When Demetrius Shipp Jr. worked at a Target store in 2007, his co-workers called him 'Pac because of his uncanny resemblance to the late rapper Tupac Shakur—a likeness made even odder by the fact Shipp’s dad, who was in the record biz, occasionally produced Tupac’s music.

Then just 7 years old, Shipp doesn’t remember the rapper. But that didn’t keep him from taking his doppelgänger status even further, winning the role of Shakur in All Eyez on Me, now in theaters.

The accuracy with which Shipp nails the part brings to mind Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles in the film Ray. And this is only Shipp’s second acting job.

To prep, “I’d fall asleep watching his interviews,” says the 28-year-old, who dropped from 180 to 153lbs for the part. “He fell into my consciousness.”

It’s a role he takes very seriously.

“Tupac’s a hero to the world, not just the black community,” he says. At the height of his career, Shakur was the planet’s biggest music star—and 21 years after he was murdered at age 25, he’s still relevant. “People tell me how much Tupac affected them. Some are 14- and 15-year-old kids who weren’t even alive when he died.”

In the film, Shakur says to a reporter, “If they kill me, I want you to tell the true story.” That story is “the realness—what was really going on,” says Shipp. “That’s what he wanted revealed.”

In another scene, Shakur's mother warns, “Like all black men, you have a bull’s-eye on your back.”—something Shipp feels still rings true today.

“The sad thing is, it’s not just [fear of] another race or the police," he says. "The bull’s-eye says that, even in our own culture, we have to watch our backs. We need to work to unify, to come together—then that bull’s-eye will start to fade.”