Three days after Tupac Shakur (a.k.a. 2Pac) died from gunshot wounds sustained during a Sept. 7 drive-by, executives at MTV received a call from his label, Death Row: A new video from the rapper would be arriving the next morning. ''They said that if we liked the video, they'd like us to get it on the air as soon as possible,'' recalls MTV executive vice president Andy Schuon. As he soon learned, ''I Ain't Mad at Cha'' is no ordinary clip. Here's how to watch one of the eeriest posthumous videos ever unveiled.
Analyze art imitating life. In the all-too-real world, Shakur was shot four times in a BMW sedan driven by Death Row CEO Suge Knight. In the video, filmed in June, Shakur is shot six times, then dies in an ambulance. Later, as a spirit, he's seen riding around in gulp a limo that resembles Knight's car.
Spot the impersonators. In a puffy-cloud heaven, 2Pac, dressed in an angelic white suit, finds himself in the company of some of the greatest deceased African-American entertainers (played by questionable celebrity look-alikes). Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Nat ''King'' Cole on piano, Miles Davis on trumpet, Marvin Gaye on wool cap! (Not to mention Billie Holiday and Redd Foxx. And who's the mystery man in the beige Kangol hat, next to the piano? Suicidal '70s R&B singer Donny Hathaway.) The whole thing would be hilariously tacky if the circumstances weren't so sad.
Play creepy rock trivia. ''I Ain't Mad at Cha,'' from 2Pac's most recent album, All Eyez on Me, is both a farewell and a gesture of reconciliation toward old friends and girlfriends. It joins Hank Williams' ''I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive,'' Buddy Holly's ''It Doesn't Matter Anymore,'' Sam Cooke's ''A Change Is Gonna Come,'' and Lynyrd Skynyrd's ''That Smell'' (of death, that is) as unintentionally macabre time-of-death record releases.
Industry insiders snicker at the swiftness with which Death Row unleashed this chilling video. (Calls to Death Row were not returned.) ''It causes someone to wonder if it was the best use of timing to deliver a video,'' admits Schuon, who says MTV is taking a ''wait and see'' approach before putting it into heavier rotation. ''If the song is a hit and people respond positively to the video, you'll see it on the air for a good length of time.''