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Close-up: Tupac Shakur

The rapper and actor delivers disturbing notes from underground

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But for a few twists of fate, Tupac Shakur says, he’d be just like the violent teenager he plays in Juice, the new hit movie about an armed robbery gone wrong. ”I’ve got that survival instinct and ambition to make it by any means necessary. But in my current situation there’s only a little of Bishop in me.” That situation includes praise for his screen debut, membership in the rap group Digital Underground, and a recent solo album, 2pacalypse Now.

Life wasn’t always so good. Tupac, named for a Peruvian revolutionary, grew up in the ghettos of the Bronx and Baltimore. His father (”a straight-up gangster”) died when Tupac was 12; his mother, a Black Panther, was jailed on bomb-conspiracy charges while pregnant with him (she was later acquitted). ”I’m not as naive as a lot of young black males,” says Tupac, 20, who dropped out of Baltimore’s School for the Arts to record the tapes that won him an audition with Digital Underground. ”I ask them, ‘You want a paycheck? Or do you want to be a dope dealer all your life?”’