The themes of ’90s gangsta rap—violence, profanity, drug dealing and other not-so-sunny subjects—don’t seem to be obvious fodder for a Broadway musical. But a new show based on the work of Tupac Shakur, who chronicled street life with a blend of toughness and vulnerability before he was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1996, may prove that wrong. “In many ways, I think Tupac was cut from the same cloth as August Wilson—it’s just a different neighborhood,” says director Kenny Leon, who, along with Shakur’s mother, Afeni, began envisioning Holler If Ya Hear Me five years ago.
Though Afeni fiercely protects her son’s catalogue, she was convinced by Leon’s idea of a musical that wasn’t biographical—“he was much bigger than that, much more prophetic,” Leon says—or about trying to bring Tupac back from the grave. Instead, his words—17 songs, with a new number crafted from his poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”—will tell the story of two friends, one recently returned to the old neighborhood from jail. “We have to honor his fans, and I don’t want to do anything that diminishes the power and beauty of Tupac,” says Leon. “But I also want to broaden it for all Americans.” Opens May 26 at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York; hollerifyahearme.com.