Intimate, unseen photographs of Tupac

Intimate, unseen photographs of Tupac

A near miss, a lost archive and an iconic rapper like you’ve never seen him before.

One afternoon in 1993, photographer Michel Haddi was riding in the passenger seat of his car in Los Angeles, while his assistant was driving him to his studio in Venice Beach. At that point, Haddi had worked for over a decade as a fashion photographer for some of the world’s most eminent glossy magazines, shooting some of its biggest stars, and he was travelling to meet a breakthrough talent in the world of hip hop named Tupac Shakur for an assignment commissioned by The Source.

Cruising along the freeway at 75mph, they were about to pass a huge truck in the middle lane, which in turn was passing a BMW. Suddenly, one of the truck’s tyres exploded. “I’m looking, and I said: ‘What the fuck,’” Haddi recalls. “The truck is going on my side and then he rolls over the BMW and goes right along the wall. I obviously asked my assistant to stop the car and we turned and the BMW was like a pancake, but I see a little head coming up alive.”

Miraculously no one was hurt with Haddi and his assistant escaping completely unscathed. Taking side roads away from the main freeway, the pair made their way to the studio, where Tupac was waiting for them. “We started to put everything together like nothing happened,” he continues. Haddi soon struck up conversation with the rapper, who had just dipped his toes into acting with his role in Poetic Justice alongside Janet Jackson and earlier that year released his iconic, politically charged sophomore album ‘Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z...’. “Tupac was a gentleman. Very kind, sort of a kindred spirit – very elegant, very sexy, and very cool.”

At a time when rap and hip hop were nascent, oft-demonised music genres in the USA – largely perceived as the domain of working class African Americans and often associated with gang crime by the mainstream media – Haddi wanted to highlight a sophistication that he instantly saw in the artist.

“Do you mind if I dress you like Martin Luther King?” Haddi asked.

“Why?” Tupac replied.

“You’re dapper. You dress well. I’m going to dress you in a suit and a tie.”

“Oh, I love it.”

Now, a number of pictures that Haddi made that day are published for the first time in new photobook Tupac The Legend. There are black-and-white, 90s high fashion styled portraits dressed in the suit alongside shots where the rapper is smoking a cigar in a Nike jacket and baggy jeans. Splashed on pages next to them are quotes from Tupac that Michel felt were relatable to his life and sentiments, including: “Just cause you live in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow” and “All I’m trying to do is survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle that they gave me.”

Unbelievably, the pictures nearly never saw the light of day. After the shoot, Haddi left his negatives with his printer in New York as he usually did. “But after he didn’t pay his rent, the landlord took everything inside and threw everything in the bin,” Haddi explains. “Fortunately for me, I had some polaroid prints and contacts [sheets] in LA, so last year [when] I came to pick up the last bits of my storage and take everything back to England, there were like zillions of images so I was like: ‘Oh my god.’”

The resurfacing of these lost pictures comes at a particularly reflective time for Haddi and Tupac fans. Last month (September 2023), news broke that a man named Duane “Keefe D” Davis had been arrested by Las Vegas Police in connection to the murder of Tupac Shakur. The arrest came 27 years after the rapper was shot and killed in the Nevada city. Haddi was midway through giving a talk on the book in Paris when his wife called him to break the news.

“Karma is a bitch – sooner or later you will have to pay the bill,” he says. “And I can assure tips are definitely not included.”

Tupac the Legend by Michel Haddi is published by MHS. His pictures also form part of his exhibition Michel Haddi: Beyond Fashion, which is on show at the 29 Arts in Progress Gallery in Milan from October 19 to December 2022