Tupac Shakur may have not been from California, but the West Coast and his name are almost synonymous. Major parts of his career and life were spent here. From joining L.A.-based Death Row Records to his well-known “California Love” hit, it’s clear he held pride for Los Angeles. Now L.A. LIVE has opened an exhibit and sensory experience that pays homage and respect to this iconic artist.
However, the truth is you don’t need to be a local to fully grasp the impact Tupac had on media and society. His influence expanded well beyond California. Tupac’s music and lyrics were unapologetic and often highlighted issues that were felt all around the world. With his combination of poetry and hip-hop, he is considered a renowned legend. “Wake Me When I’m Free” touches on this and reveals that in order to truly understand his significance, you need to know his past. The exhibition gives a deeper insight into Tupac’s upbringing, childhood, activism, his experience with incarceration, and the legacy he has left behind.
As soon as you enter the exhibit, you’re given a pair of headphones playing an instrumental of Tupac’s “Ambitionz As A Ridah.” Then a door slides open, and you’re immediately led into a room warning of graphic images ahead. Suddenly you hear a familiar voice: Tupac’s. Images and videos of racial injustices throughout American History flash across the screen before you, as his powerful narration fills your ears.
As you move on to the next room, you learn about his childhood and the woman behind his song, “Dear Mama.” Afani Shakur was a political activist, Black Panther Party member, and Tupac’s mother. She ingrained the importance of education, poetry, reading, and activism in him. So much so that an installation of stacks of New York Times newspapers makes an appearance in the section of Tupac’s childhood. His mother often made him read The New York Times in the morning and would ask him to form an opinion on what he just read.
There is no doubt his mother had a profound impact on him. Throughout his career, Tupac was vocal about the systematic issues and racial injustices toward Black lives in America. He was an advocate for change and pushed for reform. The issues he faced as a young Black man and the injustices he spoke on are still very much relevant today.
As you continue to make your way through the exhibition, you are exposed to Tupac’s complex past, his career growth, and total artistry. From notebooks filled with his personal writings to clips of iconic interviews and activism—it all begins to unfold. Right before your eyes, you begin to understand the revolution and world that birthed the hip-hop legend and activist we know him as.
Tupac Shakur tragically passed in 1996, but this powerful exhibit reveals that his impact and legacy will go on for generations.
“Wake Me When I’m Free” exhibit has been extended by popular demand through June, and you can immerse yourself into the life of Tupac Shakur here.