it!’ But, the show had to continue. It was hopeless.