Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996) was an American hip hop artist, poet, and actor. He is considered by many to be one of the most revolutionary, popular and legendary rappers of all time.
Shaped in the genre of Gangsta Rap, most of Shakur's songs are about growing up around violence and hardships in United States ghettos, racial inequality, and sometimes his feuds with fellow rappers. Tupac is mostly known for his political, economic, and racial equality messages, and for his sometimes violent tendencies.
His aliases included 2Pac and Makaveli. Among his fans especially, he is remembered simply as "Tupac". The names "Tupac Amaru" mean Shining Serpent or Royal Serpent in Quechua, and "Shakur" means Thankful (to God) in Arabic. "Tupac Amaru" comes from Túpac Amaru II, who started the Great Rebellion in the Andes in the 18th century, and a Marxist revolutionary movement in the 20th century.
"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 it.
He was born Lesane Parish Crooks in 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 him, 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.
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 Shakur's upbringing revolved around the Black Panther philosophy. Impoverished during most of his childhood, his mother, his half-sister Sekyiwa (pronounced Setchua), and he 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, Shakur's mother brought him and his sister to live in Baltimore, Maryland. They lived on Greenmount Ave. in East Baltimore, where his looks, name, and lack of "trendy" clothing made him unpopular. 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. Shakur was already 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, Afeni was having trouble finding work (reportedly due to drug addiction and her past with the Black Panthers), and moved the family to live with a friend in Marin City, California. Shakur 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, his 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 Shakur 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 due to his tendency toward self-important or occasionally violent behavior. On a song for the Nothing But Trouble movie soundtrack, Same Song, Shakur was given his first opportunity to rap on a big-time record. Later, other members from the Digital Underground group, most notably Shock G, would recall being impressed by Tupac's ability to say so much in such a little amount of time, being given only eight bars on the record.
Rise to fame
In 1991, Shakur had trouble shopping his solo debut, 2Pacalypse Now. Eventually, Interscope records executives Ted Field and Tom Whalley agreed to distribute the record. 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 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.
As a child, Shakur had dreamed of becoming a Shakespearean actor. Though he never achieved this, he did achieve some fame as a movie actor. Tupac's first appearance in a music video was for Digital Underground's hit single Same Song. His first major motion picture appearance was 1991's Nothing But Trouble, where he made an appearance as himself alongside the other members of Digital Underground. His first starring role was in the critically acclaimed 1991 movie Juice, in which he was hailed by Rolling Stone's Peter Travers as "the film's most magnetic figure." He went on to star in Poetic Justice (with Janet Jackson), Above the Rim, Gridlock'd (with with Tim Roth), Bullet, and Gang Related. He had also been slated to star in the Hughes brothers' "Menace II Society" but was replaced by Larenz Tate after assaulting the directors. (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.)
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, he had no criminal record, but in October of 1991, he was stopped by two Oakland police officers for allegedly jaywalking. He claimed that when he told the police "fuck y'all", he was choked, beaten, and had his head smashed on the pavement. He subsequently filed 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 be certified as a gold record. The group subsequently disbanded after Shakur's release from prison.
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 sodomizing her. Shakur vehemently denied her account, but on February 7, 1995 was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for sexual assault.
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. He recalled the circumstances shortly afterwards in an interview with Vibe magazine.
On the night of November 30, 1994, Shakur, his manager, and two friends had just arrived at a studio to do some recordings for Booker, an acquaintance Shakur didn't quite trust. He 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. ("Biggie"), with whom he was still friends 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 Shakur, although they did threaten to shoot his friend as well. They forced everybody to lie on the floor, but Shakur remained standing, later saying 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 once in the leg, through his scrotum. He fell to the floor, and was shot a further four times, which he later claimed not to have realized; he believed he was being kicked and 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 robbed of the gold jewelry he was wearing, worth over forty thousand dollars.
Upon regaining consciousness, he took the elevator upstairs to safety, where 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 the severity of his wounds were, "Call my mom and tell her I've been shot." He was also very surprised that his companions at the time of the shooting, 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 a 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 through his label. The rapper was unrepentant and grew even more embittered against the authorities, which showed in his music.
Immediately after his release from prison, Shakur began work on his next album. In February 1996, he released his fourth solo album, All Eyez on Me. The double album was the first and second of his three-album commitment to Death Row Records. It subsequently went on to sell well over 10 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. He produced hundreds tracks during this period, most of which would be released on posthumous albums such as Better Dayz and Until the End of Time. 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. The goal of this project was to bring closure to the East-West feud by bringing together what Tupac thought were the best rappers from both coasts. This remains unreleased.
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 seven 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. Hours before the shooting, Tupac had been involved in a fight in the lobby of the MGM Grand 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 Los Angeles Times, while not naming its gang-member sources, stated that Biggie (who was also allegedly 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 shown 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, Kidada Jones. Then, he met up with Suge Knight to go to Death Row's Club 662 (now restaurant/club Seven) in Las Vegas. The two drove together in Knight's 1996 black BMW sedan e38 7-series (Images 1,2), part of a larger convoy of cars including some of Shakur's friends, tha Outlawz, and bodyguards. Shakur was not wearing a bulletproof vest that night, even though Death Row had provided him with one. At 11:15 P.M., Knight's car stopped at the intersection of East Flamingo Road and Koval Lane. A white Cadillac was seen pulling up to the passenger side of the car, with someone inside firing thirteen rounds into the car as Shakur attempted to climb to safety in the back seat.
Shakur was hit four times, twice in the chest, and in his arm and thigh, while Knight was scratched by a piece of flying glass (while later claiming in an interview he had a bullet stuck in his head). Shakur survived on life support for 7 days, dying on September 13, 1996 at 4:03 P.M. After his death, Shakur's body 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, Shakur, 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 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 mostly other deceased African-American musicans such as, 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 carried a dark vibe from beginning to end. Unlike his previous album, The Don Killuminati had only one song, "Toss It Up," that was even remotely radio friendly. The entire album was recorded in a seven day timespan, hence the subtitle. Along with hundreds of other theories that sprang up after his death and the release of the album, it was for quite a while believed that within the first few seconds of the album, you could hear someone saying "Suge shot me," or "Suge shot 'em." However, in many independent investigations, including one conducted by MTV, it is believed that the actual quote is "Shouldn't have shot him."
Labelled as being by "Makaveli" - a pseudonym inspired by Italian philosopher Machiavelli - and depicting on its cover a crucified Shakur, the album has sold over five million copies.
His plans at time of death
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. His mother Afeni 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.
Shakur 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.
After his death
More of Shakur recordings have been released posthumously than while he was alive, although there are doubts as to whether he would have considered many of them to be worthy of release. Rights to his music are now owned by Amaru Entertainment, which is controlled by his mother Afeni, 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 has said that getting Tupac into a Harlem arts program as a teenager saved him from drugs, and the new center will have a similar philosophy (Rapnews). She launched the clothing line "Makaveli Branded" was in 2003, with proceeds going to the center.
In 2003, MTV's "22 Greatest MCs" countdown listed Tupac as the "number 1 MC", as voted by the viewers.
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.
All releases are under the alias of 2Pac unless stated.
Released while living:
- 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
- Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993)
- Thug Life: Thug Life Vol. 1 (with Thug Life) (1994)
- Me Against the World (1995)
- All Eyez on Me (1996)
- Makaveli: The Don Killuminati: 7 Day Theory (as Makaveli) (1996)
Released (offically) posthumously:
- R U Still Down? (1997)
- 2Pac's Greatest Hits (1998)
- Still I Rise (with Tha Outlawz) (1999)
- The Rose that Grew from Concrete (2000)
- Until the End of Time (2001)
- Better Dayz (2002)
- Tupac: Resurrection (OST) (2003)
- Loyal to the Game (2004)
- The Rose, Vol. 2 (2005)
Released while living:
- "Brenda's Got a Baby" (1991)
- "Trapped" (1991)
- "If My Homie Calls" (1991)
- "Holler If You Hear Me" (1993)
- "Keep Ya Head Up" (1993)
- "I Get Around" (1993)
- "Pour Out a Little Liquor (1994)
- "Dear Mama" (1995)
- "So Many Tears" (1995)
- "Temptations" (1995)
- "California Love" (featuring Dr. Dre) (1996) (double A-side with "How Do U Want It" in the US)
- "How Do U Want It" (featuring K-Ci and JoJo) (1996)
- "I Ain't Mad At Cha" (1996) (1997 release)
- "To Live And Die In LA" (as Makaveli) (1996)
- "Toss It Up" (as Makaveli) (1996)
- "Hail Mary" (as Makaveli) (1998)
- "Wanted Dead or Alive" (with Snoop Doggy Dogg) (1997)
- "I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto" (1997)
- "Do For Love" (1997)
- "Changes" (1998)
- "Baby Don't Cry" (1999)
- "Until The End Of Time" (2001)
- "Letter 2 My Unborn" (2001)
- "Thugz Mansion" (2002)
- "Still Ballin'" (featuring Trick Daddy) (2003)
- "Runnin' (Dying To Live)" (with The Notorious B.I.G.) (2003)
- "Thugs Get Lonely Too" (featuring Nate Dogg) (2004)
- "Ghetto Gospel" (featuring Elton John) (2005)
- "The Realest Killaz" (featuring 50 Cent (2003)
- Nothing But Trouble -- 1991, (brief appearance as self), directed by Dan Aykroyd
- Juice -- 1992, directed by Ernest Dickerson
- Poetic Justice -- 1993, directed by John Singleton
- Above the Rim -- 1994, directed by Jeff Pollack
- Bullet -- 1996, directed by Julien Temple
- Gridlock'd -- 1997, directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall
- Gang Related -- 1997, directed by Jim Kouf
- Biggie & Tupac -- 2002, directed by Nick Broomfield
- Tupac: Resurrection -- 2003, directed by Lauren Lazin
- The Rose That grew From Concrete (Hardcover) (1999)
- Inside a Thugs Heart (2004)
- Tupac Amaru
- Assata Shakur (Tupac's aunt in exile in Cuba)
- Afeni Shakur (Tupac's mother)
- Biggie & Tupac
- Best selling music artists
- Seven Day Theory
Notes and references
^ MTV2 Presents: 22 Greatest MC's broadcast July 2003
- 2Pac Legacy (Official website)
- OHHLA: 2Pac (Rap lyrics)
- Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation (TASF)
- Tupac Shakur at the Internet Movie Database
- Complete 2Pac lyrics archivear:توباك
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