Black Jesuz


Given its biblical title and MTV origins, this biopic at first looks like an attempt to enshrine murdered (martyred?) hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur as The One. But despite reverent time-lapse meditations on rusted Baltimore chain-link, L.A. tinsel, and blinding Vegas neon, the interview clips that comprise the sole voice-over are carefully chosen to illuminate both Pac’s scorching charisma and debilitating paranoia. He tells his own story; others speak only in news clips—witness a terrified-looking Biggie and Puffy responding to Shakur’s first shooting. Not only must the miles of Tupac interview tape be enough to encircle the earth, he was also freakishly comfortable working through the stickiest personal issues on camera. Eerily, in his early 20s he was wont to speak of himself in the past tense (“I was many things to many people”).

If you flipped on MTV in the ’90s you know the details: Black Panther crackhead mom, boy-in-‘hood struggles, art-school blossoming, Digital Underground bikini dancing, solo rapping, film splash. But here we’re privy to the psychological saga of the storyteller as he frames his central torment: making good on his education without losing the “dirty party” respect of thugs, prisoners, Amerika’s most wanted. Resurrection hints at eventual movie superstardom and political potential, then lets Pac recount run-ins with cops, clashes with the East Coast, getting blown on a dancefloor, getting shot in a vestibule, serving time for hotel-room sexual assault, living large on Death Row, foretelling his own death.

Though the edits can be too living-room smooth, the passion and pathology on display transcend the Tabitha Soren overload. Listening between the lines reveals that Shakur was disgusted by Hollywood and the music industry’s embrace of compliant exotics. But it was never clear how his ethos of defiance would translate into a Panther-like social movement. Explaining the line “I love the Thug Life/Baby I’m hopeless,” Shakur expresses his empathy with the directionless, and the frustration of a would-be prophet whose time is running out.

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