A once-wayward mother defends her son’s legacy
Even as a crack fiend, Mama
You always was a black queen…
You always was committed
A poor single mother on welfare
Tell me how you did it
—”Dear Mama,” by Tupac Shakur
BEFORE HE WAS GUNNED DOWN BY an unknown drive-by assailant in Las Vegas on Sept. 7, 1996, millionaire gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur ensured that his mother, Afeni Shakur, would never be poor again. Not only was he providing her with a family allowance of $16,000 a month, but in 1995, the year “Dear Mama” was released, he bought her a 2.2-acre estate with a six-bedroom home in Stone Mountain, Ga. Now, standing in the master bedroom of that house, Afeni, 50, points to the lush garden below her window. While her son was alive, she planted eggplant, corn and tomatoes with only moderate success, but soon after he was cremated she sprinkled the soil with some of his ashes, and her vegetable patch suddenly flourished. “Tupac,” says Afeni tearfully, “made this garden go crazy. Pac brought this place alive.”
But homegrown produce isn’t all she has reaped so far. Afeni, whose son was murdered at 25, is co-administrator (with her attorney, Richard Fischbein) of Tupac’s fortune, currently estimated at $8 to $10 million, which includes a thriving record catalog. She also supervises a library of nearly 200 unreleased Tupac recordings—possibly worth as much as $100 million—which she hopes to package as a series of albums beginning with the just released R U Still Down? (Remember Me). “Let’s be honest here,” says Afeni, a onetime crack addict and welfare mother who now retains a publicist and several personal assistants. “I wasn’t going to have money. I wasn’t going to be rich. But look where Pac has me now.”
Along with her son’s multimillion-dollar fortune, Afeni inherited the defendant’s role in a number of lawsuits. Following Tupac’s death his label, Death Row Records, filed a claim against his estate for $7.1 million, which they purported to have given him in cash advances and loans. Fischbein sued, accusing Death Row (whose CEO, Marion “Suge” Knight, was driving the car in which Tupac was killed) of fabricating the debts and stealing $50 million from Tupac’s royalty accounts. In September, as part of the settlement of the suit, Death Row agreed to drop their claim.
The estate’s battles, however, are many. In November 1996 an Arkansas court awarded $16.6 million to Jacquelyn McNealey, who was shot in a crossfire and partially paralyzed while attending a 1993 Tupac concert which, she maintained, fostered an environment that resulted in gunplay. Afeni has appealed the award. Then there is the case of Tupac’s biological father, New Jersey trucker William Garland, who upon his son’s death filed suit seeking half the estate. The case went to trial last summer, and a decision is expected before 1998. Afeni, who never married Garland and rarely saw him after Tupac’s conception, calls him “garbage,” a “gold digger” and the “designated sperm donor.” (Garland declined to talk to PEOPLE.)
Meanwhile, activist and antigangsta-rap crusader C. DeLores Tucker sued the estate for $10 million last July, alleging that certain lyrics from Tupac’s multiplatinum album All Eyez On Me were derogatory to her and caused her husband, William Tucker, to suffer “a loss of advice, companionship and consortium” due to her emotional distress. And in September reputed California gang member Orlando Anderson sued for $1.5 million, claiming he was “personally attacked” by Tupac in a brawl hours before the rapper was killed. Afeni in turn slapped Anderson with a wrongful-death suit, claiming he shot her son. (Police have made no arrests in the shooting but consider Anderson a suspect. Anderson has denied the accusation.) Through it all, she remains sanguine about her legal troubles. “God will take care of it,” she says. “And the lawyers.”
As a girl growing up in Lumberton, N.C., Alice Faye Williams (Afeni’s given name) had a different set of trials to contend with. “My mama [Rosa Belle, a domestic] left my dad [Walter, a trucker] because he was kickin’ her ass,” she says. In 1958, she and her sister Gloria Jean, now 52, moved to The Bronx, N.Y., with their mother. At 15, Afeni began snorting cocaine—”before anyone ever heard of it,” says Gloria Jean.
After meeting an apostle of Malcolm X, Afeni joined the fledgling Black Power movement in 1964. Four years later she met and moved in with Islamic Black Panther member Lumumba Abdul Shakur and changed her name to Afeni Shakur. In 1969 Afeni and a group of Panthers were arrested in New York City and charged with several felonies, including conspiracy to bomb public places. Free on bail in the fall of 1970, she met Garland in a friend’s Manhattan loft. “I wanted to have sex, you know,” she says. Her bail soon revoked, Afeni returned to prison, pregnant with Tupac. Having had “four or five” miscarriages previously, she didn’t expect to carry him to term. But Tupac, she says, “wanted to be in this world.” Acquitted and released for lack of evidence in her eighth month, Afeni gave birth to Tupac in East Harlem.
Freedom turned out to be dangerous. Shortly after taking a job as a legal assistant to Fischbein in 1971, Afeni began snorting cocaine again. For a while she was a responsible mother to her exceptional son. “Pac was special,” says Afeni. “He was articulate. I trained him. Punishment for him was reading The New York Times.” When a minister asked Tupac, then 13, what he wanted to be, he replied brightly, “a revolutionary.” That same year, 1984, Afeni moved Tupac and her daughter, Sekyiwa (fathered by another man in 1975) to Baltimore, where Tupac excelled in a high school performing-arts program. But by then Afeni had begun smoking crack. “There was no stability,” she recalls. “I was smoking and screwing up my life.”
She moved with her children to Marin City, Calif., in 1988 in a futile attempt to get clean. A year later, tired of watching his mother wither away, Tupac moved to Oakland, where he began his extraordinary rise. Afeni had to be told that he had appeared on a 1990 Arsenio Hall show. “I didn’t know what was happening to my son,” she says. “I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ ”
Determined by then to break her habit, Afeni moved back to New York City and began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Connecticut. By the end of 1991 she was off crack and soon reconciled with Tupac. The two remained close until he was killed.
These days, Afeni is touched most deeply whenever she hears “Dear Mama.” “Can I listen to it without crying?” she asks. “No. It gets worse every time. It gets harder, it really does. That song gets deeper and deeper.”
KEN BAKER in Los Angeles and Stone Mountain