Thursday, May 23, 2013

Endangered Species: A 20th Anniversary Retrospective of ‘Menace II Society’ (Part 7)



In honor of the 20th anniversary of ‘Menace II Society,’ I proudly present this multipart retrospective.  The current chapter is posted below.  To read the previous chapter, please click here.  Thank you, and enjoy! 



Part VII: Makaveli Strikes Back

Filming had commenced on Menace II Society without the participation of Tupac Shakur.  He walked out on the production after a nonsensical dispute with co-director Allen Hughes.  However, he hadn’t formally quit.  He simply instructed Hughes to “call his manager.”  When Allen’s repeated attempts to do so proved fruitless, New Line Cinema gave the rap star the pink slip.  The role was then recast with a different actor.


That outcome didn’t sit well with Tupac, who now had a vendetta against the Hughes brothers.  Word of his displeasure eventually got back to Allen.  Rumors began to circulate as the nature of his grievance.  Some said that the Hughes brothers had initially offered him a larger role in film, but reneged at the 11th hour.  Others claimed that Tupac disagreed with Allen on how to play the character of Sharif.  Regardless of the actual reason, Tupac clearly felt spurned.  However, the Hughes brothers had a movie to finish.  They didn’t have time to address petty grudges. 

Incensed, Tupac aired his grievances to the media.   It was a strategy that Muhammad Ali had perfected during the early part his career.  The combination of psychological warfare and showmanship often crippled his opponents long before they ever set foot in the ring.  Tupac used such tactics to cement his own legacy.          
     
Ironically, the Hughes brothers were launching a similar campaign.  In 1991, John Singleton and his ilk ushered in a new renaissance period for Black cinema.  As always, the Hollywood press put all such filmmakers into one monolithic category.   Allen and Albert didn’t want to be stigmatized in that manner.  They had their own voice, and felt no special obligation to their forebears and peers.   Spike Lee was fifteen years their senior, making him a Black “Baby Boomer.”   He represented the Black aristocracy that the Hughes brothers meant to topple.

The stalwarts of the "new renaissance" of Black cinema, circa 1991: The Hudlin Brothers, Ernest Dickerson, Spike Lee, Mario Van Peebles, Matty Rich, John Singleton and Charles Lane

Menace would surely draw comparisons to Boyz n the Hood upon release.    To counteract this, the Hughes brothers launched a preemptive strike.  They began taking shots at Singleton and Lee in interviews (They famously referred to Boyz as nothing more than "an after-school special with cussin'.").   The developing feud was bound to intensify with the release of Singleton’s sophomore effort, Poetic Justice.  That film not only had Tupac as its male lead, but was set to open just twenty eight days after Menace. 

Ten months after Allen’s falling out with Tupac, things finally came to a head.   For nearly twenty years, Allen Hughes remained tight-lipped about what transpired that day.  He finally broke his silence on January 11th, 2013, when he appeared as a guest on the “Sway in the Morning” radio show.

Allen’s story, as told to Sway Calloway, is as follows.  The incident took place at the video shoot for Spice-1’s song “Trigga Gots No Heart.”  It was to be the lead single from the Menace II Society soundtrack.  The Hughes brothers arrived at the shoot with a mutual friend.  They were there to show their support, as neither of them would be directing that day.  Tupac was also on the scene, as were a dozen members of the Rolling 40’s Neighborhood Crips.  The gangbangers were guzzling 40 ounces of malt liquor and smoking blunts.  Allen immediately smelled a set up.  Nonetheless, he played it cool.

As he exited his vehicle, Allen could see Tupac starting toward him.  The aforementioned gangbangers then formed a perimeter around both men, pinning Allen against the driver’s side of his vehicle.  Tupac then went into an incoherent tirade.  Realizing that he was woefully outnumbered, Allen maintained his composure.  Meanwhile, the gangbangers egged Tuac on.  Realizing that the situation was hopeless, Allen pushed past the perimeter and made his way across the street.

Allen’s hasty retreat was foiled by an ineffective sucker punch to the back of his skull.  He spun around to see Tupac in a boxing stance.  Allen’s patience had reached its breaking point.  He picked Tupac up over his head and threw him on the hood of a truck.  He then clasped his left hand around the rapper’s throat while pulling his right hand back to deliver a finishing blow.  Before he could fire, he was swarmed by a dozen Rolling 40’s Crips. 

When the downpour of fists and feet subsided, Allen Hughes was a bloodied mess.  He could hear one of the Crips issuing a command: “Give my homie back his chains!”  Tupac reiterated the command.  Allen looked down at his left hand and was shocked at what he saw: Tupac’s jewelry in his tightly clenched fist.  He’d snatched it in all of the confusion.  Later on, Allen tried to set up a rematch through a mutual friend.  Tupac respectfully declined.   

When Allen finished his story, Host Sway Calloway humorously played devil’s advocate.  Rap fans would surely balk at the idea of Allen Hughes body-slamming Tupac.  Mr. Shakur’s public image was that of a fearless rebel who lived his art.  He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and never back down from a fight.  He’d shot two cops, and had been shot five times himself.  Tupac wasn’t just a rapper, but an icon.  Meanwhile, the Hughes brothers seem like little more than two film geeks from the suburbs of Los Angeles.  Why bother coming out with this story now? 

Allen Hughes seemed to have anticipated such reactions.  He then countered Sway’s observation with an equally humorous one of his own:  While he weighed 210 lbs on his “worst day,” Tupac only weighed “a buck 40 (140 LBS) wet (while) holding a brick.”  He also noted Pac’s penchant for using guns in lieu of his fists.  That characterization is perfectly in keeping with his comments from the December ‘09/January ’10 issue of Vibe Magazine:

“Tupac was an artist. Tupac was not a gangbanger. Tupac could not fight to save his motherfucking life. I know that for a fact. He was an immensely gifted person and he was far, far, from a thug.” He lets out a deep sigh. “I think that’s just years of frustration that just came out.”

Interestingly, the “years of frustration” that Allen spoke of had already been documented by Vibe years in advance.  They were a matter of public record.  In their February 1996 issue, the publication ran a now legendary piece on Death Row records.  In it, Tupac described his relationship with label head Marion “Suge” Knight.   Interestingly his own self-image seemed to line up with Allen’s perception of him:
 
“"As for me and Suge (Knight), right now-as of today-we're the perfect couple. I can see this is what I've been looking for, management wise. He rides like I ride. With Suge as my manager, I gotta do less. 'Cause before, niggas wasn't scared of me. So I brought fear to them. Now I don't have to do all that to get respect. 'Cause motherfuckers is scared shitless of Suge.”     

The February 1996 issue of Vibe Magazine.

Allen’s characterization of Tupac seems to be the general consensus.  Infamous entrepreneur Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell once described him as a Little man with a Napoleon Complex.  Tupac himself provided further confirmation of this during his March 8th, 1994 appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show.  When speaking of his altercation with Allen Hughes, he described himself as weighing 165 lbs, and both Hughes brothers as weighing 200 lbs each. 

The final piece of evidence comes courtesy of the New York State Department of Correctional Services.  On February 14th, 1995, Tupac was admitted to Clinton Correctional Facility to serve out a sentence for sexual abuse.  All New York state inmates are required to take an identification photo or “mugshot” during processing.  In these photos, inmates are required to hold up a placard listing their surname, first initial, “DIN number,” height, and weight.   According to his placard, Tupac Amuru Shakur weighed stood at 5’11 and weighed 154 lbs.  It’s customary for male celebrities to exaggerate their height, especially in bios and other such press materials.  It’s unclear if the New York State Department of Correctional Services would make concessions for that time honored practice.

Tupac's NYSDOCS mugshot, complete with his vital stats.

 
Now, taking all the aforementioned stats and quotes into account, a few things become clear.  Allen Hughes might not have hoisted Tupac over his head like a professional wrestler.  However, he outweighed Tupac by at least 35 lbs.  Had they both been professional boxers, Allen would have been a heavyweight and Tupac a middle weight.  They’d have fought in completely different divisions.  All jokes and exaggerations aside, Allen’s assessment obviously has a ring of truth to it.  Size might not mean everything in a fight, but it most certainly matters.   

Schoolyard squabbles notwithstanding, Allen and Albert still had much work to do.  Menace had to be prepped for release.  Cast and crewmembers alike felt unmoved by the early footage.  However, the film truly began to materialize during the editing process.  The Tender Trio’s ultimate vision had indeed weathered the storm.  They had an honest to God movie on their hands, but was it any good?  Artists can hardly be trusted to accurately judge their own work.  Often times, they only see their mistakes.  Menace II Society needed could only be properly assessed by its intended audience.  Two years earlier, Boyz n the Hood had been warmly received by that very same audience.  How would they react to the Hell that New Line Cinema was about to unleash upon them?

2 comments:

  1. You've put way too much emphasis on the weight factor in a fight. You make it out to be a trump card when it really isn't. Does it make a difference? Sure. But so do a dozen other factors. I also feel like you've taken the Pac quote about fear out of context. Taking into account the personal bias of the account, I would take it with a pinch of salt. I'm not saying Pac can't be beaten in a fight; anyone can. But he was a ruthless fighter, and I doubt it went down in the way that story was narrated.

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  2. You've put way too much emphasis on the weight factor in a fight. You make it out to be a trump card when it really isn't. Does it make a difference? Sure. But so do a dozen other factors. I also feel like you've taken the Pac quote about fear out of context. Taking into account the personal bias of the account, I would take it with a pinch of salt. I'm not saying Pac can't be beaten in a fight; anyone can. But he was a ruthless fighter, and I doubt it went down in the way that story was narrated.

    ReplyDelete