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Crying Foul

Tupac Shakur: Conflict in life and on record -- After starring in another big film, releasing his second album, and being arrested four times this year, the rapper says he's getting a bad rap

He was wanted in Atlanta for allegedly shooting two off-duty police officers. He was wanted in New York for allegedly raping a woman in his hotel suite. He was wanted in L.A. for allegedly beating up a limo driver on the Fox lot.

But tonight, outside Mann's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, Tupac Shakur, 22, is wanted by hundreds of shrieking fans. Crushed against security gates, chanting Two-pack, they watch as the rapper-turned-actor-turned-accused felon arrives via stretch limo at the premiere of Above the Rim, in which he plays a killer drug dealer who keeps an amateur hoops team as a hobby.

Shakur does not arrive alone. Along with friends and publicists, a sizable chunk of black Hollywood — including Robert Townsend, Patti LaBelle, and members of SWV — has turned out for the occasion. Shakur himself poses for the paparazzi and fields puffball questions about his budding film and music careers (his second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., is a platinum seller).

''So, Tupac, which are you going to do, music or movies?'' gushes a TV reporter.

''Gotta do both,'' sound-bites back the man who a week earlier was sentenced to 15 days in jail for assault on a film director.

''Where the f--- are the journalists with brains?'' Shakur asks as he slashes into a crab roll at a trendy Hollywood eatery a few hours before the premiere. ''It's like I want to be a journalist just to show you how to think.''

Shakur, to put it mildly, isn't crazy about the press. In fact, it's pretty clear he's been dragged to this magazine interview, his first in months, through heavy arm-twisting by publicists. ''It's like there's a machine I have nothing to do with,'' he says. ''It's called the Tupac machine, and the media uses it to make me a monster. I don't trust the media. Why do I have honor and you guys don't? Because I'm not a f---ing journalist. I'm a thug.''

He is also, it turns out, a natural-born actor. In his first film, 1992's Juice, he was utterly convincing as a whacked-out homeboy who goes on a killing spree. Playing an inner-city postman in 1993's Poetic Justice, he easily upstaged Janet Jackson. And in Above the Rim, he turns in another powerful performance.

''What allows Tupac to play bad guys so well is that he understands the anger and pain these people suffer,'' says Rim director and coproducer Jeff Pollack. ''But he isn't that guy on the screen. He isn't a sociopathic killer. He's an actor. He builds his character with technique and craft.''

Still, it's his flair for offscreen dramatics that has attracted the most notice. In a few years, he's toted up a record that makes gangsta rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg look like a shih tzu. Among the highlights:

March 1993: Shakur is arrested for allegedly attacking a limo driver who took him to a taping of Fox's In Living Color. ''He pulled a gun on me and I beat his ass,'' Shakur says. Charges were dropped.

March 1993: Shakur is arrested for assaulting director Allen Hughes, who had fired him from the set of his urban drama, Menace II Society. ''All it was was a fistfight,'' Shakur said on The Arsenio Hall Show. ''They took a street thing and brought it to the courts.'' An L.A. judge sentenced him to 15 days in jail and 45 days of community service. If he loses his appeal, Shakur says, he'll begin serving ''when nobody is looking — I don't want all the press to be there.''

October 1993: Shakur is arrested in Atlanta, where he lives when he's not in L.A., for allegedly shooting at two off-duty cops, a case that is still pending. The police claim they were in the middle of a traffic argument when Shakur pulled up and fired his gun; Shakur says he was aiding a black motorist being harassed by police and the officers pulled guns first.

November 1993: Shakur is arrested for allegedly raping a 20-year-old woman in a Manhattan hotel. She says Shakur and three friends held her down and forced her to perform oral sex. Shakur vehemently denies the charges. ''I'm not supposed to say it,'' he says, ''but my investigator has found a woman who (the alleged victim) talked to and admitted I didn't rape her.''

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