In the early 1990s, I started writing for an underground ‘zine called No Sellout, “The Tip Top Hip Hop Raggamuffin Black Rock Mag Rag.” Our aim was to cover all the diversity of black music and culture from the west coast and the world. We touched on the hot topic issues like misogyny in hip hop and culture appropriation, police brutality, black on black crime, political stories, as well as the obligatory book, film and music reviews.
The hip hop community was very tight in LA back then. It was prime time hip hop. No bodyguards, no huge entourages. The music was mainstream but the culture was underground. I was a part of the new generation – Generation X. We were the crossover generation between analog and digital. No cellphones; we had pagers and calling cards. The Internet? We had party lines and word of mouth. So it was no surprise when I saw Tupac at a bar in Hollywood while I was out selling magazines one day. He was alone, as he always was in the early part of his blossoming career in LA. I walked up next to him and showed him the latest issue of the magazine. He handed me a donation and we flipped through the pages, commenting on articles that caught his interest, then we sat and chatted about what was going on in the community. I’m sure we touched on the impending verdict in the Rodney King trial, which was weeks away from that March afternoon in 1992 when Tupac and I met. The riots manifested the thoughts and lyrics foreshadowed in the music of many West Coast rap artists, including this new, rising star in the game, 2pac.
He invited me to come to the release party for his debut album 2Pacalypse Now. I told him that I was already on the guest list because of the magazine, so we peaced out and I went on my way. I bought a disposable, black and white 35mm camera from the Thriftys on the corner of La Brea and Rodeo. Later that night I got to Glam Slam, Prince’s old club on Boylston Street downtown. I couldn’t wait to see this brotha perform. I loved the energy he put out on stage as a backup dancer for Digital Underground; the same with his performance in the video when he dropped the verse on Same Song, so I knew that he was going to give it up that night for his debut release party. Hits like Brenda’s Got A Baby and Trapped were steadily rising up the R&B charts. Surprisingly, there weren’t many people at the show: mostly industry execs and a few heads from the underground community.
I never published them after they were developed. When I was a substitute teacher, I would bring the photos to class and share them with the students who finished all their classwork and were on good behavior. It amazed me how enamored the youth were with Tupac. Middle school aged kids put him on a pedestal. I am just as guilty. I held onto the photos, not knowing how best to highlight their significance. One idea was to print T-shirts with the images, but that seemed too cheesy. Next, I compiled the photos and designed a calendar to honor the tenth anniversary of his death. For some reason I still felt the photos deserved a better presentation. Eventually I lost the album that I kept the photos in; I’m sure one of my students copped it.
Fast-forward fifteen years. I started working as an assistant to a team of photographers. I learned about the photo market, and reputable places to get high quality scans and prints from the negatives. I decided that I was going to find a way to share these photos with the world. My goal is to create a traveling exhibit of the collection. I’ve had requests to bring the collection to art galleries in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. People all over the world love Tupac. His brief time in the limelight touched the lives of so many human beings in a way no other rapper has in the game. Period.
Who saw it coming? He did, and when you look at these photos you can see it in his eyes: the determination, the passion, the swagger, the shine. These photos show a side of the man not many people got to see. This ‘Pac wasn’t covered in jewels and Versace; this ‘Pac was humble and hungry. He knew what he going for on stage that night, and that was to become the legend that he is.
Lawrence E. Dotson
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