To say that Linda Antognini is a hip hop enthusiast, lover of all things hip-hop and knows the game would be a flat out lie. What I can say is that until 10 years ago Linda Antognini a classically trained Italian painter and founder of Project Tupac had a life-changing experience that affected the way she has lived life since. Linda drove from Arizona with her business partner husband, Lionel, friend, Jeff Tendrick of the Shangri La Ranch and nephew, Greg Hawley, VP of Arrowroot and jumped at the chance to attend the opening of the, “Wake Me When I’m Free” Immersive Hip-Hop Museum exploring the life, legacy and global influences of the iconic, actor, poet, writer, activist, rapper, musician, Tupac Shakur. The event opened its doors Friday, January 21, 2022 at LA Live’s Canvas Art Space downtown Los Angeles with advanced ticket sales beginning back in November 2021. To support the mandated covid safety precautions special guest and attendees were required to show proof of vaccination and wear mask to enter with only ten attendees at a time and in 15 to 20-minute intervals. Walking into the 20,000 foot ceiling event which housed the written and recorded artifacts of the late rappers vast body of work, postcards and personal notes written by Shakur covered walls and glass giving them life size and lifelike appearances. A heavily guarded door leading into the swirling immersive experience of images some unbearable others endearing of Tupac;s daily life moved in the round as if alive, jumping out at adoring fans. A collection of hit songs played in the background and guest moved freely throughout the event soaking in whatever remnants of the artist memories. Posed large Egyptian statues placed strategically in various spaces giving honor to Shakur’s mother, former Black Panther member, Afeni Shakur. We were told that preparing the opening took five years to plan. Jamal Joseph godfather, TASF estate advisor and former Panther said, “Afeni and Pac challenged, re-imagined and transformed history”.
To top the day off, we invited special guest, Sheila Ward, “Legacy Preservation Manager of director, writer, John Singleton Estate. Prior to the directors passing, he was in talks with Morgan Creek Productions to do a project about the rapper. Antognini remembered how she came to know Tupac and how an unexpected change in personal circumstances brought she and the rapper closer than most who had actually heard of him and were fans. In October 2011, Linda and her family suffered an unexpected fire in their home while living in Philadelphia. There was herself, two daughters, two cats and two dogs. They had recently re-modeled their kitchen and were packing up and ready to move to Seattle when their gas range caught on fire. The fire started climbing up the wall while she was talking to her husband Lionel who was in Sweden on a business trip and only a few minutes away from boarding the plane to come home. The house had filled with smoke as she hurried back to grab a camera and personal files. They could not turn the gas range off and so they all grabbed their purses, the dogs, one cat and hid in the basement. Volunteer firefighters lived in the area and got the call. The oven went flying out of the back door and the firefighters immediately capped the gas line. They could contain the fire although everything covered in soot had to be cleaned, or thrown away. Their home was uninhabitable for at least two months. The firefighters and cleanup crew came in everyday and Linda through tears asked the team leader a young black man, Dominique what he listened to in times of need. He said, I listen to Tupac. Go listen to, “Me Against the World” it will change your life. She had heard little about Tupac because they were living in Italy and they did not play him much over there. She listened to, “Me Against the World”, repeatedly. Feelings rose from deep within. The next time she saw Dominique he was going through her bedroom to see what they could salvage she cried and wondered why this happened. What would life look like for she and her family? Dominique encouraged her to listen to “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. We all know a Brenda or have met a Brenda in our lives. Linda’s heart broke when she heard Tupac singing she burst into tears and that’s that’s when the magic happened. Suddenly she was channeling visual images arising from her hearing his music. Her painting to his music. Painting to his words. His bleeding heart and happy spirt ran through her heart straight into her hands. She wondered what it must have been like for him a young black male under the watch of a single black female who although might have taken a few miscalculated turns while finding her way, bore a King and she called him Tupac Amaru Shakur.
Since 2011, Project Tupac has become a collection of 22 separate works. Linda’s name and her Project reached the ears of, Executive director of TASF (Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation) Vern Cambridge. TASF impressed by Linda’s artwork and her story invited her to Atlant. At the time activist and former Black Panther member, Afeni Shakur intrigued that Linda a mature woman, who with no former knowledge of the streets, having never heard of the game, the black community or its particular set of trials and tribulations and certainly not hip-hop, came to know her son through stretched canvas, a brush and paint. Project Tupac was no longer just another art project it was a movement.
Project Tupac does not profit from any sales intending only to present opportunities for participants to feel the spirit of Tupac and invites all levels of performances to take part in a bold interactive experience. “Wake Me When I’m Free”, proves all the more that Hip-hop is a living experience and projects like this one will continue to affect neighborhoods and communities globally.
Tupac Amaru Shakur was the first hip-hop artist to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 their first year of eligibility. He sold over 75million albums across the globe with only a brief career spanning only five years. The beloved rapper actor, writer and activist upon many things held his mother former Black Panther member and social justice, activist, Afeni Shakur in the highest of regards and dedicated most of his body of work with her in mind. His music shed light on under nourished communities and those not seen or heard. He felt as if he was speaking on their behalf.
For more on Project Tupac contact LA Live Canvas Artspace and ticket outlet. This project is a collaborative with Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Project Art Collective, Round Room Live, CAA, Universal Music, Group and Kinfolk Management Media.
For more information on Linda Antognini and Project Tupac contact www.lindaantognini.com.
Sheila Ward via LinkedIn.
All photo credits by Osiris Munir images provided by Tupac Amaru Shakur
Wake Me When I’m Free Museum
Image of Linda Antognini provided by Project Tupac
Image of Spike Lee and John Singleton provided by Google images.