1991 was a big deal in a lot of different ways: Nirvana, the Super Nintendo and the Rodney King beating all happened that year. So did the fall of the Soviet Union and the consequential end of the Cold War. Things moved fast. Tupac Shakur wasn't even a blip on our collective radar. Just 20 years old, he was still a few years away from breaking out as one of the most influential hip-hop artists to ever rock a microphone.
Tupac was an unknown backup dancer and occasional rapper for the joke-rap collective Digital Underground, the same group that spawned the ubiquitous party anthem "The Humpty Dance." In fact, there he is, right there in the background of the video.
A video of an altogether different kind has rocketed Tupac back into the headlines, though. A five minute home movie, shot in 'Pac's pre-megastar days, has surfaced. The video, shot in 1991, shows him engaging in the very behavior that made him famous. He drinks, he smokes a blunt, raps and dances to one of his unreleased songs. The newsworthy aspect, however, is this: an (as-yet) unnamed woman is eagerly performing oral sex on him the entire time. Does this mean something, even 20 years later?
As an artifact of our culture, sex tapes are uniquely powerful. Tommy Lee, Paris Hilton, even R. Kelly wouldn't have reached the level of fame that they did without the public airing of their indiscretions. The difference here is both obvious and troubling: Tupac was murdered in 1996 and is therefore unavailable for comment.
Would Tupac have objected? It's impossible to know. If he were alive, he'd be in his 40's. He, conceivably, could have re-invented himself entirely as both a critically respected and bankable actor. His appearance alongside Janet Jackson in "Poetic Justice" was almost universally lauded. His allegiance to the thug-life would certainly have faded by now. The son of a Black Panther, it's not a stretch to imagine him as a militant, Chuck D-like figure, using his considerable star power to fight injustice in the black community.
The sad truth is that we'll never know what he could've become. We are only left with what he was: an angry young man with talent and a penchant for drugs, liquor, violence and women. This newly-discovered tape won't harm his legacy. It doesn't contain anything we don't already know. Let's just hope this isn't his final posthumous release.