An Interview With Michael Namikas, Author of 'The Tupac Encyclopedia Volume 1'

An Interview With Michael Namikas, Author of 'The Tupac Encyclopedia Volume 1'

Published Thu, June 15, 2023 at 12:30 PM EDT

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur was a complicated person, poet, actor, freedom fighter, and philosopher. One of Hip-Hop's most open, engaging, and emotive artists, he was a combination of artistic expression, rage, contradiction, and raw talent.

Through music, films, and television interviews, he influenced generations, and cemented himself as one of the most important artists — not just within Hip-Hop — but several genres.

His premature death was tragic, disappointing, and unnecessary to his fans. But he left behind a catalog of both released and unreleased material that lives forever.

Author Michael Namikas has painstakingly compiled a collection of all things Tupac titled The Tupac Encyclopedia Volume 1. In our exclusive interview, Namikas reveals what led him to compile the book.

Michael Namikas

"I started listening to Hip-Hop when I was about eight," Michael Namikas says.

He cites De La Soul's debut album 3 Feet High And Rising as his first Hip-Hop album. "When I was a kid, my mom would take me to the library all the time and foster my love of reading and knowledge just like Tupac's mom did," he explained. Namikas explained that early in his childhood he was exposed to explicit rap music. "I had 'New Jack Hustler' by Ice T on cassette and I was listening to The Chronic when I was ten years old, and I remember I was in elementary school when Doggy Style came out and other kids parents wouldn't let them listen to rap so they had only heard the radio edit, but I had the tape and I knew all the lyrics. I told all the kids about all the profanity that was in The Chronic and Doggy Style.

An attorney and resident of Southern California who has also lived in New York City, Namikas says that he decided to write The Tupac Encyclopedia when he took a break from practicing law.

"It [the writing] began when I moved back to Southern California," he explained. "I was gonna do a straight biography because there weren't many on Tupac at the time, but as soon as I started, the estate announced that Kevin Powell was writing an authorized biography with the blessing of Tupac's mother Afeni, so I decided to do something different."

When speaking of his introduction to Tupac, Michael says that "Trapped" and "Brenda's Got A Baby" from 2Pacalypse Now were the first songs that he heard.

"I do remember watching Nothing But Trouble and hearing him on 'Same Song' with Digital Underground," he explained. "It was the second album where he really bagan to take off with 'I Get Around' and 'Keep Ya Head Up' and stuff like that."

He explains that it wasn't just 2Pac as a musician that affected him. "I remember my mom took me to see Above The Rim because I was a huge basketball fan, and it wasn't just about him as a musician, it was all of it. I read about all of cases and all that, so it was like I knew him as a human being."

The Tupac Encyclopedia Volume 1 took Michael Namikas almost a decade to research and write, and at one point he realized that he had too much material for one book. "I split the book in half at a point during the writing process and a lot of the research for Volume 2 have been completed, and I have outlines for all of the sections for the next volume. Volume 2 won't take as long as the first one did."

The Don Killuminati (The 7 Day Theory)

"It wasn't 2Pacalypse Now where I started following him, it was probably the second album [Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z], but really even Me Against The World," he explained. "His early stuff didn't resonate with the public the way that 'Keep Ya Head Up', 'Dear Mama' and other songs that he did."

Namikas explains that the opinion that Me Against The World is Tupac's most complete album is a common one, but that he disagrees. "I think that it's The Don Killuminati," he revealed.

"I talk a lot in the book about that album because of how I feel about it. Me Against The World is like his blue album. It's complete and very personal, but I feel like The Don Killuminati is personal in a similar way but that it reveals more of his personality. Me Against The World is so depressing and I understand why, given what was going on in his life. Killuminati has all of the different parts of him - the anger and the diss songs on that album, theres songs about women like 'Just Like Daddy,' then there's the poetic side of him that is overlooked a lot because people focused so much on his rage and anger and it was released so soon after his murder that people missed it. It's a misunderstood album for sure."

Some people listen intellectually and they enjoy rhyme schemes and double entendres, but I'm an emotional listener and Tupac resonated the most emotionally with me.

- Michael Namikas

Keeping It Simple

When speaking of the popular notion that Tupac wasn't able to exhibit certain rhyme styles Namikas has his own theory of why 'Pac followed the path that he did lyrically. "He made a deliberate artistic decision to simplify things because he wanted to impact people emotionally and that was from the very beginning," he said. "He did an interview with Davey D, a Hip-Hop journalist from the Bay Area, where he talked about how he tried to do it straight to the point without doing all these 'lyrical miracle' rhymes. Sometimes you lose the message when you're hyper technical, and the message seemed to be most important to him."

One of the things that I don't like about blaming things on Suge is that it takes away Tupac's own agency. Tupac didn't seem like the kind of guy that would let someone influence him to do something that he didn't want to do

- Michael Namikas

Death Row

When asked if he thinks that Tupac would have followed a different artistic path if he was never bailed out of jail by Suge Knight, Namikas says that there is a misconception that 'Pac was solely a revolutionary pre Death Row, and that his material become more aggressive and street oriented post Death Row.

"There's a lot of violence on 2Pacalypse Now," he recalls. "There's a lot of angler in his pre Death Row recordings and he made a lot of beautiful and touching songs while on Death Row. He did songs like 'Hit 'em Up,' but he did socially conscious records, too. Everyone talks about the fury of The Don Killuminati, but he did socially conscious songs on that album, too. 'White man's World', 'Krazy', and 'Hold Ya Head' get dismissed by lots of people. He was also feuding with lots of those people before he signed to Death Row. He signed to Death Row in September of '95, a month before he got out. He did the Vibe interview months earlier. People say that Suge encouraged Tupac to engage in these rivalries, but truthfully he didn't need Suge's encouragement.

Volume 2

"Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia focuses on the second half of the alphabet," Michael Namikas says. "There will also be articles detailing the Wake Me When I’m Free exhibition, the Dear Mama documentary series, the recent Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony, and other things connected to Tupac’s music and life between the alphabetical sections. I’m planning on publishing it around the thirtieth anniversary of Tupac’s death (September 2026).”

The Tupac Encyclopedia Volume 1 is a reference book which stands as one of the best and most researched books about one of the most complicated and influential entertainers in our lifetime. With over 700 pages detailing his music, collaborations, films, and personal life this is the go to reference for the casual 'Pac fan and the well initiated alike.

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