Rap Recollections

On Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur went to see Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand. After the match, Shakur got in a brawl with a Crip. Then he headed to the Luxor to pick up his friend MC Hammer, who had just driven into town.

"I pulled up into the Luxor," Hammer tells me. "Pac came up to my Hummer and told me what had just happened with the fight he just had at the MGM."

Hammer told Shakur, "All right, let’s keep it moving. I’m gonna go upstairs and change my clothes."

Shakur replied, "We’ll be down here."

But Shakur took off and left a message for Hammer to meet them at a club.

"When I got downstairs," Hammer says now, "I said, ‘Where’d they go?’ "

Minutes later, Shakur was shot and rushed to a hospital, where he died six days later.

Hammer drove to the hospital, listening to a song Shakur had given him before they came to Vegas:

"He said, ‘Hammer, I wrote this song. I need you to rap it. It speaks about some things. … It’s better for you to address as my "big brother," than it is for me to address them right now, and it’s called "Unconditional Love." ‘ "

"It very well could be one of the last songs he could have written," Hammer says.

The song goes:

"All my peers doing years, beyond drug dealing. How many caskets can we witness before we see it’s hard to live this life without God? … Ask Mama why I got this urge to die. … Perhaps it’s just a fantasy, a life where we don’t need no welfare. … Maybe it’s me that caused it, the fighting and the hurting. In my room, crying ’cause I didn’t want to be a burden. Watch Mama open up her arms to hug me, and I ain’t worried ’bout a damn thang."

"When I heard that, it blew me away," Hammer says. "And you gotta know it blew me away more listening to it with him laying in a hospital bed, as I drove around the hospital. … I got the song on repeat. And it was fresh from his heart. … It’ll always be something that lives deeply, deeply in my soul."

Hammer (now on tour and starring in his family’s reality show, "Hammertime," on A&E) never told his part in that night to cops.

"I never had to tell anything to the authorities. My thing transpired before any incident occurred that was something they were interested in."

He and Shakur were tight because they shared "some private instances that happened early on — that showed both of our character to one another. And there were a couple of anonymous incidents where the characters got to be shown again," Hammer says without divulging details.

"So Pac knew where I stood. And I knew where he stood. We were both stand-up cats. And we liked that about each other."

When Shakur was in jail in 1995 and 1996, and dealing with serious strife between old associates, he got his girlfriend to bring him a Hammer song called "Keep On."

Shakur told Hammer: "That song helped me make it through, ’cause I was trying to heal some wounds — of being wounded in the house of my friends."

Hammer joined the house of Shakur, Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight at Death Row Records in 1995. Hammer (who went to Kit Carson Elementary and has family here) knew Knight, who went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and opened the fated Club 662.

One day, Shakur surprised Hammer with an Ohio Players-inspired song.

"He had literally done the whole song — rapped like he was me. So it’s Tupac rappin’ like he’s Hammer off an Ohio Players record. He did vocal arrangements, he had the women sing the background, he did the whole thing, it was done. Literally, the only work for me to do was for me to come in (and rap). He knew we had similar vocal tones. He said, ‘Hey Hammer, when you come in, if you like it, I would love for you to do this song. It’s a gift.’

"I cherish that. I don’t know of anybody else period that he wrote a song for.

"He was one of the hardest workers I knew. Over the course of the next seven months, I was in his studio while the man did over 100 songs. It was unbelievable.

"You come in the studio. Pac sits down, cracks open a bottle, rolls him up a joint, tells the producer, ‘Play some tracks.’ They play a track. They might play 20 tracks. He’ll say, ‘All right, now, I like track number three, eight, nine and 14, so put back on number nine.’

"And he would say, ‘Anybody in here who wants to collaborate on this — get a verse. You’re welcome to join with me.’

"They play the track, and everybody gets their pen and pad out. And 15 minutes later, Pac would say, ‘I got a verse.’ He would go in and rap his verse and come back out and say, ‘Anybody got a second verse?’ And everybody would say, ‘I’m working on it.’

"And Pac would sit down, take a couple hits of his joint, take another drink, and 10 minutes later, he’d pop up: ‘I finished the second verse, let me go spit this one. If y’all got a third verse, let me know.’

"So in the course of an hour, Pac would have written all three verses and recorded them. And you’re still trying to be technical on your prolific first verse that you’re gonna write. And he’d be so nice about it," Hammer says.

In concert now, Hammer performs a "Vegas anthem" called "Keep It In Vegas."

"In one of the verses, I say, ‘I wrote it on the Strip, just to reminisce. I throw two in the air, ’cause it’s Pac I miss.’ "

E-mail delfman@reviewjournal.com. Comment at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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