BALTIMORE (WBFF) - When good friends get together, it's like no time has passed. Darrin Bastfield and Dana Smith have been finishing each other's sentences and rhymes for decades.
They're two of the original "Busy Boys," a trio that was formed in high school. The third "Busy Boy" is only here in spirit and voice.
As Bastfield plays a recording from 1987, the voice of a 16-year-old Tupac Shakur echoes through a warehouse: “This rap is dedicated to those who have dreams. Copyright 1987, written by Tupac Shakur.”
Dana Smith said: “I first met Tupac at Roland Park Middle School, 8th grade.”
Bastfield met him the next year.
“I met Tupac in 1986, at the Baltimore School for the Arts," he said.
More than 30 years after meeting Tupac Shakur at the elite arts high school, Bastfield remembers it like yesterday.
“He says, ‘I heard y’all rapping, wanna battle?’ Tupac was very cocky, and I was, too,” Bastfield laughed. “I said, ‘Yeah! Who are you?’”
Bastfield lost a rap battle, but he gained a friend.
“I came in the locker room, and Tupac said, ‘Darrin throw a sick rhyme,’ and I started saying a rhyme, and they were beating on the lockers, and that's how we became close, friends,” Bastfield recalled.
He was a rapper, poet and actor who ultimately became a symbol of thug life in America, but to his friends in Baltimore, Tupac was an educated and cultured artist.
Smith said: “His years in Baltimore, we like to call his years of development, focus and purpose. We believe that his years in Baltimore had everything to do with his rap career.”
Tupac moved to Baltimore in 1985; he lived in a small apartment on Greenmount Avenue.
With no markers or plaques, no one would know it used to house one of the most infamous rappers of all time.
That apartment is where Bastfield first sketched a drawing of Tupac as a Shakespearean actor.
“We was listening to music and writing raps, and I asked Tupac, 'What type of actor do you want to be?'” Bastfield recalled. “Without pause, Tupac said, 'A Shakespearean actor' - his immediate response.”
In addition to Shakespeare, he loved Van Gogh and Bach.
“Tupac didn't have a lot of money,” Bastfield says. “So if he didn't have lunch money, he would go to the library or the theater and just read books. He read every book at The School for the Arts.”
His years at the Baltimore School for the Arts played a major role in Tupac's development as an artist.
Bastfield said: “He’s among a talented group of kids, but they recognize him as exceptional and something special about Tupac.”
Smith says Tupac stood out among his peer, "special from the start. I’ve never met anyone in my life like Tupac."
Even as a 17-year-old bus boy in Baltimore, everyone knew he was destined for something greater.
“This guy was beyond that whole mentality of gangster. He was something special, he was thoughtful, intelligent and he was a visionary in a sense.”
More than 20 years after his still-unsolved murder, two friends reminisce about a man many think they knew but a man they really knew, whose life and art ended too soon.
“Tupac was a person who saw good in other people,” Bastfield said. “He was a funny guy, he would friend you, he friended some people I wouldn't have friended. A lot of times - who's to say - that may have been his downfall.”
The “Busy Boys” remember Tupac in life.
“I didn't want people to go off on Tupac just being a thug, even though Tupac painted that picture,” Bastfield said. “But that not who Tupac was. I wanted to show Tupac as being the kind, gentle, thoughtful, artistic, creative, outspoken man he was.”
Painting a new picture, in addition to his canvas, Bastfield has written a biography and has a movie in the works.
Smith said: “He said, ‘If I don't change the world, I will spark the brain that will change the world.’”
They're a duo with a single purpose, to help their friend move from a cultural icon to an artistic one.
For more information on Bastfield’s work and to hear more unreleased Tupac recordings visit his website:
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