Will the 2Pac Biopic Be Any Good?

The new 2Pac biopic promises to be a messy affair, but Pete Tosiello continues to audition for the role of Big Syke
By    May 3, 2016

Pete Tosiello knows Ethan Hawke is better in The Purge than in Boyhood.

We’ve reached the point where rap biopics are a hybrid of Marvel superhero movies and Lifetime originals. Beloved icons must be portrayed in a manner faithful enough to avoid angering hardcore fans, but relatable enough for a mass audience. There’s a rigid blueprint for plot arc: auspicious come-up, sheisty label/manager intervention, initial success, ego-driven leeriness, calamitous breakup, sad maturation, uneasy resolution. Actual timelines are skewed for the sake of narrative. Timeless works of art are conceived in moments of spontaneous, collaborative serendipity. Lifelong criminals are depicted as naïve boy scouts.

Easter eggs are placed for the most knowledgeable fans—look, invested rap consumer, the third guy behind the mixing board is DJ Pooh! Straight Outta Compton was alright, but it was also essentially Jersey Boys with black people, just like Notorious was Ray and Walk the Line with more face time for Lil’ Cease. I’m essentially cool with all of this. At least we’re getting a new Purge installment this summer.

People have been trying to make a 2Pac biopic for a while, but it’s tough because while portraying living icons in scripted films is hard enough, it’s way harder with recently deceased ones. (I am super looking forward to an updated Jerry Lee Lewis biopic if/whenever he dies.) This week the first footage leaked from All Eyez on Me, hitting theaters November 2016. Based on the few details released and its crazy Wikipedia page I’ve determined that this film may be good, will probably be very bad, and will absolutely be a ridiculous movie that I will love.

2Pac is being played by Demetrius Shipp, Jr. It was a point of heated public contention that the extraneous 2Pac roles in Notorious and Straight Outta Compton were given to actors who did not look like 2Pac (Anthony Mackie lolol). Demetrius Shipp, Jr. is 27 and used to work at Target. He does not have much experience as an actor, but in his favor, he does kind of look like 2Pac. I am sort of cool with this. On the one hand, I’m a little uncomfortable they keep casting non-actors for these movies because it suggests that you don’t need any acting chops to play rappers or gangsters or whatever. On the other hand, I guess they didn’t want to risk the backlash of a Cuba Gooding-as-O.J. situation. (ed. note: i.e. genius)

More significantly, Jamal “Gravy” Woolard is reprising his 2009 turn as Biggie Smalls from the now unfairly maligned Notorious. When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against our names, he will write that Straight Outta Compton was not as good as people say it is, Notorious was a relatively perceptive small budget film with some decent performances, and that CB4 preceded Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story by fifteen years.

These are the things I know about Gravy: he was a lower-tier Brooklyn mixtape rapper in the days of Papoose, Saigon, and Red Café, which was the coolest time to be a lower-tier Brooklyn mixtape rapper; he shot himself at Hot 97, or maybe he didn’t; he got fat to audition for Fat Albert, a role he didn’t get but parlayed into Notorious, then made a lot of money doing serviceable Bad Boy karaoke and hasn’t done anything since.

As far as his getting to play Biggie in the new 2Pac movie—and hopefully in every rap screen adaptation for the rest of his life—I am very cool with this. I like the idea of a continuous Cinematic Universe for rap movies like what they have in superhero franchises. Hopefully Gravy gets to perform as Biggie in Vegas revues for many years to come.

There are roles for Jada Pinkett, Faith Evans, and Kidada Jones, which, you know, good. Where it really gets fun is here:

  • Johnell Young as Ray Luv
  • Jermel Howard as Mopreme Shakur
  • Rayven Symone Ferrell as Sekyiwa Shakur
  • Rayan Lawarence as Trach
  • James Hatter III as Yaki Kadafi
  • Jermaine Carter as Hussein Fatal
  • E.D.I Mean as himself
  • Young Noble as Himself
  • Azad Arnaud as Daz Dillinger

Okay, so, some thoughts:

  1. Ray Luv’s character is in this movie. Hopefully Johnell Young is great so we get a Ray Luv biopic after this.
  1. 2Pac’s sister is being played by a Rayven Symone Ferrell. Rayven Symone Ferrell, apparently, is not Raven-Symone. Was she named after Raven-Symone, based on her prodigious beginnings in The Cosby Show and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper? Did two families with aims to place their daughters in film coincidentally both come up with the same name? 
  1. Treach! I don’t know the exact connection between ‘Pac and Treach, but he appeared on Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and he’s from New Jersey and so are the Outlawz. They’re also two of the best rappers ever and there should be more movies about Treach. Also, there’s a Sopranos episode where a rapper played by Treach stages a shoot-up on himself to improve his street cred. Thus, when Gravy—who plays Biggie in Notorious and All Eyez on Me—or someone else shot Gravy outside Hot 97, topical slang stated that he had been “Treached.” It’s the circle of life.
    1.  Kadafi and Fatal are both dead, so they got some no-names to play them. But the other half of Outlawz, E.D.I. Mean and Young Noble, are still alive and playing themselves. This seems like an inconsistency considering they got actors to play all the other living characters, but as long as Edi and Noble don’t look super old I guess I’m cool with this.

Where it gets super weird is that someone named Azad Arnaud is playing Daz Dillinger. Azad Arnaud is not Daz Dillinger, but he has the same last name as Daz Dillinger. A quick web search doesn’t turn up much besides that Azad Arnaud is a young relative (not necessarily a son) of Daz Dillinger, who kind of looks like Daz circa Dogg Food except skinny, and is also tied to a planned Dogg Pound movie called DPG 4 Life. Also, in this DPG 4 Life movie, the Suge Knight character is being played by someone named Reggie Noble, and this Reggie Noble is a different Reggie Noble than Redman.

Someone purporting to be Azad Arnaud has 25 Twitter followers. One of his most recent tweets, from last May, reads, “Fuck finals.” This makes me think that Azad Arnaud is a college student, and perhaps his tuition is funded at least in part by Uncle Daz, whose last two albums were called Weed Money and Witit Witit. I would be extra cool with this arrangement.

So, the upshot is that the Outlawz get to play themselves twenty years ago, but Daz is played by some next generation Dillinger who looks sort of like he did twenty years ago. I think I am cool with this.

Moving on:

  • Jarrett Ellis as Snoop Dogg
  • DeRay Davis as Legs
  • Patrick Faucette as Oliver
  • Harold House Moore as Dr. Dre
  • Hill Harper
  • Cory Hardrict as Haitian Jack
  • Phil Armijo as “Johnny “J”

So first of all, it’s strange that between Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez on Me, and DPG 4 Life we may have as many as three actors apiece tied to Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight, and Dr. Dre’s characters in concurrent films. I’m honestly not super cool with this but I can let it slide because DeRay Davis gets to play someone named Legs, and DeRay Davis was awesome in Semi-Pro and I am sad for DeRay Davis because he was so great in the first two Barbershops but apparently was not invited to participate in this year’s reboot. Good on you, DeRay.

I am very intrigued by Hill Harper who evidently does not have a character. Perhaps he too will be playing himself but I’m holding out hope that he will be reprising his role as Booger from He Got Game. I would be cool with the former and extremely cool with the latter.

Anyway, shooting for All Eyez on Me just wrapped in Las Vegas, and I’m pretty sure I know what’s going to happen in the climactic Vegas scene and it’ll definitely be sad and I probably won’t be cool with it.

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