A hip-hop legend, with explicit and controversial lyrics, Tupac Shakur was embroiled in a feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers.
Shakur has become a legend in hip-hop and rap circles for his talent, his violent behavior, and his brutal death. The son of Black Panther activists, Shakur was raised by his mother Afeni Shakur. She was actually in jail on bombing charges during her pregnancy with Tupac. She was later acquitted in the case. He had no contact with his biological father, Billy Garland, until he was an adult.
According to The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Shakur was originally named Lesane Parish Crooks, but his moniker was soon changed to Tupac Amaru Shakur. “Tupac Amaru” means “shining serpent.” He had a difficult childhood, moving frequently around in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Shakur received an education in radical politics from his mother, but he also saw some of life's hardships through her struggles with substance abuse. In his youth, he explored acting by becoming a member of the 127th Street Ensemble, a Harlem-based theater company.
As a teenager, Shakur attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he took acting and dance classes, including ballet. While living in Baltimore, he discovered rap and began performing as MC New York. In the late 1980s, Shakur and his family moved to the West Coast. He joined the Oakland, California-based hip-hop group Digital Underground, which earlier had scored a hit with the song “The Humpty Dance.” Shakur appeared on two of the group's recordings–1990's This Is an EP and Sons of the P before going solo.
Debut as 2Pac
In 1991, Shakur emerged as a solo artist–using the name 2Pac–with his debut album 2Pacalypse Now. The track “Brenda's Got a Baby” reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart. His second album, Strictly 4 My N. I. G. G. A. Z., crossed over to the pop charts, with singles “I Get Around” and “Keep Ya Head Up.” The album went platinum, selling more than a million copies.
Around this time, Shakur made his film debut in the 1992 urban crime drama Juice with Omar Epps, Samuel L. Jackson and Queen Latifah. He showed his softer side in Poetic Justice (1993), which was billed as “A Street Romance.” Shakur starred opposite Janet Jackson in the film. The following year, he played a drug dealer in the basketball drama Above the Rim.
2Pac became quite a sensation, earning praise for his musical and acting talent as well as condemnation for his explicit, violent lyrics. Many of his songs told of fights, gangs, and sex. He appeared to be living up to his aggressive gangster rap persona with several arrests for violent offenses in the 1990s. In 1994, he spent several days in jail for assaulting director Allen Hughes and was later convicted of sexual assault in another case. Shakur himself fell victim to violence, getting shot five times in the lobby of a recording studio during a mugging.
The next year, after recovering from his injuries, Shakur was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in the sexual assault case. His third solo album, Me Against the World (1995), started out in the number one spot on the album charts. Many critics praised the work, noting that tracks like “Dear Mama” showed a more genuine, reflective side to the rapper. The possibility of an early death runs through several songs on this recordings – something that many have seen as a chilling moment of foretelling.
After serving eight months in prison, Shakur returned to music with the album All Eyez on Me (1996). He was reportedly released after Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight paid a bond of more than $1 million as part of Shakur's parole. In his latest project, Shakur as the defiant street thug was back in full force on this recording. The song “California Love” featured a guest appearance by famed rapper/producer Dr. Dre and made a strong showing on the pop charts. “How Do You Want It” also was another smash success for Shakur. It appeared to be a golden time for Shakur.
Besides his hit album, Shakur continued to pursue his acting career. He landed several film roles around this time. He co-starred with Mickey Rourke in the 1996 crime drama Bullet. Before his untimely death, Shakur completed work on two other projects–Gridlock'd and Gang Related–that were released in 1997.
During his career, Shakur had become embroiled in a feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers. He was known to insult his enemies on his tracks. On a trip to Las Vegas to attend a boxing match, Shakur was shot while riding in a car driven by Knight on September 7, 1996. He died six days later, on September 13, 1996, from his injuries at a Las Vegas hospital. Shakur was only 25 years old at the time of his death, and his killer has never been caught. Since his death, numerous albums of his work have been posthumously released, selling millions of copies.
Shakur's life has inspired numerous books and theatrical productions, including the 2012 musical Holler If Ya Can Hear Me. That same year, he made a posthumous appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival with the help of technology. A 2-D image of the late rapper accompanied Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg/Lion during one of their performances at the California event. Shakur's return to the stage from beyond the grave stirred up a new wave of interest in his videos and his music.
June 16, 1971
September 13, 1996
- He was named after Túpac Amaru II, the 18th-century Peruvian revolutionary who was executed after leading an indigenous uprising against Spanish rule.
- His godfather, Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, a high-ranking Black Panther, was convicted of murdering a school teacher during a 1968 robbery, although his sentence was later overturned.
- At the age of twelve, Shakur enrolled in Harlem’s 127th Street Repertory Ensemble and was cast as the Travis Younger character in the play A Raisin in the Sun, which was performed at the Apollo Theater.
- Shakur, accompanied by one of his friends, Dana “Mouse” Smith, as his beatbox, won many rap competitions and was considered to be the best rapper in his school.
- In the documentary Tupac: Resurrection, Shakur says, “Jada is my heart. She will be my friend for my whole life.” Pinkett Smith calls him “one of my best friends. He was like a brother. It was beyond friendship for us. The type of relationship we had, you only get that once in a lifetime.”
- He befriended fellow rappers Snoop Dogg and Freddie Foxxx, collaborating on songs with the pair and writing to Foxxx while in prison.
- As of 2007, Shakur has sold over 75 million records worldwide. His double disc albums All Eyez on Me and his Greatest Hits are among the best selling albums in the United States. He has been listed and ranked as one of the greatest artists of all time by many magazines, including Rolling Stone which ranked him 86th on its list of The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He is consistently ranked as one of the greatest rappers ever, as well as one of the most influential rappers of all time.