hop artist Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16, 1971 – September
13, 1996) was an influential, best-selling musician. Some of his
aliases include 2Pac, Pac, and Makaveli. The aliases 'Tupac Amaru'
and 'Shakur' mean Shining Serpent in Quechua and Thankful to God
in Arabic, respectively. Tupac Shakur's name was adopted the alias
"Tupac" from Tupac Amaru, the last Inca royal heir in
the captured Inca Empire in western South America, which resisted
Spanish imperialism in what is now Peru. Tupac Amaru's great-grandson
was also called Túpac Amaru II, and spearheaded the first
major anti-Spanish military campaign after colonization. Contrary
to rather popular belief, Tupac Amaru was not Tupac's first birth
name or a name he chose for himself; his mother re-named him shortly
was born Lesane Parish Crooks in the Bronx, New York City on June
16, 1971 to Afeni Shakur, a member of the Black Panthers. Serving
jail time on bombing charges while pregnant with Tupac, she faced
a possible sentence of up to three hundred years in prison. Acting
as her own attorney, she beat the charges and was released one
month before Tupac was born. Shakur
said, "I never knew where my father was or who my father
was for sure." His godfather, Geronimo Pratt, was also a
high-ranking Panther. His step-father, Mutulu, was a drug dealer
who, according to Shakur, was not always around to give him the
discipline he needed. Much
of Tupac's upbringing revolved around the Black Panther philosophy.
Impoverished during most of his childhood, Tupac, with his mother
and half-sister, Sekyiwa (pronounced Setchua), moved around to
homeless shelters and various places around New York City. As
a result, he retained few friends and relied on writing poetry
and diary entries to keep himself busy. At the age of 12, Shakur
joined a Harlem theatre group and acted as Travis in Lorraine
Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.
In 1984 Tupac's
mother brought him and his sister to live in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Shakurs lived on Greenmount Ave., in East Baltimore where
Tupac was intensely despised because of his looks, name, and lack
of trendy fashionwear of the 80s. However, he made a few friends
while staying there. Tupac attended Roland Park Middle School.
The following year he spent his freshman year at Paul Lawrence
Dunbar High. For his sophomore year Tupac was accepted to the
Baltimore School for the Arts. And it was there he "loved
[his] classes" and had the opportunity to study theater,
ballet, and other arts. Even at this age, Shakur was outspoken
on the subject of racial equality. His teachers remembered him
as being a very gifted student. He was an avid reader, delving
into books about eastern religions, and even entire encyclopedia
sets. Shielding his love of literature from his peers, he gained
the respect of Baltimore kids by acting like a tough guy. Shakur
composed his first rap in Baltimore under the name "MC New
York". The song was about gun control and was inspired by
the killing of one of his close friends. Two
years later, a drug-addicted Afeni was having significant trouble
finding work. Tupac later claimed it was because of her Black
Panther history, but it was probably more a result of her drug
use. She uprooted the family again and brought Tupac and Sekyiwa
to live with a family friend in Marin City, California. Tupac
described this move away from Baltimore and the arts school as
"where I got off track". He displayed a strong contempt
for law enforcement and was hassled occasionally for playing music
loudly. Shakur's discontent with law officials clearly was rooted
in his Black Panther/revolutionary upbringing. In August of 1988,
Shakur's stepfather Mutulu was sentenced to sixty years in prison
for armed robbery after being on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list
for several years.
moved in with a neighbor and started selling drugs and hustling
on the street, but he also made friends who helped spark his interest
in rap music. He made friends with Ray Luv, and with a mutual
friend named DJ Dize (Dizz-ee), they started a rap group called
Strictly Dope. Their recordings were later released in 2001 under
the name Tupac Shakur: The Lost Tapes. Their neighborhood performances
brought Tupac enough acclaim to land an audition with Shock G
of Digital Underground. In
1990, Shakur joined as a roadie and dancer for Digital Underground.
His early lyrics were unremarkable, and he was viewed ambivalently
for his tendency to act like a diva and for his occasionally violent
personality. On a song for the Nothing But Trouble movie soundtrack,
Same Song, Tupac was given his first opportunity to rap on a big-time
record. In the song, Shock G leads into Tupac's verse by advising
Shakur to "Go ahead and rock this."
As a child,
Tupac had dreams of becoming a Shakespearean actor. While never
achieving that particular dream, Shakur did become a talented
actor, drawing from his theatre roots. He starred in Juice in
1991, to much critical acclaim. He was hailed by Rolling Stone
's Peter Travers as "The film's most magnetic figure."
Shakur went on to star in Poetic Justice, Above the Rim, Gridlock'd,
Bullet, and Gang Related. In
1991, Tupac had trouble shopping his solo-debut, 2Pacalypse Now.
Eventually, Interscope records agreed to distribute the record;
one can credit executives Ted Field and Tom Whally for giving
Tupac the chance. Although produced with the help of his Digital
Underground crew, the intent of the album was to showcase his
individual talent. While Shakur claimed his album was aimed at
the problems facing young black males, it was also filled with
images of violence by and against police. 2Pacalypse Now quickly
attracted public criticism, especially after a young man who killed
a Texas Trooper claimed he was inspired by the album. Former Vice
President Dan Quayle, as part of his zealous push for morals,
publicly denounced the album as having "no place in our society".
did not do as well as Tupac had hoped on the charts, sparking
no number one hits. In confidence, Shakur told Shock G that he
wanted Shock to pick the beats. Shakur was a talented rapper;
producing was not his forte.
CD, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z..., was heavily produced by Shock
G, and spurred two number one hits: the emotional Keep Ya Head
Up and the playful I Get Around. Shock G would go on to produce
the Shakur hits So Many Tears and Temptations. Along
with Shakur's rise to fame came a series of altercations with
the law that further complicated his public image. Before he started
his recording career, Tupac had no criminal record. In Oakland
in October of 1991, Tupac was stopped by two officers for allegedly
jaywalking. When he told the police "fuck y'all," he
was choked, beaten, and had his head smashed on the pavement.
He subsequently raised a ten million dollar lawsuit against the
Oakland police department, which was eventually settled for $42,000.
1993, Shakur came upon two off-duty police officers whom he perceived
as harassing a black motorist on the side of the road in Atlanta.
Shakur got into a fight with them and shot both officers (one
in the leg, one in the buttocks). He faced serious charges until
it was discovered that both officers were intoxicated during the
incident and were using weapons stolen out of an evidence locker.
The charges against Shakur were dismissed.
In 1994, he
formed the group Thug Life with a few of his friends, including
Big Syke, Macadoshis, his half-brother Mopreme, and Rated R. The
group released their first album Thug Life: Volume 1 on Interscope
in 1994 with moderate success. The group's lyrical strength undoubtedly
lay primarily with Tupac, as the group has had little success
after his death.
Tupac Shakur was charged with sexually abusing a woman in his
hotel room. According to his account, he met a female fan at a
club, Nell's, who was described to him as wanting to "more
than meet [him]". She allegedly gave him oral sex on the
dance floor before Shakur took her back to his hotel room. The
next night, she visited him before he was set to do a show and
was giving him a massage in a hotel room. Some friends who were
with him that night interrupted the couple, wanting to enjoy the
woman's attentions themselves. Shakur claimed to have left the
room disgusted and went to take a nap. The girl, disagreeing with
his account, accused him of encouraging the three men, pulling
her hair, and sodomy. On February 7, 1995, Shakur was sentenced
to four and a half years in prison for "forcibly touching
the buttocks", though he vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
his verdict was announced, in an apparent robbery attempt outside
a music studio in New York, Shakur was shot five times. Tupac
recalled the circumstances in an interview shortly afterwards
with Vibe. He was with his close friend Stretch, manager Freddie
Moore, and one other friend on the night of November 30, 1994.
They arrived at a studio so Shakur could do some recordings for
an acquaintance, Booker, whom he didn't quite trust. When they
got to the studio, Tupac was suspicious of two black men in their
thirties, both dressed in army fatigues, because neither of them
seemed to acknowledge his presence. He noted that he was less
wary of them than he should have been because he "had just
finished smoking chronic". Shakur simply assumed they must
be security for The Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie), whom he was
still friends with at the time. The
two men, who Shakur described as looking like they were from New
York, came at him with identical 9mm handguns, and forced him
and his friends to the floor. Their aggression was focused almost
exclusively on Tupac, although they did threaten to shoot Stretch
as well. Tupac alone was shot a total of five times while he played
dead on the ground and also robbed of thousands of dollars of
gold jewelry he was wearing.
He was dragged
into an elevator and taken upstairs to safety, where his then-friends
Biggie, Puffy, Little Caesar, and others were waiting. Shakur
described his friends as acting very strange, almost surprised
at his being alive. His first words after realizing how severe
his wounds were, having been shot in the head and testicles, were
"Oh, shit. Roll me some weed." He
survived, and left the hospital a day after, against doctor's
orders because he was feeling harassed by phone calls and the
doctors. He showed up in court soon afterwards in a wheelchair
to face his verdict in the sexual assault case.
serving his prison sentence later that February. Soon after, his
multi-platinum album, Me Against the World, was released. Shakur
has the distinction of being the only artist with an album at
number one on the charts while serving a prison sentence. From
jail, he married his long-time girlfriend, Keisha Morris. He also
had time to pursue reading, delving into the works of Niccolò
Machiavelli, and even wrote a screenplay titled Live 2 Tell while
October, after almost eight months in prison, Shakur was released
on parole largely due to the help of Suge Knight, the head of
Death Row Records. Suge posted a $1.4 million bail for Shakur,
and in exchange Shakur was obliged to release three albums under
Death Row. The singer was unrepentant and grew even more embittered
against the authorities, which showed in his music.
after his release from prison, Shakur began work on his next album.
In 1996, he released his fourth solo album, All Eyez on Me. It
was the first double-disc of original material in hip-hop history.
It went on to sell more than nine million copies and is considered
by many to be among the best albums in the genre. He continued
his prolific recordings, despite the impending troubles at Death
Row as Dr. Dre left his post as house producer and Suge Knight
became more involved in illegal activities. Shakur's
last album created while alive was The Don Killuminati: The 7
Day Theory. Released two months after his death, this album was
portentous and dark, and it predicted his own death in many songs.
The entire album is said to have been created in only seven days,
and one of the more popular songs off this album, "Hail Mary",
was reportedly made in only thirty minutes. The album has sold
over five million copies.
At the time
of his death, Tupac was also building on his acting career. John
Singleton wrote the film Baby Boy with Shakur in mind for the
leading role, but Shakur died before it was made. It was eventually
filmed with Tyrese Gibson in his place and released in 2001, five
years after Shakur's death. From 1991-1996, Shakur acted in seven
films, including the critically acclaimed Juice, Poetic Justice
with Janet Jackson, and Gridlock'd with Tim Roth. He had also
been slated to star in the Hughes brothers' "Menace II Society"
but was replaced by Larenz Tate after assaulting the directors.
life, Shakur had a number of rivals. Most famous of all is probably
his rivalry with The Notorious B.I.G. and his cohorts at Bad Boy
Records. The two were originally close friends when Biggie was
still largely unknown. After the robbery, though, Tupac publicly
accused Biggie, Puff Daddy, and Andre Harrell of having a hand
in his attempted murder. While
Shakur was in jail, he was incensed by Biggie and Puffy's derogatory
remarks about him in Vibe Magazine. After all his legal troubles,
Tupac claimed he "wanted to get out the [rap] game",
but Biggie's remarks spurred him to come back.
Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson, Tupac created quite a stir
when he refused to take an AIDS test as a prerequisite for a love
scene with Janet. Shakur stated that other men had love scenes
with Janet on stage before without taking a test, and he didn't
feel it necessary. He also stated that if they were going to have
sex in the scene he would have taken the test. However, Janet
took offense, and stopped talking to him immediately after the
filming was completed. In a later interview, Shakur said that
he had met Janet in an immature time of his life, and hoped that
he could one day make amends with her. As
part of the ongoing feud between Shakur and his former friend
Biggie, Pac bragged about having slept with Biggie's estranged
wife, Faith Evans, in "Hit 'Em Up". After Biggie's death
six months after Shakur's, Faith and Puffy released a hit single
in memory of Biggie called "I'll Be Missing You". In
addition to his enemies at Bad Boy Records, Shakur suspected his
former friend Stretch (real name Randy Walker) of being involved
in the robbery. On November 30, 1995, exactly one year after the
shooting of Shakur in New York, Walker was gunned down and killed
in Queens, New York.
Pac also had
some disputes with Dr. Dre, who was, for a while, the in-house
producer for Death Row. Pac claimed that Dre did nothing at Death
Row and was taking credit for other people's work. Shakur got
angry when Dre refused to show up and testify in defense of his
friend, Snoop Doggy Dogg, in a trial. In addition, Shakur made
hints in songs that he thought Dre was gay, and Suge Knight concurred
in the Thug Immortal documentary. Shakur
disliked LL Cool J, whom he thought was a poser and had had an
album produced by Puff Daddy. There was also some animosity between
Tupac and others. Nas and Jay-Z were both attacked in the seven
day theory album. Shakur also mocked Mobb Deep for snubbing him
at a concert and remarked on their small stature in the controversial
track Hit 'Em Up, remarking, "Don't one of you niggaz got
sickle cell or something?". After his death, Mobb Deep changed
tack and apparently showed respect for Shakur. 2Pac
also frequently insulted popular New York rapper Jay Z, Chino
XL, Lil Kim, Junior Mafia and other artists of Bad Boy Records,
of which the Notorious B.I.G. was member.
fatally shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada on September
7, 1996 after attending the boxing match between Mike Tyson and
Bruce Seldon. He died in the University of Nevada Hospital six
days later from the four gunshot wounds. Earlier acts of violence
were said to have spurred antagonism between him and other East
Coast rappers (namely Notorious B.I.G.), bred by gangsta rap.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Compton police,
although they never officially solved the case, concluded that
Shakur was shot by Southside Crips after the Tyson fight. Hours
before, Tupac had been involved in a fight between the Death Row
entourage, mostly made up of Bloods and a Southside Crip by the
name of Orlando Anderson in the lobby of the MGM Hotel after the
Tyson-Seldon fight. Shakur started the fight when he noticed the
21 year old "Baby Lane" Anderson, who had beaten up
one of his bodyguards in a shopping mall a few weeks earlier,
lingering in the lobby. Anderson and others were interviewed by
police later in connection to the murder, though no suspects were
ever publicly named.
It is appropriate
to note that Shakur and the crew at Death Row generally depended
on members of the Bloods gang for security, while Biggie and the
Bad Boy Crew depended on Crips members for security when visiting
California. An investigation by the Las Vegas Times, while not
naming its gang-member sources, stated that Biggie (who was also
in town for the fight) offered to pay the Crips in exchange for
Shakur's death. It was noted by the Compton Gang Unit that the
Crips were bragging about the killing soon after returning to
Compton. Compton Police were disappointed with the lack of initiative
showed by Las Vegas police in pursuing the killing. Shakur's
close childhood friend -- and a member of the Outlawz -- Yafeu
"Kadafi" Fula, was in the convoy when the shooting happened
and told police he might be able to identify the assailants. He,
too, was killed shortly thereafter in New Jersey. The
previous robbery led Shakur to seek protection, and he employed
bodyguards after getting out of jail in October 1995. He was known
to always wear a bulletproof vest in public. Why he did not on
the fateful night remains a mystery.
theories about his death abound: they usually insist that he faked
his death, that the shooting was a government assassination, that
Suge Knight arranged the killing, or that Biggie was involved.
The theory has attracted a considerable following on-line and
is referred to as the Seven Day Theory, a reference to the fact
that much of the evidence supporting it stems from the Makaveli
for some of these theories can be found in the following examples:
last album before his death was The Don Killuminati: The Seven
Day Theory. Its cover eerily depicted him crucified and was recorded
under the pseudonym "Makaveli", an allusion to Machiavelli
of old, who, among many other strategies, suggested that faking
one's death could be used to fool enemies. The executive producer
was mysteriously listed as "Simon" instead of Suge Knight.
was known for making many allusions to his own impending death
in his music and even depicted himself in the music video of "I
Ain't Mad at Cha" as an angel in Heaven with other dead celebrities
after being shot in a public place, a music video which was released
only two days after Shakur's death.
who knew him personally find the idea that he is still alive laughable.
Indeed, the many believers who expected him to return after seven
years in September 2003 were proven wrong.
many hoped that Shakur's death would help heal the East Coast/West
Coast rivalry, his rival, Notorious B.I.G., was gunned down under
similar circumstances six months later. Further clouding Shakur's
death, Orlando Anderson, the man later suspected of being the
shooter, was killed in an unrelated gang shootout in May 1998.
that Shakur's death was orchestrated by Suge Knight is explored
in the 2002 film Biggie & Tupac by Nick Broomfield. The crux
of this argument is that Tupac was planning to leave Death Row
Records, taking tapes with him, and in order to stop this, he
was killed by police officers who also worked for Death Row as
security. The Biggie Smalls killing, it is suggested, was a cover-up
in order to make the murder look like a simple product of the
East-West rivalry. When asked "Who killed Tupac?" in
a BBC Radio interview dated March 7, 2005, Broomfield stated "The
big guy next to him in the car...Suge Knight."
has released more songs posthumously than while he was alive.
Conspiracies notwithstanding, Shakur was extremely dedicated to
his work during his short career. Shock G remembered fondly that
Pac would spend entire days in the studio, drinking Hennessy,
smoking marijuana, and experimenting with new raps. Much of his
work was only dug up and edited after his death. His music is
still being actively released and remixed.
after getting out of jail that he had future plans, including
mostly getting out of the rap scene by releasing high-quality,
deep albums only once every five years or so. Pac also desired
to give back more to the community, suggesting a Little League
to encourage young black kids to keep on the right path. He ran
an earlier project called "The Underground Railroad"
that aimed to keep youths off drugs by getting them involved in
music. Though he did not live to realize these dreams, his mother
Afeni is currently attempting to carry on his work by raising
money for a Center for the Arts.