The first thing visitors to Tupac Shakur: Wake Me When I’m Free will see is a towering 12ft bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, the words “2 DIE 4” etched beneath her. Fans of Shakur will recognise this as a larger-than-life reproduction of one of the rapper’s chest tattoos, a tribute to his mother Afeni Shakur, who he referred to as a “Black queen”. On his 1993 track “Something 2 Die 4”, Shakur recalled the words of guidance she once offered him: “You know what my momma used to tell me / If ya can’t find something to live for / then you best find something to die for.”
It’s an apt introduction to the immersive new exhibition in downtown Los Angeles, which has been curated and assembled by Shakur’s estate, because as well as bringing together a remarkable collection of artefacts from the rapper’s short but explosive musical career, the exhibit also serves as a powerful reminder of the formative influence his mother’s experiences in the Black Panther Party had on his life and work. The 20,000sqft exhibition opened last Friday and is set to remain in Los Angeles for a limited time (tickets are currently on sale through to 1 May) with as-yet-unspecified plans for the show to eventually tour North America and cities around the world. Twenty-six years after Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas, the thought-provoking exhibition avoids gimmickry – there’s no sign of the Tupac hologram that appeared at Coachella in 2012, for example – in favour of foregrounding the rapper’s activism and politically conscious art.