Exclusive: Tupac Estate Gets 'Total Reset': New Music and More on the Way
As the 20th anniversary of the rapper's 1996 death approaches, an evocative Powerade ad sets the tone for a reimagination of his legacy.
Late in February, Powerade premiered a commercial starring Chicago Bulls all-star Derrick Rose and the voice of the late Tupac Shakur reading poetry taken from his song "Mama's Just a Little Girl." As a child, representing Rose, rides his bike through an inner-city neighborhood, the voiceover intones, "You wouldn't ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals."
The spot marks the beginning of a "total reset of the Shakur estate," says Jeff Jampol, whose JAM Inc. was brought in by Afeni Shakur early in 2013 to oversee her son's business. In partnership with Tom Whalley -- current head of Loma Vista Records, who signed Shakur to Interscope in 1991 -- the company plans to mirror the work it has done managing the legacies of the Doors, Rick James, Janis Joplin, the Ramones and Otis Redding, and consulting the Michael Jackson estate -- specifically overseeing licensing, apparel and other media ventures. As the 20th anniversary of the rapper's September 1996 death approaches, elements in the works include new apparel rolling out later in 2015, collections like a recent Grammy Museum exhibit showcasing Shakur's writing, and a biography by a "very serious writer" whose deal is being finalized, Jampol says.
But top of the list is the rapper's creative work -- "Almost an embarrassment of riches," Jampol says, listing "unreleased music, released music, remixes, original demos, writings, scripts, plans, video treatments, poems." And although multiple posthumous albums have been issued since Shakur's death (to strong sales and mixed reviews), Jampol and Whalley contend a wealth of still-untapped material remains -- the value of which can't be understated, considering 33.8 million Tupac albums have been sold in the U.S. alone since 1991, according to Nielsen Music.
"Some of [the material] is in bits and pieces, some of it is complete; some of it is good, some of it needs work," says Whalley, who has explored much of the archive. "But I think the work that is left can be completed, and is worth his fans hearing."
For proof, look no further than the buzz around "Mortal Man" from Kendrick Lamar's new LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, which includes a 1994 Shakur interview refashioned into a conversation between the two MCs. "I thought it was a brilliant idea, and they sent me portions of what he was thinking of doing, and I supported it. I think if Tupac was here, he would have tremendous respect for Kendrick Lamar's work."
In fact, Lamar's name came up even before the estate was approached about "Mortal Man," when Whalley and Jampol were exploring options for the Shakur recordings. One scenario involved having contemporary artists set Shakur's words to music a la 2014's Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, which recontextualized unused Bob Dylan lyrics from 1967. Whalley confirms that such an approach is under consideration, and adds, "At some point in time, Kendrick would be brilliant to work with Tupac's [material]. He's one of the new great poets."
An edited version of this article first appeared in the April 4 issue of Billboard.