Pop Culture

Tupac's Influence Helped Make Houston Painter an Art Star

Tupac's inspiration helped create the popular PACasso portrait by Houston's Donkeeboy.
Tupac's inspiration helped create the popular PACasso portrait by Houston's Donkeeboy. Photo Courtesy of Donkeeboy
Tupac Shakur ripped a hole in the entire hip-hop space-time continuum. That has to be why he keeps coming back, and why we talk about him in some way more than 20 years after his death. It also must be why there’s a slate of television programs and movies about his life that are about to karate-chop us in the throat in the coming years. And it’s why I’m writing this right now.

When you look at Pac’s influence on Houston, you can see it plainly in the no-holds-barred approach of a lot of rappers. Pac took no shorts and Houston rappers slammed onto the greater musical map with about as much thug emotion as one city could muster. Plus, can anyone say there was truly ever a bad Scarface and Tupac collaboration?

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Rolling Stone
But everyone knows that when All Eyez on Me, the first in a barrage of Tupac-related motion pictures, opens today it will remind the true fans of the breadth of Pac’s influence. He was more that just a rapper’s rapper. He was a true artist. And it was that art that’s left a real, visible stamp on Houston.

Take, for example, those epic tattoos. The “Thug Life” across his stomach and the cross topped with a biblical reference on his back were made in Houston. Both pieces are the work of Dennis “Dago” Coelho.

And that was just the start; years later, another Houston connection would emerge. This time the inspiration came via the hands of a struggling Houston-based painter and designer known as Donkeeboy.

Alex Roman Jr. mashed up Tupac Shakur with the creative essence of Pablo Picasso and came up with his PACasso portrait. The work landed him a ton of recognition, gallery representation and a reported five-figure paycheck.

The Houston Press asked Donkeeboy a bit more about his PACasso painting, which still captures the thug/artist nature of the great MC/actor/activist…you name it.

Houston Press: How did you come up with the idea of PACasso and what specific image of him did you have in mind?
Donkeeboy: The idea of PACasso came to me while watching Tupac videos. I used paint markers and house paint on wood panel to create it. And there’s a Rolling Stone cover he was on that I had on my mind.

How long did it take to make the painting, and what Tupac songs were you listening to?
The whole process took about nine months before completion, and I went through about five to six sketches before I was happy with it. I definitely jammed a lot of Tupac through the creative process. I love "Changes and "Keep Your Head Up," "Do for Love, "Can You Get Away," "California Love." Man, this question isn’t really fair; there are too many.

Are you going to see All Eyez on Me when it opens, and what do you think is the best Tupac movie ever?
Donkeeboy: Poetic Justice — it was cool to see Pac is a romantic drama film. I'm super-excited to watch [All Eyez on Me]; I hope it represents him well.

Your PACasso painting did so much to put you on the map. Are you going to make more Pac-inspired works?
PACasso is way bigger than just one painting, so I definitely will be making more.

I think I know the answer already, but who was the better rapper, Biggie or Tupac?
If I had to choose, I would choose Pac. I just think he touched on more subject matter than Biggie did. Pac had so many songs about so many different things.

All Eyez On Me opens today at several Houston-area theaters.
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Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.