Nothing stops Tupac Shakur and Slick Rick -- Rappers won't let jailtime slow them down

By Robert Seidenberg
Updated December 16, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

If you’re shot five times in an apparent robbery attempt in Times Square one day, then convicted of sexual-abuse charges the next, what effect does that have on your career? In the case of Tupac Shakur, neither event may be a bad career move. The 23-year-old ”gangsta” rapper-actor faces up to seven years in jail, but whether or not he does time, 1995 will be a big year. His third album, originally called Crucified, is nearly completed, and he’ll costar in a new movie — ironically titled Bullet — with buddy Mickey Rourke, who showed up at his trial to lend support. Shakur will also contribute to the film’s soundtrack album, according to producer John Flock, ”assuming he is (a) healthy and (b) not incarcerated.” Rapper Doug E. Fresh is one of the few who see last week’s events catching up with Shakur at some point. ”Now the music industry and movie industry will take (Shakur’s) rebel image and exploit it more, and unfortunately he won’t be able to expand and grow. He’ll be limited to bad-boy roles.”

Which raises a larger question: Should music labels intervene when they see an artist self-destructing? ”Performers like Tupac pinpoint issues that need to be dealt with,” suggests music-business attorney Cliff Brown, ”and because labels are making money off of (the artists), they have a moral and social responsibility to help.” Perhaps, but as veteran rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot says, ”You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I’m 31. So if I’m talking to a kid 23, he thinks he knows it all, just like I did when I was 23.”

And why should he listen? Many believe Shakur’s recent headlines will only add to his street credibility. ”For him to check out of the hospital early to show up for his trial takes a lot of heart and courage,” marvels fan Sheldon Pearce, 16, of Glendale, Calif. Says a source at PolyGram: ”The whole prison-poet thing is very cool to kids. These type of rappers are deified by the kids; they’re like modern superheroes.” PolyGram should know: On Nov. 22, the label released the latest album by convicted rapper Slick Rick, who is currently serving time for attempted murder, and sold 402,160 copies in two weeks. (Additional reporting by Havelock Nelson and Dan Snierson)