Back when Tupac Shakur (a.k.a. 2Pac) changed the game with 1991’s 2Pacalypse Now, fans probably weren’t thinking that his hard-hitting rhymes would one day take center stage in a Broadway show. Yet years after his death, Tupac’s music continues to resonate and has become the backbone of an upcoming theater production called Holler If Ya Hear Me.
The show doesn’t chronicle Tupac’s life, but illustrates how his songs highlight stories of strife in communities all over the country. The show’s creators have arranged renditions of the rapper’s most notable hits and have worked up some amazing dance numbers to bring the energy full circle.
So what do you need to know about Holler If Ya Hear Me before make your way to Broadway? We’ve got three tidbits for you to savor until the production opens next month.
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1. Who came up with the idea for a musical based on Tupac’s songs?
Conceptually, Holler has been in the making for over a decade. Eric Gold, a major Hollywood producer who’s worked with Jennifer Lopez and Jim Carrey, wanted to do a project featuring Tupac’s music and his mother, Afeni Shakur, was totally on board. Noted playwright August Wilson had been approached to helm the project in the early aughts. Todd Kreidler (far left), who wrote Holler’s script, recalls his days as Wilson’s assistant and when the theater veteran first turned him onto Tupac.
As they had lunch together in the late `90s, Kreidler says the conversation turned to Tupac and Wilson was shocked that his assistant wasn’t familiar with the rapper’s song, “Dear Mama.” “He said, ’No, man, you don’t know ’Dear Mama?’ No, man! Tupac wrote this love letter to his mother, man!’,” Kreidler remembers. “He stood up and he marched across the street and went in to Virgin Records. He got [the album] Me Against The World.”
They headed back to their hotel with the CD in hand, and while Kreidler started to get back to work, Wilson pulled him aside. “He stops and he says, ’Where you going?’ I said, “Man, we have rehearsal.’ And he said, ’Oh no, you’re going to go in your room and listen to that. You don’t understand, there’s nothing in your life that isn’t touched upon in this music,” says Kreidler. Wow, did Pac even know he had fans in the theater world — especially one of the 20th century’s greatest writers?
August Wilson passed away in 2005, before he could see the project come to fruition. Yet director Kenny Leon believes Wilson definitely “was the glue” that made the production come alive. Leon also worked with Wilson and became a closer collaborator with Kreidler after the elder playwright’s death. Trying to “keep August Wilson alive” was part of what made Leon take on Holler, as he likened Tupac to one of the most deft poets around.
2. Who’s who among the show’s cast?
Holler has brought together entertainment newbies and veterans, but if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that they’re all fans of Pac. Musician and poet Saul Williams (center) leads the cast and shed some interesting insight into how Tupac influenced his poetry. “Tupac was an amazing MC,” says Williams. “I think the fact that he was on the west coast for a minute [with] Shock G and Digital Underground really helped him find the funk, where he placed his voice behind the beat.”
Tonya Pinkins, who actually starred with Tupac in the 1994 film, Above The Rim, is also in the show. She’s a fan of the rapper partly because his music makes her nostalgic. “This was the music of my 20s, and [Tupac] was sampling the music from my high school years, so this is my music. People might think, ’Wow, this is young people’s music,’ but I was a young person when his music was out!”
Joshua Boone and Dyllon Burnside are two of the main cast’s youngest members, but that doesn’t mean Tupac’s impact is lost on them. Burnside actually recalls that his stepfather constantly played Pac’s music. Even though he didn’t feel the full gravity of the songs until he was older, Burnside says, “I recognized the passion that [Tupac] had, and the sheer beauty and the images that were in his music.” Boone came of age listening to hip-hop and he made sure to listen to the greats even as he checked for contemporary artists. “Tupac was definitely, if not number one, then one or two,” says Boone.
3. What does this show mean for the hip-hop community?
Hip-hop has pretty much taken over the world since Tupac first came on the scene, but that doesn’t mean Holler’s significance is any less notable. Actor Christopher Jackson pointed out that many people are still facing the struggles Pac described in his rhymes from more than 20 years ago. “The world hasn’t changed that much. We have Twitter, and we have Facebook, and we have glossier graphics, but the still problems are still hitting us the same way.” Jackson also believes that young artists will feel inspired by seeing a production born from the hip-hop aesthetic.
Ben Thompson, whose first Broadway show was Green Day’s American Idiot, feels that Holler can make theatre goers realize that popular music has textures they never imagined. “Tupac … the man is a prophet in some ways,” says Thompson. “I heard Tupac a lot. I was a Tupac fan, but thanks to the show, now I’m a listener of Tupac, and I’m a believer in Tupac.” As an Oklahoma native, Thompson also feels that the hip-hop audience could grow in unexpected ways. “The Broadway audience has never experienced anything like Tupac before. There’s nothing better than waking people up to thinking, ’Hey, maybe I do like hip-hop!'”
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]