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Tupac Shakur’s music explodes on Broadway

The music of slain rapper Tupac Shakur is on Broadway. As the centerpiece of “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” the new hip-hop musical at the Palace Theater, Shakur’s music has never sounded stronger or more relevant.

The company of "Holler If Ya Hear Me" on Broadway.  The new musical features the songs and poetry of Tupac Shakur.
The company of "Holler If Ya Hear Me" on Broadway. The new musical features the songs and poetry of Tupac Shakur.
Joan Marcus

Shakur was a musical genius whose poetic lyrics and political messages made him one of the most successful musical artists of all times. He sold over 75 million records and was listed on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Countless artists of all genres cite him as an influence.

“Holler” is not autobiographical, but a fictional tale that incorporates the themes prevalent in Shakur’s music, including life in the inner cities, violence, and society’s treatment of young African-Americans, among others. The story centers on a young man, John (a fantastic and stoic Saul Williams), who returns to his neighborhood after several years of incarceration for a drug offense. His attempt to rebuild his life and escape the vicious cycle of bloodshed is derailed by an unfortunate series of events that reflects a lot of the stories across America’s inner city.

For fans of Shakur’s music, sitting in a Broadway theater to hear his music might at first seem odd. His music was unapologetic, aggressive, and without filter—the opposite of what you might generally associate with the Great White Way. (In fact, the last tenant at the Palace Theater was the family friendly, “Annie.”) But the artists of “Holler” succeed in interpreting his songs for a theatrical audience while maintaining the integrity of the hip hop sounds.

“Holler” is also part love story and the engaging Seycon Segbloh sweetly sings about “Unconditional Love” in an R&B duet with Williams. Broadway powerhouse Tonya Pinkins heartbreakingly speaks for an entire generation of women whose lives are touched by violence in a soulful new rendition of the songs “Resist the Temptation/Dear Mama." Theater veteran, Christopher Jackson, who plays “Vertus,” another young man trying to find his way, stands out among the cast. With a wonderful combination of a legit belt and a flawless hip hop style, he allows the powerful lyrics to be heard – and with Shakur’s music, words are as essential as melodies.

Sadly, we are also reminded that Shakur's tragic, violent death at age 25 robbed us of one of the most brilliant and influential voices of a generation.

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