Clash presents the further adventures of Nina Bhadreshwar from during her stint working for Death Row Records in Los Angeles in the mid 90s. Today’s feature focuses on her friendship with Tupac Shakur and the increasingly volatile atmosphere at Death Row.
Read the first part of this piece on ClashMusic.com HERE.
I first encountered the being of Tupac Shakur in New York, during the late summer of 1993.
I’d been there for a month, interviewing a range of old skool graffiti artists from Vulcan to Phase II, DC3 and newer upstarts like Spon. I was totally smitten with the ferocious energy of the city and brand new to its hip hop. I was just into my graffiti and underground music in the UK. My first hip hop interview was with Treach off ‘Naughty by Nature’.
Vulcan’s canvas was being used as a backdrop in ‘Naughty by Nature’’s ‘Written on Your Kitten’ video so he took me along. I didn’t even recognise Pepa, Treach’s girlfriend, that’s how gauche I was. I just played with the kittens, ate the rider and tried to follow Vulcan’s explanation of hip hop and rap.
As I walked home later, I called into Tower Records and bought six hip hop cassettes. I’d read an article on Tupac in The Source and he sounded pretty radical so ‘Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.’ was one. I listened to it on my Walkman when back in my room. That was it. BAM. I signed up there and then.
I’ve interviewed, met, hung out with hundreds of artists in my life but none of them compare to the elemental concentration of Tupac. He was pure live lithium – ignite on impact with regular air. He needed no marketing, no management – he was the real deal, the rawest element. Artists are not confined to genre – genre is a marketing tool. Artists use what they’ve got to get what they want – their message across. Each generation has its code – rap and hip hop was ours. There was no gimmick about it – it really was about re-creating the world. Tupac had little opportunity, resources or privileges but he always maximised whatever he had and that’s the nature of a true artist. An artist is defined not by technique alone – that’s secondary – but by their spirit and mentality. What have they actually got to say? Technique you improve, you hone because you are trying to reach a deaf, dumb world but you can have the best technique in the world, if you’re not saying anything, you’re at best a celebrity, an entertainer, actor, gun-for-hire. An artist expands on whatever’s given him and delivers something beyond that, something true.
Lots of other artists have rough backgrounds, dysfunctional families, run-ins with the law, gangster kudos but that doesn’t make them ‘real’. Real is a place of truth, of spiritual and mental awareness, a place where you connect, on an instant, elemental level with the world around you from the world within you.
Tupac would have been controversial if he’d just stood on the street. He didn’t have to do anything – it was how the world reacted to him which revealed Pac’s true nature.
The comments, theories, those opinionators and critics, his criminal record all prove it – even if Tupac never opened his mouth, they alone would tell you what he stood for, why he was a threat, is still a threat, an element, a truth the world cannot tolerate because it convicts it of its real sin. The world can neither understand nor accept him. But it can and will make money off him.
So my first instinct, way back then, was to protect him. It was the deepest and strongest feeling I have ever had. This guy was volatile, fragile, as rare as solid lithium – it won’t last. And that wasn’t Pac’s fault. It really wasn’t. I t was just he wouldn’t accommodate to this world, it was against his nature. He really couldn’t. Even though he desperately wanted a family and to secure a dynasty, he also knew he didn’t have the nature to adjust, to allow that to happen. He couldn’t turn down the volume. Everything he touched, he outshone. It was embarrassing and unstoppable.
I felt he was the most vulnerable in 1993. On my return to the UK, I told my pirate radio pals back in Sheffield my plans to help Tupac. They knew music, they knew gangsters, ghettoes, most of them hailing from Jamiaca. They stared at me aghast. Dextrous said, ‘Go for it. If anyone can, you can, Nina.’ Rudie said, ‘You’ll get shot. You’ve been in New York too long. You’re mad.’ But they also knew my nature, knew my restlessness, knew that once I’d made my mind up about something, I wouldn’t let go. I didn’t care for second opinions.
Envelope from Tupac
I started writing to him via Talibah, his then publicist, in Atlanta and sending copies of my magazine. He called me once in the autumn of 1993 and asked me when I was back in the states and to get in touch as soon as I was. But the actual day I finally did land on American soil was the day he was shot and robbed in Times Square. A few days’ later he was sent to jail for the sexual assault/’rape’ case. Was I too late? I was devastated. I felt I’d made a promise, a commitment. My main focus now was to get him out of jail.
How exactly didn’t really concern me. I just knew what needed to be done.
I learnt from the ghettoes where I stayed over the next few months in Oakland, Richmond, San Diego, Watts, South Central and East Los Angeles. Hustle, hustle and hustle. Don’t stop. Unless it’s to pray. My magazine was my passport and my lever. Finally I got an ‘in’ at Death Row which was an ‘in’ at Interscope. One evening in early 1995, I was asked to go interview Ice Cube and a new rapper Mack 10 on a video shoot in East Los Angeles. When I arrived, security was tight and I was told I would have to speak to the producer first. ‘Oh great,’ I thought. ‘Now I’ve got to blag my way past a big burly cynical producer.’
So I was surprised to be faced with a tall, willowy, olive-skinned beauty dressed in no-nonsense dungarees and a big thick lumberjacket.
‘Hi,I’m Tracy Robinson, the producer. You’re from Death Row?’ I explained my mission and showed her a copy of my own magazine. She flicked through it quickly and said, looking me straight in the eye: ‘You have GOT to meet Tupac Shakur.’
‘How did you know?’
‘No, you don’t understand – you MUST meet him. You are the same as him, the same spirit. He was not doing well at Riker’s Island. They’ve moved him to Clinton, near Canada. He wants to get involved in community projects and real things like this magazine. Anything positive. He’s sick of the negative. I’m going to see him this weekend.’
She gave me her card.
‘Make sure you call me tomorrow.’
I did get my interview with Cube and Mack 10. Cube was a laugh and kept saying, ‘Go one, ask me more questions.’ He gave me a good interview. However, that night, I was really buzzing about Tupac. I had missed him so much and was saddened by the way he’d been forgotten by Interscope. I was still at the motel at this stage, so when I got back, I started my letter to him. I couriered this to Tracy the next day and she took it to him at the weekend. She told me his whole face lit up when he read the letter and he was so frustrated he said, ‘But what can I do? How can I get to her? How can I help? I need to get out of here.’
I was constantly trying to get people to remember Tupac at Death Row. The only artists who really seemed bothered were Nate Dogg and Kurupt. I was always mentioning it around the office and went through to Interscope to get some publicity photos and biography details for Death Row Uncut. I had to ask around to find out who was Tupac Shakur’s publicist. When I did find her (Elizabeth, I think), she casually motioned from her desk to a filing cabinet and told me to rummage in there. She looked at me like I was an outdated freak. In the ‘Tupac Shakur’ file there was nothing except some old biographies and tattered photos from his second album. I couldn’t believe it. They had just dismissed him. He had a new album out but they weren’t really actively promoting him. A few posters and one interview from jail.
In the Interscope postroom, where I had to collect and take all our mail, there were two huge plastic tubs under the pigeonholes and franking machines, full of Tupac’s fan mail. Every so often, the mailboy had to empty them into the bin. The bin went out with the trash. I was furious and started secretly taking batches through and sending them in weekly parcels to Tupac at Dannemora. I would do this every Friday.
The post was always half a day late at Death Row. One afternoon, I heard Norris yelling down the intercom, ‘Letter to Nina B from Tupac Shakur!’
Thinking Norris was winding me up as per normal, I ignored him. On his third call out, I stomped into the foyer.
‘Ha ha. Very fu…’
Norris waved the letter at me while answering the phone: ‘Hello, Death Row Records.’
I took it and ran to the office. It was written on the grey Death Row stamped addressed stationery I had sent him. In the top left hand corner was written in humble blue biro capitals: Tupac Shakur, No: 90A1140, Clinton Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 2001, E S/16, Dannemora, N.Y. 12929. It had a blue starred Clinton Correctional Facility stamp on it and a Dannemora postmark. Fingers shaking, I opened it.
In his first letter he wrote:
Sorry it took so long, I did get your first letter and I enjoyed it. It helped my spirit rebuild. Here is where my heart is at this time. It’s long but it’s true. Use it as u see fit. I am not granting this information 2 any other publication, not even Time or Rolling Stone so please represent it as it is layed. I trust u. I feel u and it is your call. Do whatever works. Thanks again. Eternal love Tupac Shakur.’
He enclosed a five page essay on his view of the rite of passage of a young black male in America. And that was the beginning of our real correspondence.
I don’t think people realise how much the ‘rape’ charge and the betrayal/shooting hurt him. And that was outside the character assassination by the media and the law. He was meteoric, solitary, elemental and these were the deepest slurs man can inflict on man. A part of him died in prison but people just focus on his final physical death. Everyone who still questions his character or piled on the abuse, slurs and doubts while he was locked up was a part of his death, no matter how they changed their tune later. It hurt him to the core, to the extent he just didn’t want to show his heart to the world anymore. You were lucky to have him for the time you did, particularly that last year of his life. It took a lot for him to regain his fire. People who say, ’Oh he could have waited on another record deal, he needn’t have gone to Death Row. He should’ve just bided his time’ have forgotten or just did not know: 1. Pac didn’t have time. As soon as he revealed his soul, his reality, the countdown started and 2. Nobody but nobody – not even his own record label and three million record sales – was helping this ‘trouble-maker’ out of jail. Time Warner had just dropped Interscope after being blasted by C Dolores Tucker , Dan Quayle and the so-called moral majority et al. Tupac was a ‘bad man’, a ‘crazy mothafucka’, a legal nightmare. A nightmare full stop. Good to write about, a cute cautionary tale but, come on now. Be serious. Let the mothafucka OUT?
Could have, should have, would have did not feature in Tupac’s life.
Death Row thought it was strange how Pac was writing to me. Norris, who took the mail from reception and distributed it, would call through on the phones: ‘Another letter to Nina B from Tupac!’ Suge had been asking Tupac to come to Death Row eighteen months or so before but Tupac always refused, stating he wanted to do his ‘own thing’. He told everyone he didn’t want to go there.
I wrote to him detailing what was happening at Death Row, my own rantings and about my writing with Regina King, who he knew and had acted with on ‘Poetic Justice’. I also sent photocopies from Martin Luther King essays, poems, Frederick Douglass’ writings and excerpts from the Bible, urging him to curb his desire for personal revenge. In his last letter from jail he stated: ‘To my enemies – revenge is the Lord’s!’
Around this time, people spoke of Tupac like he was a thing of the past. No one saw a future for him. He had at least three more years left in jail. I found out he had got married while in jail and was glad he got some relief from his misery. I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t secretly heartbroken too. We carried on writing.
I published another issue of ‘The Real State’, still having it printed back in England and shipped over. But I didn’t feel the same way about it as I had initially. It was full of the new world I inhabited now: the music industry and black culture and less in-depth stuff on graffiti, the poetry and articles on real social issues. I felt it had lost its objectivity. I hadn’t the time or mental devotion to getting the best due to my current job and performing stand-up each night. Also, I’d been writing scripts and getting some good feedback. I needed a release working up at Death Row. I couldn’t trust outsiders and I was lonely. Doing stand up I could talk without ‘talking’. I just wanted to push the door of every opportunity because, coming from England, I knew how rare they come.
However, by late summer 1995, Suge was getting worried for me. In my excitement and ignorance of the game of Hollywood – or rather Death Row, I had told Jake Robles (Suge’s homeboy who had recently started working in the Promotions Dept.) I had sold ‘Spacejacked’, a comedy feature film I’d literally written after work one week, to DJ Pooh’s production company, the same company which had produced ‘Friday’.
A day after I had told Jake this news, Norris announced to the staff that Suge was calling a staff meeting at ‘Hamburger Hamlet’ in Westwood. I didn’t know what the meeting was about; no one knew what the meeting was about and I joined the nervous crew who made their way hastily down to the Westwood restaurant at ten in the morning. Once there, we sat around a long dark table. Norris and Jake orchestrated it so that I was sitting directly opposite Suge with less than two feet of table between us.
After some general opening statement about loyalty and the street team not pulling their weight, he suddenly diverted his attention, or rather his steely face, at me. I was completely unprepared.
‘Nina, what are you doing? You are using Death Row for your own purposes. Nina has sold a feature film script to DJ Pooh…now that script belongs to Death Row Records…what are you doing selling it to DJ Pooh? What is that saying about Death Row? Why didn’t you show it to Norris? Or Jake?’
‘I – I didn’t know I had to. I just…’
I was confused and upset. This was the first time Suge had ever been anything but sweet to me. I had never seen him so angry – and it was at me! I didn’t honestly see what I had done wrong. I had written ‘Spacejacked’ in my own time, it was my own idea and I had not been employed by Death Row as a scriptwriter. I couldn’t see the problem. Yet he continued to rant at me and no one was sticking up for me. Sylvia started speaking up.
‘Suge, she doesn’t know. She really doesn’t know. She works so hard up there and she’s just trying to get her hustle on…she doesn’t understand…’
Suge glared at her.
‘That’s just what I’m talking about. Y’all too soft on her. You patronise her, pat her on the head, think she’s so cute with her accent and innocent ways. But I see Nina for what she really is: I see her heart and she’s a cutthroat.’
We locked eyes then and something changed inside me. Suddenly I saw Suge. I really saw him and he saw me and I was glad. For the first time, I felt known yet I felt bad because I saw a sadness in him. I was so upset to see how seriously grieved he was, I started to cry which made me feel even more of a fool. But I didn’t care. I felt so relieved to finally be recognised.
Norris put his arms round me, Sylvia started rummaging in her bag for a hankie but Suge pushed them all away.
‘Stop it. Don’t treat her like a kid. She’s tougher than all on y’all. Nina, you’re smart, very smart. Too smart. But you’re supposed to be working for me not against me. And I don’t like you hanging out with the artists…I don’t have no groupies working for me.’
I became indignant at this.
‘What? I am no groupie! You have no right. I have not been with anyone and I don’t do that. My work means I have to socialise with celebrities and I don’t particularly like it. You asked me to do that job. You wanted me to do it well. I’m just following your orders. You can ask anyone here.’ I waved my hand over the staff who shrank back from it as if it was diseased.
Suge shook his head.
‘That doesn’t matter. You have a groupie mentality. I can’t have no groupies up at Death Row.’
‘Well, I’m confused. I don’t follow what your definition of a groupie is and if you let me know what I’m doing wrong, I’ll gladly change it. I’m sorry.’
‘Nina. The artists work for me, you work for me. You don’t work for the artists. It’s that simple.’
On and on it went though. The staff were visibly trembling because I would argue back. Tears were rolling down my cheeks.
‘Ignore her. They’re just crocodile tears. She’s a cutthroat, remember that. All you staff are to blame because you patronise her and feel sorry for her. You’ve got to be real with her. Because she could bring this company down.’
One thing about Suge I learnt, however. Regardless of how heated our rows got (and they got worse), he always, always let me have my say, always listened respectfully, never interrupted til I had explained myself. He would always publically ask for my explanation of events.
Throughout all of this, David Kenner sat staring at me with a slight smile, sometimes whispering in Suge’s ear . When Suge was yelling at me about selling my script, he told the staff that they should stop ‘pacifying me’. He said, ‘She’s not a baby! Stop treating her like one.’ He was fumbling for words, trying to express how someone like me could put Death Row at risk. I felt sorry for him so I said in a low voice, ‘I’ve put your head on the guillotine.’ He repeated in a loud voice to the rest of the staff, ‘Yes. You’ve put my head on the guillotine.’ Everyone looked at each other, gobsmacked. It was quite a surreal moment.
But after the big meeting, Suge would smile, tussle my hair and say, ‘What’s up, Nina? I’ll holla at you later.’ I would always leave shaken and confused, wondering why our rows had to be so public and why he kept me on.
Back at the office, I went into Roy’s office with a memo he’d asked to be typed up. Roy shook his head, a wry smile on his lips.
‘Girl, you scare me. You’re stupid, you know that? You’re stupid stupid. You’re so smart you’re stupid and you’re even more smart.’
Which all sounded stupid to me.
My new orders were now to pass all my scripts on to Jake or Roy for Suge to look at, not to hang out with artists and to start looking over scripts for Death Row to produce. I also had to get my script back off DJ Pooh and co. as soon as possible. They weren’t happy. I tried to explain why to them but as soon as I said,’Suge ordered it’ they appeared to understand. I paid them the money and got my script back.
Norris gave me a massive sack full of movie scripts to read and make comment on. One was ‘Money Train’ for which they had been asked to do the soundtrack.
‘Nina, you’re on probation.’ Jake said.
For what? What had I done wrong? And ‘Money Train’ sucked. I passed on it. I had a lot of scripts to read. Some of them were excellent, incredible stories from a new perspective; others were just the same-old ‘Menace II Society/Boyz N the Hood’ type which had already been done and re-done. I also was given a pile of videotapes which I had to watch in Jimmy Iovine’s office in order to check out the director and whether they were worth using. I guess I really had a very full and varied job. But I was very unhappy. Suge’s big dramatic shout-downs were really getting to me, I was physically tired from the long hours and I wasn’t able to concentrate on my own writing. There seemed to be a lot of secrecy going on all of a sudden and I was lonely. What had happened to the ‘family’? I was now the only girl left up at the office and the days seemed very long and hard. Working at Death Row meant I couldn’t have friends.
A computer system was put in place, at long last, in August 1995 and I had to start keeping a purchase order system that was onerous. Every other phone call resulted in a purchase order and I know for a fact very few of them ever got paid. Even the ‘per diems’ of the artists got put on a purchase order. I could see things were getting crazily out of hand. Norris was drinking Gaviscon non-stop and he and Roy were always in these private conferences with Suge, while I was shut out, with my script reading or purchase order typing and filing.
I also felt hurt because I never understood why Norris, Roy, Kevin Black, Hen or Jake never stood up for me in the rows, even though they knew the truth as well as I, they knew what had really happened. I would confront them afterwards but they would just look away and say, ‘You don’t understand.’ No, I didn’t understand. My nickname at Death Row was ‘Naughty Nina Bad’ (courtesy of Norris Anderson) and then just ‘Naughty’. I think it was for two reasons: they couldn’t pronounce my last name and I sort of went about things my own way; I couldn’t be told. I was always having arguments with Suge or supposedly upsetting him. Hen laughed at me for the way I said ‘What?’ when I didn’t understand something (I had forever had the reflex of ‘Pardon?’ scared out of me by the Grape Street Crips and their ‘Grape Poupon’ advert joke) so his new name for me was ‘Naughty Nina…What?!’ I felt isolated and imprisoned up there now. I tried to work out how I could leave but I needed a job and a social security number else I’d have to go home. Legally, I could only work at Death Row. Lots of times I threatened to leave but the logistics of an alternative kept me up there. Norris used to defend Suge to me by saying, ‘Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy and not everyone who helps you out of the shit is your friend.’ I learnt too late how true that was but it didn’t ease my instinct. The seeds of distrust had already been planted.
A page from one of Tupac’s letters
One day, Daz called me at the office from the studio in Tarzana and asked me to do some comedy on the phone. I thought nothing of it; we were always clowning about down there so I did one of my skits (in a high pitched Cockney accent). It was based on the London and Kent girls I used to go to raves with whose mission was to get the baddest, blackest gangster, the one with the most gold and worst criminal record, regardless of his personality or other credentials. I reckoned they would go berserk if an L.A. gangster was to appear:
‘Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. I’ve just touched a bloody real live gangster. Oh my goodness. I’ve got to call Tracey. Tracey, Tracey it’s Marsha. Girl, listen, I have just touched a blardy real live gangster. Girl, he was the spitting image of Snoop Dawgy Dawg. Yeah , well, maybe a couple of feet shorter and a bit fatter but, girl, he looked me straight in the eye and he said,’What you staring at, byyyyaaaatch?’ He even called me a bitch! I nearly died with joy. Listen, he is so real, he is so’ard. He’s got this tattoo on his arm says ‘Tyrone betta watch his back’ and, on the other arm, ‘Bitch betta have my money’. Girl, I am BANG in love with this geezer. Where’s he live? Compton. Yeah, that’s near New York. Hey, hey get this. I know he fancies me cuz he said if I didn’t stop staring he’d bust a CAP in my ass! You know what that means! Yup, he fancies me…wants to get with me. Alright, girl, speak to you later.’
Daz, Snoop ’s and Dr. Dre’s laughter was heard in the background and then Daz said,’OK. Thanks, Nina!’ and hung up. Five minutes later, Norris Anderson was on the phone to Suge. ‘Suge’s calling a staff meeting,’ was announced throughout the office and everyone started to sweat and tremble. It was up at the office and I was well and truly roasted for thirty five minutes. First of all, while we were all standing up, he demanded I perform what I’d just done over the phone in front of everyone. Most people had already seen and heard my jokes; I rehearsed everyday at work, wrote jokes between jobs. I know I’m not the funniest woman in the world but I bet even Richard Pryor would have had a job getting anyone to laugh in one of Suge’s meetings. No one hires stand-ups for funerals.
After I’d finished, he said, ‘That’s good, Nina. You’re good, very good in fact. We could use you at Club 662 or I’d put out a comedy album but that’s not the point here. You could be an FBI or CIA agent for all I know. I don’t know what you are: black, yellow, white, British, Asian – you come in here and I don’t know you from a bowl of soup…and don’t think you’ll get a better job than here. I’ll see you never work again in this town.’
Suge claimed I was trying to claim royalties off him because that stuff I had done over the phone had been recorded by Dr. Dre for Daz and Kurupt’s album.
‘I don’t want to be on any album! I don’t want a comedy album.’
On and on and on it went. He went round the room and asked every member of staff if they trusted me. They all said no. He asked them individually to really ram it home.
‘You trust Nina, Hen Dogg?’
Hen in a quiet voice, ‘No.’
‘You trust Nina, Jake?’
‘You trust Nina, Sylvia?’
‘You trust Nina, Roy?’
That hurt. I knew I had trusted them and they had trusted me with many things yet here they were saying whatever Suge wanted them to say. I said, ‘Well then, I’ll leave and go back home to England.’
At this Suge went crazy.
‘No! No way. You’re never leaving!’ He was shaking his head vigorously. Now this was really doing my head in. Who did he think he was? All I’d done was tell a joke down the phone…a crime I’m sure everyone in that room had committed. I was fed up with the big bully. If he didn’t want me or trust me, why didn’t he just let me go?
‘I know you’ve got game in Watts, Nina. You’ve got game all over, don’t pretend. You’ve got big game.’
Being new to American slang, I thought he was accusing me of being on the game. I became highly indignant at this further slur on my character.
‘You can ask God and the doctor, I’m a virgin. That’s not true. I’m not on the game.’
A huge commotion broke forth then. Suge looked fit to explode. ‘Who is the Doctor? And do not bring God into it. Do you hear? Don’t even mention that word again. Ever.’
Strange. Then there was the infamous red room at the Can Am Studios where people went in and never came out the same. And Club 662 in Las Vegas which I helped set up in July 1995, whose pink invoices and yellow purchase orders I processed, whose opening party invites and radio drops I organized…yet was firmly not allowed to attend – not that I wanted to. Weeks and weeks I spent in an airless, windowless office, surrounded by sheets of pink and yellow papers, growing into mini mountains and spilling out of the box filing system I had set up. Both were piling up at an alarming rate. Pinks for huge aquariums, bizarre interior décor, logos, lighting, security…and then yellows for yet more new artists, current artists’ per diems, cars…But no one was getting paid and where was the music in all this? What was I really doing up there now? Building a temple? A casino? A brothel? When I saw the photos of red everything and massive six foot photo blow-ups of Suge’s head and imposing form, I got a distinct gut feeling telling me to ‘get the hell outta dodge’. But how? All this raced through my head as I stood before a confused Suge.
‘I like you, Nina. I like you a lot. But you are on your final warning.’
Final warning for what?
Fifteen minutes after the huge rowing, when I was back at my desk, he would walk past, nod and tap me on the back as if nothing had happened, smiling and saying, ‘What’s up, Nina?’ It was just beyond a joke.
I knew Suge watched me. He knew the artists liked me, he knew my magazine kicked ass on the street and that I was sharp in my judgments. And I knew that Suge had balls, didn’t give a care for record company agendas or political protocol. He was a player and he needed a lead artist now that Snoop had shut up shop. He was also an executive in the true sense of the word: he didn’t talk about things, he made things happen. For real.
I was still on a campaign – not for an increase in wages, not for artist royalties, not for my scripts to be made. I was on a campaign to get Pac out. I felt Suge was trying to work out what I wanted, what was my motivation for being up there. He had upset me with all the public rows– he owed me a favour. Every meeting, I’d be ‘What can we do to help Tupac?’ Every meeting. Until he heard.
When the next issue of my magazine came out, I brought copies of it into the office. Suge picked one up and started flicking through it. He never carried papers with him, just his cell phone, but that day he left with my magazine and nodded approval at me as he went out the door.
‘This is good, Nina.’ That pleased me as he was sparse with compliments.
And appearances at the office. When he did come up, (which was maybe once every two weeks to a month for a couple of hours), Suge would sit behind the desk in his room, eating a Fatburger and fries (guess who had to go get it from Westwood Village? And he was a Fatburger-with-no-lettuce so it was always a risky business. All you needed was one retarded assistant to forget the ‘No lettuce, please’ and your ass would be fried…literally. He once beat up a load of guys who had mistakenly eaten his hotwing rider at a concert…).Or hotwings with hot sauce and everyone would sit or stand around while Suge simultaneously ate his food and barked out his commands, complaints, personal grievances, threats, commendations and introductions. David Kenner, his lawyer, stood nearby and, when Suge looked on the verge of flipping out over a particular issue, he would look over to Kenner for guidance and Kenner would say something which Suge would repeat loudly so it sounded like it originated from Suge.
At one of these meetings in May 1995 held at Monty’s restaurant, Westwood, one of Suge’s favourite eating holes, he had munched through a three course meal at the head of a long dining table at which fifteen plus of his staff were nervously sitting and watching. He was just starting on his strawberries and cream so I thought, what the heck. He can’t be that hungry after all that now. He must be somewhere near to being in a good mood.
‘What about Tupac? Shouldn’t we be helping or supporting him in some way? He’s in jail and I’ve had letters from him. He’s not doing well.’
For a moment, Suge’s face went black as thunder. Then he laughed and said, looking at David Kenner, ‘Did he tell you about when he was raped?’
I was nervous and confused. I just hooked onto the word ‘rape’ and not what he’d actually said. I thought he said something like ‘’Did he tell you about the girl he raped?’ so I automatically rushed to his defence.
‘That’s not true and you know it. He didn’t do it.’
Suge bristled slightly but carried on laughing. All the staff members stood in stunned silence.
‘Tupac’s been raped!’ laughed Suge, looking at David Kenner who also chuckled. The more I ranted in Pac’s defence, the more Suge laughed over me.
Everyone heard him say this. I don’t know how people could have worked up there when Tupac later joined Death Row knowing Suge had been so blatant with his malicious disrespect of him.
I left the room feeling sick. I called Tracy and Regina King, my best L A girl friend and script co-writer, who called Karen Lee, Tupac’s old publicist, but none of them knew anything about such an ugly rumour. It just seemed an unnecessarily sick thing to say about a brother who was down, the sort of malicious lie that jealous schoolyard bullies would create. However, he’s not the only brother I’ve heard talk bad on another just to make themselves look good. (FYI, it does the opposite). Lots of other guys said the same thing so it doesn’t make Suge any worse than the comedians I watched most nights.
The upshot of this was that the next day Roy was asking me for Tupac’s address in jail. I didn’t want to hand it over but couldn’t find an excuse and didn’t want any more suspicions aroused. After that, Keisha (then Tupac’s wife) was calling up the office and faxing directions for Suge to get to Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, upstate New York. This was in July 1995. Later, word in the office was that Tupac Shakur had signed to Death Row. I couldn’t feel good about this somehow. I met his mother, Afeni, when she came up to meet with Papa G. I was glad Tupac was getting out but I wasn’t glad he was coming to Death Row after what Suge had said. I knew his motives were not good. Suge’s personality started to change around the summer of 1995. I don’t know what or why. I just know he changed – for the worse. He started playing a different game. Or rather it was the same game with different rules. Despite what he said about his aim being to make Death Row the biggest, most successful record label, he was more interested in making money than actually developing artists and a solid infrastructure and network within the industry. The magazine was not the only thing ‘put on hold’.
‘Club 662’ came right out of the blue. For three weeks, Norris, Roy and I ate, slept and drank Club 662. It was a seriously stressful time. Why the rush? Why had we no preparation? Who were all these new ‘security’? Plus we had to deal with tons of irate people whose bills or wages hadn’t been paid. Every Thursday/Friday payday it was the same – we were held hostage in an office with some pretty desperate mofos ready to go up to Steve Cantrock’s (Death Row’s accountant) office in Century City and blow it open.
Tupac needed someone as gung-ho as he was. He didn’t have time, he knew he didn’t have time. He was using Death Row and hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. He knew exactly what he was going into because I told him. Right up to the last. Tupac was the bravest man I ever met, hands down. He knew the cost. But he’d been given a chance and he wanted to prove what he could do when given one.
Still, I sensed an apocalypse approaching. That’s not a metaphor, by the way…
Words by Nina Bhadreshwar