Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996) was a highly influential, best-selling American hip hop artist, considered by many to be one of the greatest and most legendary rappers of all time.
Most of Tupac’s songs concerned growing up around violence and hardships in ghettos, racial inequality and sometimes his feuds with fellow rappers in the United States. A recent VIBE magazine poll showed him to be rated the greatest rapper of all time. MTV’s 22 Greatest MCs countdown also listed Tupac as their number 1 MC, as voted by the viewers.
His aliases included 2Pac aka Makaveli. Among his fans especially, he is remembered simply as “Tupac”. The names “Tupac Amaru” and “Shakur” mean Shining Serpent or Royal Serpent in Quechua and Thankful (to God) in Arabic, respectively. The name “Tupac Amaru” comes from Túpac Amaru II, grandson of the last Sapa Inca (Túpac Amaru).
Contrary to popular belief, Tupac Amaru was not his first given name (nor one he chose himself); his mother re-named him shortly after birth and had his birth certificate changed to reflect the name by which we know him.
Tupac Shakur 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, his mother faced a sentence of up to three years in prison. Acting as her own attorney, she won the verdict and was released one month before Tupac was born. At first opportunity, Afeni had Tupac’s birth certificate changed to reflect his real name, Tupac Amaru, which means “royal serpent” and was the name of an Inca leader and warrior who came to power in 1570.
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 rarely present 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 between homeless shelters and cheap accommodations 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 1986 Tupac’s mother brought him and his sister to live in Baltimore, Maryland. The Shakurs lived on Greenmount Ave. in East Baltimore. There, Tupac was disliked because of his looks, name, and lack of trendy clothing. He attended Roland Park Middle School, then spent his freshman year at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High. For his sophomore year Tupac was accepted to the Baltimore School for the Arts. He enjoyed his classes there, studying theater, ballet, and other arts. It was during this time that Shakur became close friends with another student named Jada Pinkett. Even at this young 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 on eastern religions, and even entire encyclopedia sets. Hiding his love of literature from his peers, he gained the respect of his peers 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 fatal shooting of one of his close friends.
Two years later, a drug-addicted Afeni was having trouble finding work (her Panther past did not help, either). She uprooted the family again and brought Tupac and Sekyiwa to live with a family friend in Marin City, California. Tupac described this move from Baltimore and the arts school as “where I got off track”. He showed contempt for law enforcement, being hassled occasionally for playing music loudly. 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. Shakur soon moved in with a neighbor and started selling drugs on the street, but also made friends who helped spark his interest in rap music. One of these was 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.
Rise to fame
As a child, Tupac had dreamed of becoming a Shakespearean actor. Though he never achieved this, he did become a respected actor, drawing from his theatre roots. He starred in Juice in 1991 to critical acclaim, hailed by Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers as “The film’s most magnetic figure.” He 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 crusade for morality, publicly denounced the album as having “no place in our society”. The album 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. While Shakur was a talented rapper, producing was not his forte. He wrote almost all of his lyrics in his songs by himself.
His second CD, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., was heavily produced by Stretch and the Live Squad, and spurred two number one hits: the emotional Keep Ya Head Up and the playful I Get Around. 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.
In October 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 late 1993, he formed the group Thug Life with a few of his friends, including Big Syke, Macadoshis, his step-brother Mopreme, and Rated R. The group released their first album Thug Life: Volume 1 on Interscope in 1994 which, despite its hardcore content, still managed to go Gold. The group subsequently disbanded after Shakur’s release from prison.
A troubled end
In December 1993, 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 rape, though he vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
The first shooting
Shortly before his verdict was announced, Shakur was shot five times in an apparent robbery attempt outside a New York music studio. Tupac recalled the circumstances shortly afterwards in an interview with Vibe magazine. He was with his close friend Stretch, manager Freddie Moore, and another 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, whom 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. They forced everybody to lie on the floor, but Tupac remained standing. He later said he had frozen. They demanded he hand over his jewelry, which he refused to do. After grabbing at one of the armed men, Tupac was shot in the leg, through his scrotum. He fell to the floor, and was shot a further 4 times, which he later claimed not to have realised; he believed he was being kicked & that his head was being beaten upon the floor. He recalled seeing white light, but never believed he could die. He lay silent, pretending to be dead. He was shot 5 times in total and robbed of the gold jewelry he was wearing, worth over forty thousand dollars.
Upon regaining consciousness, he entered the elevator and went upstairs to safety, where his then-friends Biggie, Puffy, Little Caesar, and others were waiting. Shakur described his friends as acting very strangely, almost surprised at his being alive. His first words after realizing how severe his wounds were, having been shot in the head and the scrotum, were “Oh, shit. Roll me some weed. Call my mom and tell her I’ve been shot.” He was also very surprised that none of his other friends, who were also wearing jewelry weren’t robbed. 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 just few days afterwards in a wheelchair to face his verdict in the sexual assault case.
Shakur began serving his prison sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility 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, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and even wrote a screenplay titled Live 2 Tell while incarcerated.
In September, 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.
Immediately after his release from prison, Tupac Shakur began work on his next album. In February 1996, he released his fourth solo album, All Eyez on Me.The album was the first (and second) of three albums that Tupac promised for Death Row Records in exchange for Suge Knight bailing him out of jail. It subsequently 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 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. At the time that Tupac died, there were hundreds of unreleased Death-Row Era tracks. Most of these have been released on posthumous albums such as Better Dayz and Until the End of Time. There are still several tracks that remain unreleased from the Death Row Era. Tupac also was in the process of recording an album with the Boot Camp Clik and their label, Duck Down Records both New York based, entitled “One Nation”. This was to help bring closure to the East-West feud by bringing together what Tupac thought were the best rappers from both coasts. This remains unreleased.
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.
During his 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, Shakur publicly accused Biggie, Puff Daddy, and Andre Harrell of having previously known that his attempted murder would take place. 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, he claimed he “wanted to get out the [rap] game”, but Biggie’s remarks spurred him to come back.
As part of the ongoing feud between Shakur and his former friend Biggie, Shakur bragged about having slept with Biggie’s estranged wife, Faith Evans, in “Hit ‘Em Up”, although Faith Evans denied the affair. Suge Knight vocalized the resentment between the Death Row and Bad Boy labels at an awards ceremony, saying “If anyone wants to come to a record company where they don’t want the executive producer dancing, singing all up in the videos come to Death Row.”
In addition to his enemies at Bad Boy Records, Shakur accused his former friend Stretch (real name Randy Walker who was present at the shooting) of having “switched-sides” to the Bad Boy camp. On November 30, 1995, exactly one year after the shooting of Shakur in New York, Walker was gunned down in Queens, New York.
Shakur also had some disputes with Dr. Dre, who was the in-house producer for Death Row. He 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 murder trial. In addition, Shakur made hints in songs that he thought Dre was a homosexual, and Suge Knight concurred in the Tupac Shakur: Thug Immortal documentary.
There was also some animosity between Tupac and others. Nas (who is said to have met up with Shakur and ended the animosity just three days before his fatal shooting in Las Vegas) and Jay-Z were both attacked in the 7 Day Theory album. Shakur also mocked Mobb Deep for snubbing him at a concert and commented on the illness that one member suffered from in the controversial track Hit ‘Em Up, remarking, “Don’t one of you niggas got sickle cell or something?”. After Shakur’s death, Mobb Deep changed tack and apparently showed respect for him. While filming Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson, he created quite a stir when he refused to take an AIDS test as a prerequisite for a love scene with Jackson. Shakur stated that other men had love scenes with Jackson 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. It is unknown whether she took offence but she stopped talking to him immediately after the filming was completed. In a later interview, Shakur said that he had met Jackson during an immature time of his life, and hoped that he could one day make amends with her.
Shakur also frequently insulted popular New York underground rapper Chino XL, Lil Kim, Junior Mafia and other artists of Bad Boy Records, of which the Notorious B.I.G. was a member.
The second shooting
Shakur was 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 Medical Center hospital six days later from the four gunshot wounds.
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 the shooting, Tupac had been involved in a fight in the lobby of the MGM Hotel after the Tyson-Seldon fight. Shakur started the fight when he noticed 21-year-old “Baby Lane” Anderson, who had beaten up one of his bodyguards in a shopping mall a few weeks earlier, lingering nearby. Anderson and others were interviewed by police later in connection with the murder, though no suspects were ever publicly named.
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.
After the fight with Anderson, Tupac left the MGM Hotel, went to the hotel with his fiance, Kadida Jones. Then, he met up with Suge to go to Death Row’s Club 662 in Las Vegas. The two drove together in Suge’s 1996 black BMW sedan e38 7-series, part of a larger convoy of cars including some of Shakur’s friends, the Outlawz, and bodyguards. Tupac was not wearing a bulletproof vest that night, even though Death Row had provided him with one. At 11:15 P.M., Suge’s car stopped at an intersection on East Flamingo Road. A white Cadillac was seen pulling up to the passenger side of the car, and firing thirteen rounds into the car as Tupac attempted to climb to safety in the back seat. Tupac was hit four times, twice in the chest, and in his arm and thigh, while Suge was scratched by a piece of flying glass (while later claiming in an interview he had a bullet stuck in his head). Tupac then went on to live off of life support for 7 days and his mother finally had the plugs pulled on September 13, 1996 at 4:03 PM. After his death, Shakur was cremated, and his mother reportedly spread his ashes in L.A. saying that Tupac would want to be in the city he loved best.
The high profile nature of the killing and ensuing gang violence caught the attention of British filmmaker Nick Broomfield who made the documentary Biggie & Tupac, which examines the lack of progress in the case by speaking to those close to Biggie, Tupac and the investigation.
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. Two teenagers took plea bargains and are serving time for Fula’s murder. The eerie video for the single “I Ain’t Mad at Cha”, shot a month before his death, showed Tupac being shot and killed and later in heaven jamming with Billie Holiday, Donny Hathaway, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Robert Johnson, and Sammy Davis Jr.
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, predicting 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. Probably the strangest thing on the album is on the first song. Just before a reporter starts talking, in first two seconds of the first track, in background you can hear silent “Suge shot ‘em” or “Suge shot me” that someone says. Some people say it was outlaw “Kadafi” who said it.
The album has sold over five million copies to date. Tupac took on the name Makaveli after being influenced by Machiavelli, an Italian philosopher, author of The Prince. He also considered himself to depict Jesus for the same tragic lifestyles they had in common.
Posthumous music career
Shakur has in fact 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, many songs being cuts that he did not feel were worthy of release. His music is still being actively released and remixed.
Rights to Tupac’s music are now owned by Amaru Entertainment, which is controlled by his mother, and artist royalties are assigned to the Tupac Foundation, which has used the revenue to build the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in Stone Mountain, Georgia. His mother believes that getting Tupac into a Harlem arts program as a teenager saved him from drugs, and the new center will have a similar philosophy
His future plans
Shakur indicated 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. Shakur 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 has opened the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in June 2005, to carry on his work, by helping youths accomplish their goals. Afeni Shakur has also indicated in several interviews that the final album of original music will be released in 2006.
Tupac had also mentioned that he was going to start his own movie production company entitled “Euphanasia”, and was listed as an employee of this company at his time of death. He was also going to create a record label entitled “Makaveli Records” that would be home to both him and the Outlawz. The Makaveli Record logo is shown on the back cover of the 7 Day Theory.
On November 14, 2003, a documentary about the rapper entitled Tupac: Resurrection, was released under the supervision of Afeni Shakur and narrated entirely in Tupac’s voice. The movie was nominated for “Best Documentary” in the 2005 Academy Awards. Proceeds will go to a charity set up by Afeni. There is also a new clothing line based on Shakur, called “Makaveli Branded.”
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