Tupac Shakur’s legacy is alive for all to see. From hearing stories of Tupac inspiration from across the globe to the sound of his music blaring through car speakers, ‘Pac has certainly achieved what he said wanted when he left us. His music will live on forever.
Richard Garcia is one of those people who is contributing to the iconic rapper’s legacy. Richard is a teacher from New Jersey but is also a well known Tupac Shakur tribute artist. Not only does he look and sound like ‘Pac but he shares the same birthday as him too! He’s also a good friend and supporter of the Shakur family.
In this exclusive O4L Online Network interview, we speak to Richard about all things Tupac and find out how Tupac’s parents gave him the nod when it came to his tribute act and keeping their sons legacy alive.
Can you tell us about your background in Jersey City?
Born in University Hospital in Newark, N.J. on June 16th 1975, raised up and down Essex County, New Jersey. I went to various schools in Irvington, Newark, East Orange, Orange. My family even moved and lived in Philadelphia for a year or two, raised by a single mother.
My upbringing was very good thank God for my mother Margaret Pena. She always taught me and my brother how to be self-sufficient and depend on no one but yourself. When we moved back to Newark, my step-father came into our lives and was a blessing in disguise. He taught me to think before I talk and make decisive life-altering decisions.
Growing up hard headed with peer pressure, ups and downs, I dropped out of school in my junior year. By 1994 we moved to Jersey City. Since coming to Jersey City I received nothing but love from the community. I put it down to mainly one thing. My uncanny resemblance to the late great Lesane Parish Crooks also known to the world as Tupac Amaru Shakur. I was working at Pathmark supermarket because I had just become a father at nineteen years old.
After a couple of years and a two year move to Massachusetts, I moved back to Jersey City. It was in my apartment in Massachusetts that I heard the news of Tupac passing. Going through ups and downs and already on my second child I decided to go back to school. This would make my life, future and my children’s life different.
Through my trials and tribulations, I worked hard, got my G.E.D. and went to Hudson County Community College. I received an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. By that time, I was already a father of seven beautiful kids (includes a set of twins). Having a place at Jersey City University I obtained a Bachelors of Science in Biology.
I’m currently a substitute teacher for the Jersey City Board of Education and produce cutter for ACME supermarkets. On top of this, I’m a background non-union actor for Central Castings & Casting Networks. Last but not least I’m a Tupac Shakur tribute artist for Gig Salad.
When did you realize that you look like Tupac and what prompted you to pursue being a tribute artist?
I remember it like it was yesterday! I was still a teenager around sixteen years old living in Orange, N.J. My buddy Chuck was cutting my hair when he nicked the back of my head with the clippers. I was p****d off!! So in a rage, I decided to cut my hair bald. This is around the same time Tupac Shakur released “I Get Around” video. As soon as I stepped out the house people started stopping their cars, calling me Tupac. Now I was already a big fan of Digital Underground and already chanting their songs.
The success and phenomenon of Tupac Shakur’s album “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z” somewhat changed the course of my life. Living a new lifestyle, it prompted me to listen more to Tupac’s music. The correlation between his writings and his Gemini thinking connects with my train of thought, hence my Gemini Twin. When Youtube came around I started doing my own little ‘Pac videos out of fun.
While working at Pathmark I remember writing my information on paper to give to customers to watch. I eventually started making my own cards and before you know it, I did my first show. It was in Newark next door to Newark’s famous Symphony Hall. I really love doing live performances in front of live crowds of people more than I do filming. I love to deliver live eccentric energy to the crowd and receive that same positive vibe back. The feeling of keeping the spirit and legacy of Tupac Shakur alive is worth the while to me. Working on a Comedy Central skit in upstate New York, I met a few celebrity impersonators. They also influenced me to proceed with the Tupac Shakur tribute artist job.
You have the look of the cultural icon but you are close with Tupac’s family. You knew Pac’s biological father, Billy Garland. When did you first meet him and what was his reaction to you looking like Tupac?
Every time I met Tupac’s family members it was magical and spiritual on a degree that I can’t explain. I felt comfortable and nothing but love when I interact with each and of them. Just good down to Earth, positive, loving vibes. I was fortunate enough to share a moment with my extended family.
I feel blessed and thankful to God, to have met and have gotten the blessings of Tupac Shakur’s parents. They are a part of United States history that so many have forgotten or have no knowledge about. I speak of the Black Panthers that were a big part of the Civil Rights Movement.
Not only his biological parents but also his stepfather Dr Mutulu Shakur. We stay in contact via corresponding letters to and from prison. Dr Mutulu Shakur is still fighting for his freedom, even though he did his time. God willing he will be free very soon. In 2016 I met up with Sekiywah Shakur and Mopreme Shakur (Tupac’s sister and brother). It was at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. Tupac would be the first rapper inducted in the history of the prestigious event. These beautiful souls showed me nothing but love.
This event was made possible through Tupac’s biggest fan, my friend turned family Kristen Parcus and Hustle Simmons ESQ. These two have involvement with the Shakur family. God placed these two individuals in my life to strengthen the Shakur family and name. It’s an honor to even know any of these people.
I remember meeting Uncle Bill Garland in the supermarket. Being with my wife Mary shopping when he and I first locked eyes on each other. I stood frozen and Mary asked me what’s wrong with you do you know him?
Upon going over to him, we instantly hit it off. He heard about me and I heard about him and we took it from there. Since then we always stayed in contact with each other. We spent some time the following months and years speaking, viewing and acknowledging him as part of my family. I always feel love and respect when I interact with Bill Garland. It makes me very proud to have him as a friend in my life.
As you and Billy got to know each other, you grew your friendship. Is it true that he helped you through a personal tragedy?
Yes, we are good friends and have been since 2009. I’m very thankful to God for bringing us together. Being a parent doesn’t come with a how-to guide. I’m a father of seven and like Bill Garland, I have more than one baby mother. I seek advice and knowledge from those who experienced before me. Uncle Bill Garland has given me advice on parenting on how not to make mistakes that we can avoid. He spoke to me about how it’s never too late to make the wrong decisions from the past, right for today. How to make yourself available for your growing kids who we will depend on in the future.
On July 15th 2015 I lost my biological father Raymond Garcia to lung cancer. It was a very tough time for me to accept it. My father was an absentee father most of my life due to other circumstances. Although he tried his best to make the wrong things right as I got older. My father tried to make up time, but like Bill Garland and Tupac’s relationship, our time was cut short. Bill Garland spoke to me on numerous occasions and simply checked up on me. That was something very magical and spiritual to me. Thank God for the angels he always puts in front of me in my time of need.
Not only were you friends with ‘Pac’s biological father but in 2010 you met his mother, queen Afeni Shakur. Can you describe meeting her, and tell us the words of encouragement she gave you?
My wife booked us flights for my birthday June 16th 2010 to visit the Tupac Shakur Amaru Shakur Foundation. Now prior to that I was in talks with Tupac’s bodyguard, Frank Alexander, who had heard about me. ‘Big Frank’ thought I was the perfect pick for the part of ‘Pac in a Tupac film in development. He gave me pointers and advice about my acting. Having just auditioned for Antoine Fuqua’s “2pac bio-film” and appeared in the Jersey City paper “Jersey Journal”. Before I knew it I had the newspaper in my hand in hopes to give to Afeni. The night before my birthday I remember praying so hard to God to allow me to meet Afeni Shakur. God willing she would give me her approval in keeping her sons legacy and memory alive.
When the day came we went early, swamped with reporters wondering why I looked so much like Tupac. Then I saw Afeni on stage speaking we saw one another and it was something spiritual, magical, and loving. She was walking with her security detail and I approached and asked them to hand the newspaper to her. Her response was to let me through with my wife Mary. We spoke and it was surreal. Telling her about my videos and attempts of bringing Tupac to the big screen she wished me luck. She also said she can see me becoming her son Tupac on stage doing my thing.
After this, Afeni told me to continue doing what I’m doing because my heart is in the right direction. I introduced her to my wife Mary and told her we met in college and she is a Coptic-Christian from South Egypt. “Mary is beautiful, oh my God you’re living my son’s life”, Afeni said. “He wanted to meet and marry an Egyptian girl”. A very spiritual thing happened after that when Afeni and I hugged one another and were both in tears. It began to rain on us and she had to go. Before she went, Afeni said, “please keep doing what you’re doing just always keep it in the positive light”. That summer rain in the bible belt of Stone Mountain, left a memorable and heartfelt feeling in my soul. That feeling I will remember for the rest of my life.
If that wasn’t enough, you share your birthday with ‘Pac! What does Tupac mean to you and how has he inspired your life?
Since discovering Tupac Shakur all I can say is he’s my brother from another mother. He is my long lost cousin who at the same time is a big brother I never had. Tupac’s music and own upbringing describes my life, how I think about and handle certain situations. Our parallel correlation is spiritual and magical. Separated from our biological fathers and raised by a strong-minded single mother. Gained an educational military minded step-father who taught us how to survive and maneuver in these evil streets.
Our parallel correlation taught us how to identify and avoid situations that plagued so many blacks in the past. Tupac was the big brother I looked up to when I was on those rocky roads in my life. I observed his mistakes and flaws and like a student, I trained myself not to make the same mistakes. Again our lifestyles are parallel correlations on so many levels. Our friendships, relationships and most of all about the communities.
To many, Tupac is the greatest of all time. His words and lyrics have touched millions of people across the globe. What is it about Tupac Shakur that captivates people even to this day?
TRUTH!!! The truth and prophecies are what draws the ears of the masses. I believe his delivery of his words in his music is mesmerizing and influential. He speaks from the heart he tells us to read, to open our eyes and realize it’s not them killing us, it’s us killing us! ‘Pac tells us to use our brain, use our knowledge. He spoke prophetically, about how fifty educated black/brown men with knowledge are more powerful than any AK-47 used to take lives.
Tupac spoke about wrongfully judged individuals incarcerated because of lack of knowledge and money to afford a good lawyer. Also speaking up for the underdogs that come from broken families and forced to live the life of a thug, from all walks of life.
His music is worldwide and heard around the globe and the most prophetic rapper to date. His music speaks of the weak and the meek. Take into consideration that his parents and stepfather and family all fought for the rights of others. This was during the Black Panther era in the 1960s before you and I were born.
Being a tribute artist of one of the most iconic figures of recent history, you must turn heads. What’s the reaction been like from people and have you any standout fan moments?
Being a Tupac tribute artist people stop me for pictures and conversations something I truly don’t mind. It is an everyday living for me to get up and go to work and hear people call me Tupac while at work. Most of my students refer to me as Mr Tupac in the schools and I have come accustomed to it. I have so many stories about fans who spot me in the street. Once a New Jersey State Police officer pulled me over just for a picture or two. When I worked set at Law and Order SVU I was on set behind Ice T (Odafin Tutola). He turned around and said, “Wow you look like the homie Pac”.
Sometimes I meet some off the wall people. Remembering back I was in line to get into a club with my wife in Mexico for Spring Break. A young beautiful intoxicated blonde ran up on me screaming “2pac!! 2pac!!”. She was trying to tongue kiss me, not knowing my wife was beside me. Thank God for my very patient and understanding wife we continued to have a beautiful vacation.
Tupac loved reading and gaining knowledge. As a teacher, do you pass any of the knowledge, wisdom or teaching of Pac’s onto your students?
Working in an urban district I’m asked by students about the life and character of my Gemini twin Tupac. Sometimes I find myself speaking about Tupac’s struggle bringing our people together as one. Often I speak to my students about problems that as minorities were facing in the 80’s and 90’s era. How those same problems existed way before some of us were born. Here, in 2019 post-Nipsey Hussle death, I find myself speaking about Tupac and Nipsey in the same sentence.
Addressing questions about being a positive role model in your community and being able to see beyond the fog. The fog is something that Tupac spoke about trying to decipher those jealous snakes that are within your circle. These so-called street smart tools needed to survive in these streets where fear and greed are around every corner. The sad thing is not just here in the United States but countries worldwide.
What I teach in my speeches is what Tupac wanted us to do to encourage educational questions and thinking. About poverty, equality, and women’s rights that directly and indirectly affects us all. To positively influence our students to seek ways to coexist and respect one another on an educational level. Leading students to observe the mistakes of others being careful not to allow certain negative situations to be repeated.
When students ask me about the entertainment business and tell me about their inspirations. I link it to literature and always let them know that Tupac wanted us all to read. How can you become an actor/writer for music if you are illiterate? I speak to my students as I would one of my seven beautiful kids. I tell them how Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic books helped me read as a child. I became a fan of Marvel and D.C. comic books as a kid. In being a fan, it helped me increase my reading and writing. I also give motivational speeches at different colleges from time to time to discuss the evolution of Hip Hop.
Thank you for helping to keep the spirit and legacy of Tupac Shakur alive. We wish all the best for the future.
Thank you for this interview. Thank you and God bless to the Shakur family for accepting me. I want to thank those who support what I do and love what I do. I love what I do too! I will do my part and continue to keep the spirit and legacy of Tupac Shakur alive.
Personally I feel as if a lot of his enemies are still around and have more political power than before. So much more that they are trying to erase the spirit and energy of Tupac Shakur. I, along with the Shakur family and fans, will continue to teach and spread his theology across the globe. Worldwide mob figure is a term that Tupac used. It simply means Tupac lives across the world and his music is still heard in places far and beyond. His influence is worldwide known. I am a living testament that Tupac Shakur’s magical influence, spirit, and teachings are still alive. God bless and Thank you.