Review: ‘Tupac Shakur: Wake Me When I’m Free’ sings of activism and love of writing

By Janean Sorrell, Feb. 15, 2022

Named after a poem Tupac Shakur, or 2Pac, wrote as a teenager, “Tupac Shakur: Wake Me When I’m Free” aims to showcase aspects of his short but influential life. The immersive exhibit, located at the Canvas at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, is now open to the public and runs through May 1.

Upon entering the first room, visitors are greeted with a 10–foot statue of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, which Tupac often used as a tribute to his mother Afeni Shakur, who he often referred to as his Black queen.

Once the floor and walls meet like on a spaceship, visitors receive a set of headphones and a remote control. When pointed at a sensor in the gallery, guests will hear the spoken voice of Tupac, his mother Afeni or other influential people in his life.

A display of Tupac’s influential writings and images, as pictured above. (Janean Sorrell | The Poly Post)

After watching a heart-wrenching video on social injustice, visitors walk into the “Dear Mama” room and get a sneak peak of Afeni’s revolutionary influence with the Black Panthers and the historic Panther 21 Trial. This is the start of Tupac’s life as Afeni was eight months pregnant with him after her release from jail.

In the middle of the room stands a sculpture of a Black fist, surrounded by 300 handcuffs- each representing one year in prison that Afeni was facing charges for.

The room emanates power, strength, hope and courage. Looking down at the handcuffs and hearing Afeni’s voice on my headphones I felt energized and thought we have to start making changes.

I was introduced to Tupac through BMG Music Service. Back in the day, you could order CDs through a magazine advertisement and buy 12 albums for a penny. I randomly selected 12 albums and waited six to eight weeks for delivery. When they arrived in the mail, I was stoked. I could not wait to listen to all of them. The first CD I played was “Thug Life” and that was when I first heard Tupac’s voice. Immediately I was hooked and became a fan for life.

Tupac was much more than one of the most influential rappers of all time. Tupac was an activist, a poet, a storyteller and entrepreneur, and the exhibit successfully executed a discussion about his existence as all of those things.

“Mama Raised a Hellrazor” is the next room where fans get the opportunity to learn about Tupac’s upbringing. Listening with the headphones, visitors will hear stories about the toys he loved the most and get a glimpse of his first book of poems he wrote when he was just 11 years old. This is the book where Tupac discovered his love for writing.

Probably one of the most personal experiences is walking through “The Writings of Tupac.” The gallery is filled with more than 320 pieces of paper, handwritten by Tupac himself. Each paper is a glimpse into his genius. Visitors can see his dedication, how he meticulously planned each song, who would be on the album and even phones numbers scribbled on the paper.

Visitors are greeted with an enlarged poem of “Wake Me When I’m Free” as pictured above. (Janean Sorrell | The Poly Post)

One of the most intimate sections is the wall of poems. In the corner hidden away is a poem titled “4 Jada,” where readers can feel the love Tupac had for her. Jada Pinkett Smith was one of Tupac’s closest childhood friends until they had a falling out before his untimely death.

After an emotional start, the tempo picks up as visitors are awakened with sounds of Tupac’s music and movies.

This brought back bittersweet memories, with each song bringing me back to a place from my youth.

After heading down memory lane, visitors are invited to step into Death Row Records with a display of the studio where Tupac recorded his 1996 album “All Eyez On Me” in southwest Hollywood.

Toward the end of the experience guests get to walk down a shrine filled with Tupac’s most memorable clothing from his Versace suite he wore to the Grammys in 1996, the vest he wore during his New York Times interview and the outfit for “I Ain’t Mad at Cha’” video.

The best part and most immersive is the second to the last room, where Tupac recites his “Rose that Grew from the Concrete” poem. The vibrant smell of roses permeates the room, even with a mask on. His voice, smooth and silky, warms your soul and the last photograph taken of Tupac flashes before your eyes.

And just like that it’s over, short just like his life. Gone too soon.

Tickets for “Tupac Shakur: Wake Me When I’m Free” range from $14 to $54.50. For more information, visit

Featured image courtesy of Janean Sorrell. 

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