Broadway's 'Holler If Ya Hear Me,' Starring Saul Williams, Is Latest Expression of Tupac Shakur's Lasting Influence

By Jon Sobel on Apr 18, 2014 03:45 PM EDT

The casting of Tony winner Tonya Pinkins (Jelly's Last Jam, Caroline or Change) and Saul Williams (performance artist, musician, poet, former Grand Slam Champion at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe) in the upcoming Broadway musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, with a score derived from Tupac Shakur's catalog, was last week's Tupac news. This week, the beat goes on around the legend of the influential rapper. John Singleton's Tupac biopic just took its biggest step towards realization, as Open Road Films acquired the U.S. rights and committed to releasing the film in at least 2,000 theaters.

Casting for the Tupac movie begins soon and production is slated to begin the late summer. In a world where a hologram of the dead rapper can appear on a Coachella stage, it somehow feels right that Singleton also directed Shakur's memorable film performance in Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson back in 1993. Singleton had planned to do "a lifetime of films" with Shakur and was deeply affected when the rapper-actor died in 1996.

The stage musical Holler If Ya Hear Me is not autobiographical but uses 16 or 17 of the rapper's songs. "We're touching on something that I think is very important to the world," says director Kenny Leon. "And just like Tupac talked about his music and talked about him changing the world, I very much want and think that this musical can change the world." Leon is fresh from helming the well-received (and Obama-attended) Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun.

Shakur died in 1996 at age 25, murdered in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas that may have been tied to the East Coast-West Coast rappers' feud in which he'd taken part. But his beats very much do go on. His records still sell – over 75 million to date. And he remains a pop-culture mainstay. To take just one trivial but telling example: A recent European beer-drink commercial portrayed Shakur in a pantheon of deceased cultural icons that also included Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe and Bruce Lee.

Previews for Holler If Ya Hear Me begin May 29 at Broadway's Palace Theatre.

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Tagsrapper, Tupac Shakur, John Singleton, Holler If Ya Hear Me, broadway, Broadway Musical, Tonya Pinkins, Saul Williams

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