The only pop music death over the last generation that resonated as deeply as Kurt Cobain's was that of Tupac Shakur. At the time of his violent 1996 demise in Las Vegas, Shakur was one of the star acts of Death Row Records and something of a radical chic icon for whites and blacks alike.
In the years since, Tupac's memory has been exploited for mercenary and self-serving purposes by parties of dubious motives, but the new documentary Tupac: Resurrection, which was made with the active participation of his mother Afeni Shakur, attempts to fashion an uplifting narrative of his life and create a messianic myth of his death.
Skillfully directed by veteran MTV producer/executive Lauren Lazin, this film uses old music clips and home movies and photos from Tupac's childhood. The portrait that emerges of Tupac Amaru Shakur is at once fascinating and sad. Tupac, who was named for the last and greatest leader of the Inca resistance against the Spaniards, was something of a radical prince of black nationalism: His mother was deeply involved with the Black Panther leadership--no mean feat considering that organization's notorious sexism.
Although the Shakur family was poor, Tupac was well-educated, eventually attending a high school for performing arts in Baltimore. An interview from this time reveals the ambitious youngster to have been charming, idealistic and even a little--dare we say--fey. Very quickly after high school, Tupac caught on in the hip-hop biz, catching a big break with the goofball ensemble Digital Underground. From this point on, the rise and fall of Tupac--now 2Pac--was chillingly captured for eternity on news videotapes.
In an apparent desire to prove his authenticity, Tupac became involved with tougher characters and landed in a series of ever-more dangerous scrapes that culminated in his death at the age of 25. One doesn't have to be convinced by the mythmaking of Tupac: Resurrection--the first-person voiceover narration delivered by "Tupac" from the grave is particularly unfortunate--to find oneself mourning a talent who didn't return from his youthful walk on the wild side.