NEW YORK — Christopher Jackson remembers exactly where he was on Friday, Sept. 13, 1996.
That was the day Tupac Shakur died from wounds suffered in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, and Jackson honored the rapper the only way he knew how: with music.
“I remember putting his CD in my CD player and walking through Central Park and weeping and being angry,” Jackson recalls. “I didn’t know that he held such a place in my heart. I mourned the fact that I wouldn’t ever get to work with him.”
Eighteen years later, Jackson has found himself as close to that dream as possible. He’s singing Shakur’s songs on a Broadway stage in “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” including the heartfelt “Dear Mama,” the first song Jackson listened to that sad day in 1996.
The musical, which opens Thursday at the Palace Theatre, uses Shakur’s songs — including “Me Against the World,” ‘‘California Love” and “Keep Ya Head Up” — to tell an original story by Todd Kreidler about two young men dealing with life and tragedy in a Midwestern industrial city.
If gangsta rap on Broadway seems an improbable thing, Jackson points to such groundbreaking shows as “American Idiot,” which used Green Day music, and the rock musical “The Who’s Tommy.”
“I think Broadway is waking up to the idea that rap is an incredible tool for telling a musical story,” he says. “The essence of it is storytelling, so why wouldn’t it be on a Broadway stage?”
If Shakur was one of the most dynamic stars of the 1990s, Jackson is perfectly qualified to interpret songs by the late actor and singer. This will be Jackson’s third Broadway show in six months and he’s an Emmy Award winning music composer for kids and a freestyle rapper.