Now, I know the genres of rap and hip-hop about as well as I understand the inner workings of a flux capacitor, but even I can recognise just what a talent and influence Tupac Shakur was. No-one out there better described the life of people who lived in inner cities along the West Coast of the USA. He dealt with some heavy topics, but he was at his best when merely describing everyday life along the Pacific Coast. This is best illustrated in the song ‘Live and Die in LA’, mostly filmed in a landmark Californian Shopping Mall.
Born Lesane Parish Crooks in 1996, Tupac Shakur spent his first few years in East Harlem, New York City before moving to California in the late 1980’s. He grew up in a highly politicised household and so this influenced his music career and philosophy a great deal. Almost immediately following the family move his music recording career began, and in 1991 he loaned his voice to a track by hip-hop group Digital Underground which appeared in the film ‘Nothing but Trouble’, starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd.
The famous Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles
The bridge connecting the two parts of the Crenshaw Plaza
Towards the end of 1991, Tupac released his first solo effort called ‘2Pacalypse Now’. This album set the tone of his career - his voice is unmistakable and it was a flowing, highly poetic style that dealt with the social and political issues he saw around him growing up - young pregnancy, violence and poverty. Today, almost thirty years later, it is still held in high regard by some of today’s top hip-hop artists. ‘2Pacalypse Now’ was not a huge success, but it was an excellent sneak peak into what was to come.
In 1996, Tupac released his last studio album (not counting posthumous releases) titled ‘The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory’. This album was released by Tupac under the name ‘Makaveli’ and shot to number one on the Billboard 200. This album’s themes were heavy, having been recorded at the highest point of tensions between rival coastal rappers which would ultimately lead to tragedy. On this album was a big hit called ‘to Live and Die in LA’. The song was produced by QDIII, the son of legendary producer Quincy Jones, and features a sample of Prince song ‘Do me, Baby’ (incidentally Tupac was a huge fan of the eccentric, purple recording artist).
Tupac drives right up to the Mall and enters
So where did young people, of all colours and persuasions, hang out in the late eighties and early nineties? The Mall, of course! So no slice-of-life song would be complete without featuring one of the most classic American Shopping Centres out there. In Tupac’s case, it was the venerable Crenshaw Plaza on Martin Luther King boulevard, Los Angeles, California. The music video was shot in one day in Los Angeles and is stuffed full of famous landmarks, including the Crenshaw Plaza. It is truly a nostalgic snap-shot of Los Angeles in the mid-90’s.
The video actually takes in three different Shopping Centres. The first is the ‘Slauson Supermall’ - a legendary Californian dirtmall talked about by more Los Angeles-based recording artists than I’d care to mention here. Next we see the Crenshaw Square strip mall, a rather run down Centre which looks today as it does in the music video. Other sights include the ubiquitous ‘Hollywood’ sign on the Hills, the delicious and world-famous Roscoe’s house of chicken (if you’ve never tried fried chicken on a waffle covered with maple syrup you’ve not lived!) and the Estrada Courts' 'We Are Not A Minority' Mural which also remains untouched to this day.
Tupac films in the Centre as people go about their Mall business
Soon people get involved as they dance along with Tupac - I'm certain they all remember this day very well!
All that aside, the crowning jewel of the video is of course the Crenshaw Plaza. If someone wanted to know what the typical classic American Mall was, I would show them a photo of Crenshaw. Built way back in 1947, it was the first Shopping Mall to be built in California after the second world war. It was originally an open-air complex before becoming completely enclosed in the mid-eighties. The Mall is wonderful - it is modern, well-kept and stuffed full of both well-known American brands (Sears, GNC, Victoria’s Secret, GameStop) and more independent stores across its two levels (including the bridge which connects the Centre’s two buildings together).
The Mall is bright and white, with neutral flooring and plenty of natural light. Both levels circle a lovely central atrium and walkways shoot off in all directions and terminate at the Centre’s anchor department stores. Many people have a negative view of the Mall, being in the once run down South-Central Los Angeles, but from what I have seen and heard, most negative impressions are instantly dispelled as soon as people step into this sleek, modern Shopping Mall. Also don’t let the fact that the Mall is only two levels fool you - the Crenshaw Plaza is immense, with an area of close to a million square feet and housing over 100 stores.
An exterior night shot from the parking lot
The Centre has everything you would need for a proper Mall day out. There are of course great stores, but the food court is as classic American Mall as you can get. The ‘dining court’ occupies a crescent-shaped corner of the Plaza and is crammed full of delicious Mall staples - iHop, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Panda Express… yes please. Of course any Mall worth its salt has a cinema and Crenshaw is no exception. It has a modern 12-screen movie house showing all the latest films - all-in-all, this Mall has everything you need to settle in for the day. Things are also looking good for the Crenshaw plaza; a new metro line is currently being built in Crenshaw and the Mall is taking advantage in anticipation of the increased flow of people, with a huge expansion and a 900-unit apartment block in the offing.
In the video, we see Tupac driving right up to the Plaza in a convertible Jaguar before walking into the Mall. There we see him surrounded by teenagers and young kids. The Mall can be seen to be very much open for business, with Tupac’s presence causing quite a buzz. It is great to see all of the happy faces, given the serious subjects he talks about in ‘to Live and Die in LA’, and all the more poignant to see Tupac reciprocating with a beaming smile throughout. Tragically, the filming in Crenshaw Plaza happened a mere three weeks before Shakur’s untimely death.
A montage of the rapper's day out at the Mall
An at-times tough exterior hides a big heart
Sadly, the same year as the release of The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Tupac Shakur was shot four times while he was driving from a Mike Tyson boxing match to a nightclub in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was only 25 years old and left behind a mere five studio albums. Incredibly, despite losing him at such a young age and with a mere glimpse of what was sure to be an even more significant body of work, he remains today one of the greatest and most influential artists of the twentieth century. I imagine as long as this music style exists, his name will lean heavily on all of its current recording artists.
Watch the full video here:
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