Above The Rim was Tupac’s third major film in three years, following 1992’s Juice and 1993’s Poetic Justice. And true to the case that was music’s most notorious Gemini, his role as Birdie was also his third different character portrayal.
The street film-turned-hoops classic turns 20-years-old today. And while the film helped pad resumes for names like Duane Martin (the immortal Kyle Lee Watson aka Russell Westbrook 1.0), Leon, Marlon Wayans, Wood Harris and Bernie Mac, Pac’s electric personality both on and off set holds course as the Jeff Pollack-directed flick’s most dominating personality trait.
Life for Pac was a whirlwind. From music videos, shootouts with cops, a rape case and several other miscellaneous run-ins with the law hanging over his head entering March, the release of Above The Rim was one of Pac’s tamer feats this month three decades ago.
Take a trip back in time.
March 1 – Pac Hits Club USA
Not to be confused with Pac hitting the same club a month later. ATR was three weeks away from hitting theaters so it’s not difficult to image Pac making public appearances in hopes of increasing anticipation for the film.
Oh, and somewhere in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, Jeremy and Pattie Bieber welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world. His name was Justin. The more you know…
Unconfirmed Date In March – Pac’s Interview With Benjamin Svetkey
We know the interview took place in March. We just don’t know the exact date.
Having only made its rounds last December, Pac’s chat with Ben Svetkey over vegetable spring rolls and Dungeness crab cakes already ranks as a prolific moment in a career with a surplus of prolific moments. Above The Rim is never mentioned in the conversation – the recorded part at least – largely due to the other perils plaguing Shakur’s mental. For example, his answer on where he’d be in 10 years:
“Best case? [I’ll be] In a cemetery. Not in a cemetery. Sprinkled in ashes, smoked up by my homies.”
He meant “worst case” scenario, but, yeah, for a guy coming off a film alongside Janet Jackson and his newest gearing to hit theaters in a matter of days, that’s where his head was.
March 8 – Arsenio Hall Appearance & Performance
For the 2,342,345,398th time, Arsenio Hall never receives enough credit for his contribution to rap in the late ’80s and early-to-mid ’90s.
Pac and Arsenio chop it up on the specifics of his looming rape case and preparing for sentencing in his assault case on the Hughes brothers (more on that shortly). Despite the pressure perched atop his lanky shoulders, Pac’s upbeat, especially when it comes time to discuss his role as “Birdie” in Above The Rim.
Following the interview, Pac, Stretch, Mopreme and more perform the classic cut, “Pain.”
March 9 – MTV Interview Feat. Marlon Wayans
“I don’t wanna be 50-years-old at a BET ‘We Shall Overcome’ Achievement Awards. Uh uh. Not me. I want when they see me, they know everyday when I’m breathing it’s for us to go further. Every time I speak I want the truth to come out. Every time I speak I wanna shiver.”
Three interesting tidbits about this interview:
1. Madonna, so infatuated with the enigma that was Pac, watched this interview from behind the cameras.
2. Pac was a Cowboys fan. Yes, I’m jumping to conclusions just based off the hat.
3. This sit down allegedly took place on March 9. Within three years to the exact day, Pac would not only have suffered two separate shootings and serve nearly a year in prison, but he and Biggie’s friendship was decimated, two coasts turned on each other and both B.I.G. and Pac would be dead.
Bonus: Shakur and Marlon Wayans speak at length about ATR. Years later, Wayans would also say this about working with his fallen comrade.
He was a workaholic when we were shooting Above the Rim. He worked when people slept. When he finished on Above the Rim, he would go straight to the studio. He would be there all night making music, probably get an hour and a half sleep and come back to the dressing room. I shared a trailer with him and I could smell the weed and hear the music. I would be high as hell off the contact high. Our trailer was one big blunt. It was a hot box.
[My mom] was like, “[Tupac] is a nice boy but he has a bad element around him. My mom told me not to hang out with him. But we hung out on set mostly and that’s when he went through a lot of troubles. I kind of listened to my moms. It wasn’t about him. It was the cloud of trouble around him.
March 9 – Pac Sentenced For Role In Hughes Brothers Assault
On second thought, openly boasting on Yo! MTV Raps about beating up one of the Hughes brothers wasn’t Pac’s brightest idea.
His unprovoked confession was the only evidence against him. The end result was 15 days in jail, which he would begin serving May 10, 1994.
March 15 – Pac Attends ‘Above The Rim’ Release Party
The assault case behind him,* it was back to work promoting Above The Rim. A star-studded ensemble of friends including Dr. Dre, Snoop, Nate Dogg, Daz, Rosie Perez and more all show up for the official shindig celebrating the impending arrival of the film.
R.I.P. Pac. R.I.P. Nate Dogg.
* – Pop culture fun fact: The day before (March 14), Sports Illustrated released their latest issue with Michael Jordan on the cover swinging and missing during his baseball sabbatical. The words “Bag It, Michael!” pissed Jordan off so much he refused to speak with anyone from S.I. when he returned to the NBA. What’s this got to do with anything? Not much, but I’m still bummed no Pac/Jordan picture ever surfaced.
March 22 – Above The Rim OST Is Released
Ahhh, the lost art of the soundtrack. Remember those?
Way back when OSTs were all the rage with the cool kids, ATR’s saw massive amounts of success both on the commercial and critical landscapes. Led by runaway hit singles like Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate,” SWV’s “Anything,” Lady of Rage’s “Afro Puffs” and H-Town’s “Part-Time Lover” to name a few, the soundtrack would eventually achieve double platinum status and OST of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards.
Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.
March 23 – ‘Above The Rim’ Hits Theaters
What started with partying at Club USA on the day Bieber was born, to chopping it up with Arsenio and MTV to receiving a jail sentence, Pac finally saw his newest film invade box offices.
From the gate, Pac’s presence in the movie was heralded. Per Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers:
Still, it’s Shakur who steals the show. The rapper’s offscreen legal problems are well known, but there’s no denying his power as an actor. Following a gentle turn in Poetic Justice as Janet Jackson’s lover, Shakur creates in Birdie a gleaming portrait of seductive evil. He’s as dangerous as the asphalt game that ends Above the Rim with a sustained roar of thunderous hoop action.
And aside from grading the film a “C” overall, Entertainment Weekly sang the praises of Pac even higher.
As the strong-arm hustler who darts in and out of Above the Rim, Tupac Shakur proves, once again, that he may be the most dynamic young actor since Sean Penn. (The jury is out on whether he’ll prove as self-destructive.) Like Penn, Shakur gives each of his characters a unique spiritual temperature…
There’s something creepy and smug about this hustler’s leering confidence; he’s too young to have so much bravado. Shakur gives the movie a charge of excitement.
By the spring of 1994, Pac was rap’s most accessible lightening rod, law enforcement’s favorite target and one of Hollywood’s fastest rising young thespians. He was only 22-years-old.
March 24 – Pac Performs Santa Monica March
The new car smell hadn’t even left Above The Rim yet and before noon the next day Afeni’s young’n – sporting a Carolina Panthers hat this time – was back on the road. This time, at the Santa Monica March performing “African Thing” alongside Nana King.
Those only looking for Pac’s part should fast forward to the 1:33 mark.