A backing group who coalesced around Tupac only a year before his death, The Outlawz also served as his support system during his most tumultuous times. Best known for backing him on "Hit 'Em Up," the group has now been whittled down to three members, Hussein, E.D.I. Mean, and Young Noble. They made headlines recently by confirming the long-held rumor that they smoked Tupac's ashes, prompting an angry retort from Shakur's mother.
In conjunction with the 15th anniversary of his death, the group's new album, Perfect Timing, dropped yesterday. The trio knew Tupac like few others, at a time when his profile was highest. They bonded in large part through their ink, an art form in which 'Pac was something of a pioneer, at least in hip hop. The Outlawz, in fact, even got their name from one of his tats.
Who used to do Pac's tattoos?
Hussein: 'Pac probably got them all over the place. There was this spot on Sunset [Mark Mahoney's Shamrock Tattoo, surely], but I can't remember the name. They were some cool cats in there -- Irish guys who wore zoot suits, greaser type dudes. We could be driving past the ink shop and he would suddenly pull over. "Where you going?" we'd ask. He'd say: "I'm going to get tatted."
Young Noble: Shit was always sporadic, whenever motherfucker felt like going to get a tattoo. He loved getting tattoos. I remember back then there wasn't too many rappers with tattoos; we looked like aliens, to me. Us and 'Pac seemed like the only rappers we'd really see with tattoos. I think 'Pac really started the whole tattoo trend, and we was right there with him.
E.D.I. Mean: Absolutely, he inspired the whole culture to start getting tattoos. I also got to give Jodeci some credit on the R&B side, since they both started doing it at the same time in the early '90s. 'Pac had been getting tatted when he was still a teenager, before he got his record deal. When he started doing photos with his shirt off, people noticed he had a lot of tattoos. We come from the era when every tattoo means something. It was a way to deal with pain, or trials and tribulations in your life. I think nowadays the younger generation gets tatted just to get tatted.
Hussein, you've got "Thug Life" across your stomach like Tupac did. Did he inspire you to get that?
Hussein: Yeah, he had his first -- before I even met him - and I got mine with his permission. Mine is a lot smaller than his.
The authors of Tupac Shakur: The Life and Times of an American Icon and others assert that "Thug Life" it's actually an acronym for "The Hate U Give Little Infants Fuck Everybody." Did you know that?
Hussein: Nah. Maybe he said that. Thug Life will mean whatever you [want it to] mean. If you're a thug, you're a thug. I don't know about naming the letters and all that. I doubt if that's what it really meant when he first got it.
Did anyone else in the group get the Thug Life tat?
Hussein: Nah, I think I was the only crazy, goofy one who wanted to get that on my stomach. But ee got a lot of tattoos together. We all got tatted on our neck together when he got Makaveli on his neck. 'Pac had his "Outlaw," and [eventually] we all grabbed it on our left arms, one at a time. The name [of the group] had to have been in his mind, because that's all he talked about: "The Outlawz, the Outlawz." It was between that and another name, the Lil' Homies. That couldn't happen. Thankfully we chose the Outlawz. [Laughs]
Young Noble: I also got "Outlawz" across my stomach. I got some prayer hands, and I got "Thugs Pray Too" under it. I have a Makaveli cross on my right arm that says, "Heart of a Soldier With a Brain To Teach a Whole Nation," and I got a Hail Mary tattoo in memory of Kadafi on my right arm.