[Update: The popularity of the Tupac exhibit has allowed it to be extended until Jan. 10, 2016.]
BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
LOS ANGELES — “Writing is such a lost art form. I hope when young kids see this, they can be inspired by the fact that he put pen to paper.”
That’s Nwaka Onwusa, associate curator of the Grammy Museum, talking about Tupac Shakur, the rap visionary whose poetry — much of it eventually set to music — is the cornerstone of the exhibit “All Eyez on Me: The Writings of Tupac Shakur,” open through April 22 in Los Angeles.
The collection showcases more than 80 items, including notebooks of hand-scribbled poetry on plain, blue-lined paper (“Sometimes Cry,” “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”); clothing (a Rangers cap and a Duke tank top); and a master tape box from 1994 of “When I Get Free” and “Thug Style,” with a mailing sticker from Musiplex Studio in Atlanta.
Shakur’s Atlanta ties run deep. He spent much time in the city during his ’90s musical prime. His mother, Afeni, opened the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation and the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in Stone Mountain in 1997 and resides in the area.
Shakur’s sister, Sekyiwa, was instrumental in supporting the exhibit, which Onwusa said the museum wanted to curate for two years.
“It’s a story we wanted to tell. We’re not restricted to any genre here, and to be the first museum to tell his story and take away that one-dimensional view of him … we want to celebrate his literary genius and all of these other things that he was.”
While Shakur’s talent was always undeniable, his lifestyle — which included arrests for assault and sexual assault, prison stints and involvement in the heavily hyped East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry — often overshadowed his accomplishments.
Indeed, the “All Eyez on Me” exhibit, which takes its name from Shakur’s landmark 1996 album released seven months before he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, explores not only Shakur’s love of music and his family, but his unrealized dreams.
One segment, dubbed “The Business Man,” details Shakur’s plans to get involved in real estate and local government and to open a restaurant called the Powamekka Cafe. A doodled logo above the handwritten motto, “A passionate paradise 4 people with power 2 play and parlay” doesn’t provide much insight into Shakur’s further ideas, but indicates his ambition.
Likewise, a 1991 notebook that contains a planned screenplay called “All the Way!!!” — according to his writings, Shakur already had mentally cast Will Smith to star in it.
As Shakur’s fans well know, the rapper’s relationship with his mother was tightknit, and in a 1988 video interview dubbed “Thug Angel,” which repeats on a loop in a room inside the exhibit, Shakur expounds on their relationship.
“My mother took me through life … she was really close with me and really strict with me, but it paid off. I can talk to her about anything. … She’s totally brilliant, totally understanding and caring.”
As the exhibit area that focuses on Afeni Shakur notes, she required her son to read the New York Times every day.
“She instilled so many true qualities in Tupac, and that’s one of the reasons we’re still talking about him,” Onwusa said.
Since its opening last month, the exhibit quickly has become one of the museum’s most popular, Onwusa said. On this particular day, crowds of people — of multiple generations and races — squeezed between the glass-covered displays, often pressing against them to get a closer look at Shakur’s writings.
“I hope,” Onwusa said, “that this exhibit dismisses the negative stigmas.”
“All Eyez on Me: The Writings of Tupac Shakur.” Through Jan. 10, 2016. Open 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $12.95 (discounts available for seniors, college students, military personnel and children ages 6-17). Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. 1-888-929-7849, grammymuseum.org.