To assume the role of Tupac Shakur, one of the most well-known rap artists of his generation, takes focus, strong vocal delivery and conviction to your craft.
It also takes tattoos and a penetrating stare.
“I was born with rather deep eyes. With just a little black pencil . . . I was blown away!” says Meshaun Labrone of his resemblance to the late rapper. Labrone wears henna tatoos, boxes regularly and maintains a healthy diet to mimic the physical persona of Shakur. “I try to keep myself very healthy,” he says. The actor portrays Shakur in the one-man play “Right to Remain: The Life and Mind of Tupac Shakur” at this year’s Capital Fringe Festival.
The play is set in 1995. Labrone plays a 24-year-old Shakur living in solitary confinement because of a sexual assault conviction. To prepare for the role, the Florida native drew upon his experience working as a corrections officer, where he witnessed inmates “slowly but surely losing their grip on reality” when placed alone in cells. “I’ve always said that the prison system . . . is not about corrections and rehabilitation. It’s about torture and punishment,” he says.
Labrone says he focused on this time in Shakur’s life because it was a side of the rapper that the public wasn’t acquainted with. “I felt that if I were to portray him before the death row thing, at the beginning of his career, shooting at the police, that is what people know of him.”
Take away the gold chains, the ‘Thug Life,’ and his bandanna, says Labrone, and then you meet the real Tupac Shakur. “In solitary confinement . . . he is stripped of his persona. He’s stripped of his costume, his posse, his car keys, his house keys. He’s stripped of all those things, and all you have is that man and his thoughts,” he says.
Labrone wrote the play in 2004 as part of his final senior project when he was a student at Florida International University.
“I wanted to write a script where I wouldn’t have to audition,” he says of his original script, which was titled “The Hate U Gave” and included five additional cast members. After five years of performing, Labrone met with his former professor, decided that he wanted to make the play more intimate, and whittled it down to a cast of one.
“We wanted to make it a little bit more intimate, and a little darker, because it’s something about diving into the psyche of a human being and him speaking his thoughts,” he says.
In 2010, Labrone performed in London off the West End theater district. He’s confident that the show’s fame will increase and eventually take him to New York.
“The people in my camp are really confident that we are gonna be able to take it to Broadway,” he says. The rapper’s persona has even permeated Labrone’s dreams. “Working on this play, I had a very vivid dream one night. I was sitting at a bar, and he came in and sat by me. He kept saying, ‘Tell them about me. Tell them who I really am.’ And he just kept saying it.”
Labrone will perform “Right To Remain” Wednesday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Fort Fringe. For more information, visit capfringe.org.
More content from The RootDC: