Ask any hip-hop fan to name the greatest rapper that ever lived, and chances are the answer will be Tupac Shakur. Despite his death in September 1996, his memory and legacy is stronger than ever. Helping keep it alive are Tupac’s prodigies, American rap group Outlawz, who are coming to The Music Room on August 6 to perform a series of the iconic rapper’s hits. ‘Everything we do is in memory of Pac. He didn’t make the Outlawz to keep his memory alive, the people and music will keep it alive,’ says Outlawz member Young Noble.
Formed in 1995, Outlawz were originally introduced to the world by Tupac as guest artists on classic albums All Eyez on Me and Makaveli. Originally consisting of seven members, now just two remain – Young Noble and E.D.I. Mean. Former member Hussein Fatal, who was due to perform in Dubai with Outlawz, tragically passed away in a car accident on July 11 in the USA. The Dubai show will be a tribute to both Hussein Fatal and Tupac.
Noble, who was the last member to be added to the group by Tupac in 1996 before his assassination, says the late rapper was caring and generous. ‘The first time I met him, I just remember his paranoia. He was fresh out of jail and people were trying to set him up. But he embraced me and after that he was like a big brother. He cared about people. I saw him give all types of people money. If he saw a homeless guy on the street he was the first to go up to him and hand out 100 dollar bills,’ recalls Noble.
Noble appeared on Tupac’s album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, on tracks such as ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Life of an Outlaw’. He says it’s now the group’s responsibility to represent Tupac. ‘When artists pass away, it’s up to other people to tell their story. We’re his little brothers, we came into the game with him. We made so much music with him that it’s our duty to carry the torch and continue the legacy.’
The Outlawz featured on some of Tupac’s biggest hits in the early ’90s, including the street anthem ‘Hit Em Up’ – a lyrical attack on rap rival Notorious BIG – as well as ‘Still I Rise’. ‘Those are songs that kids still listen to now. It hits their heart because they talk about real-life issues and situations. Tupac showed us that what you do today isn’t just for today – once you make music and you put it out, you can never take it back.’
With the highly anticipated summer release of Straight Outta Compton – a movie highlighting the rise of hip-hop group NWA in the mid ’80s – Noble says an Outlawz film is also on the cards, giving them a chance to share their story. ‘We’ve been approached by a few different production companies and people need to know our story. We were young kids with Tupac and he died before we even got to sign a contract with him. So much happened in a year, and we’re the only people who can tell it.’
The group last released an album, Perfect Timing, in 2011, to mark the 15th anniversary of Tupac’s death, and are considering the possibility of a new record to mark the 20th anniversary next year. ‘People love Tupac. He was almost so huge that people are hypnotised by him. We want to inspire people, that’s what Outlawz are known for – ghetto gospel.’
Despite having never signed to a major label, Outlawz have featured on records that have sold over 70 million copies. ‘Our greatest achievement is still being here 20 years after losing basically the greatest rapper ever. Our movement is crazy. I’ve seen a million rappers come and go, but the Outlawz are still here.’
Having remained independent since the death of Tupac, the group continue to honour his legacy by touring and performing at shows celebrating his life. ‘Our legacy is that we stayed solid, we never sold our soul for a dollar. Outlawz music isn’t on TV and radio every day, but our music reaches people, even as far as the Middle East.’
Dhs150. 9.30pm-3am. Thu August 6. The Music Room, Majestic Hotel. Bur Dubai (04 501 2534).