Tupac: Me Against the World.
Article written by friend of the show: Paul McCabe.
Tupac Shakur’s Early Life
Born 16th June 1971 in Manhattan NYC as Lesane Parish Crooks to his mother Afeni Shakur (born Alice Faye Williams) and his father Billy Garland. Both of his parents were active Black Panther Party members in the 1960s
A month before he was born, his mother Afeni was tried in New York City as part of the Panther 21 criminal trial. She was acquitted of over 150 charges after police were accused of infiltrating the organisation and planning the bomb and long range rifle attacks on Police Stations and an education centre. His stepfather Mutulu Shakur was also once on the FBIs 10 most wanted list for 4 years due to his Panther activities.
He was renamed, at age one, after Túpac Amaru II (the descendant of the last Incan ruler, Túpac Amaru), who was executed in Peru in 1781 after his failed revolt against Spanish rule. Shakur’s mother explained, “I wanted him to have the name of revolutionary, indigenous people in the world. I wanted him to know he was part of a world culture and not just from a neighborhood.”
In addition to the upheaval in his early years caused by his family’s Black Panther activities, Tupac was moved around across the country twice, first to Baltimore, Maryland in 1984 – where he was enrolled in the School for the Arts and studied acting, poetry, jazz and ballet. This was also where he began to become involved in the rap scene. Four years later, Tupac moved again, this time to Marin City, 5 miles north of San Francisco.
Shakur began recording using the stage name MC New York in 1989. That year, he began attending the poetry classes of Leila Steinberg, and she soon became his manager. Steinberg organized a concert for Shakur and his rap group Strictly Dope. Steinberg managed to get Shakur signed by Atron Gregory, manager of the rap group Digital Underground. In 1990, Gregory placed him with the Underground as a roadie and backup dancer. Under the stage name 2Pac, he debuted on the group’s January 1991 single “Same Song”, leading the group’s January 1991 EP titled This Is an EP Release, while Shakur appeared in the music video. It also went on the soundtrack of the February 1991 movie Nothing but Trouble, starring Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Chevy Chase, and Demi Moore.
Shakur’s debut album, 2Pacalypse Now—alluding to the 1979 film Apocalypse Now—arriving in November 1991, would bear three singles. Some prominent rappers—like Nas, Eminem, Game, and Talib Kweli—cite it as an inspiration. Aside from “If My Homie Calls”, the singles “Trapped” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby” poetically depict individual struggles under socioeconomic disadvantage. Trapped reflects on the police brutality he and other African Americans have been subjected to over the years and cannot escape, while Brenda’s Got a Baby follows the story of a 12-year-old girl who is from a poor drug addicted family, and is impregnated by her cousin, who abandons her before she gives birth. She doesn’t know what to do with the child so throws it away in the trash but later retrieves it when she hears it crying. The song ends with Brenda becoming a prostitute and being murdered. These songs were inspired by different real-life situations and even in his debut album, Tupac did not shy away from telling the realities of impoverished Black America that many did not want to hear.
US Vice President Dan Quayle partially reacted to this stating, “There’s no reason for a record like this to be released. It has no place in our society.” Tupac, finding himself misunderstood, explained, in part, “I just wanted to rap about things that affected young Black males. When I said that, I didn’t know that I was gonna tie myself down to just take all the blunts and hits for all the young Black males, to be the media’s kicking post for young Black males.” In any case, 2Pacalypse Now was certified Gold, half a million copies sold. The album addresses urban Black concerns said to remain relevant to the present day.
Shakur’s second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…, arrived in February 1993. A critical and commercial advance, it debuted at No. 24 on the pop albums chart, the Billboard 200. An overall more hardcore album, it emphasizes Tupac’s socio-political views, and has a metallic production quality (not quite black metal to be fair). It features Ice Cube, the famed primary creator of N.W.A’s “Fuck tha Police”, who, in his own solo albums, had newly gone militantly political, along with L.A.’s original gangsta rapper, Ice-T, who in June 1992 had sparked controversy with his band Body Count’s track “Cop Killer”.
The album carries the single “I Get Around”, a party anthem featuring Digital Underground’s Shock G and Money-B, which would render Shakur’s popular breakthrough, reaching No. 11 on the pop singles chart, the Billboard Hot 100. And it carries the optimistic compassion of another hit, “Keep Ya Head Up”, an anthem for women empowerment. This album would be certified Platinum, with a million copies sold. As of 2004, among Shakur albums, including of posthumous and compilation albums, the Strictly album would be 10th in sales, about 1,366,000 copies. The contrast between I Get Around & Keep Ya Head Up would show the contradictions in Tupac’s life, whereby he had a lot of respect for Black women (his mother particularly) and their difficult station in life, and in another song referring to them as “hoes”.
Shakur’s third album, arriving in March 1995 as Me Against the World, is now hailed as his magnum opus, and commonly ranks among the greatest, most influential rap albums. The album sold 240,000 copies in its first week, setting a then record for highest first-week sales for a solo male rapper. The lead single, “Dear Mama”, arrived in February with the B side “Old School”. The album’s most successful single, it topping the Hot Rap Singles chart, and peaked at No. 9 on the pop singles chart, the Billboard Hot 100. In July, it was certified Platinum. It ranked No. 51 on the year-end charts. The second single, “So Many Tears”, released in June, reached No. 6 on the Hot Rap Singles chart and No. 44 on Hot 100. August brought the final single, “Temptations”, reaching No. 68 on the Hot 100, No. 35 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, and No. 13 on the Hot Rap Singles. At the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards, Shakur won for best rap album. In 2001, it ranked 4th among his total albums in sales, with about 3 million copies sold in the US.
Shakur’s fourth album, All Eyez on Me, arrived on February 13, 1996. Of two discs, it basically was rap’s first double album—meeting two of the three albums due in Shakur’s contract with Death Row—and bore five singles while perhaps marking the peak of 1990s rap. The album shows Shakur rapping about the gangsta lifestyle, leaving behind his previous political messages. With standout production, the album has more party tracks and often a triumphant tone. As Shakur’s second album to hit No. 1 on both the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and the pop albums chart, the Billboard 200, it sold 566,000 copies in its first week and was it was certified 5× Multi-Platinum in April. “How Do U Want It” as well as “California Love” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. At the 1997 Soul Train Awards, it won in R&B/Soul or Rap Album of the Year. At the 24th American Music Awards, Shakur won Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist. The album was certified 9× Multi-Platinum in June 1998, and 10× in July 2014.
Shakur’s fifth and final studio album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, commonly called simply The 7 Day Theory, was released under a newer stage name, Makaveli. The album had been created in seven days total during August 1996. The lyrics were written and recorded in three days, and mixing took another four days. In 2005, MTV.com ranked The 7 Day Theory at No. 9 among hip hop’s greatest albums ever, and by 2006 a classic album. Its singular poignance, through hurt and rage, contemplation and vendetta, resonate with many fans. But according to George “Papa G” Pryce, Death Row Records’ then director of public relations, the album was meant to be “underground”, and “was not really to come out”, but, “after Tupac was murdered, it did come out.” It peaked at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and on the Billboard 200, with the second-highest debut-week sales total of any album that year. On June 15, 1999, it was certified 4× Multi-Platinum.
Tupac was a very complicated character and was not only one of the most successful rappers of all time, but also involved in multiple criminal cases (read more about true crime here).
1991 Oakland Police Department lawsuit
In October 1991, Shakur filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department for allegedly brutalizing him over jaywalking. The case was settled for about $43,000.
Shooting of Qa’id Walker-Teal
On August 22, 1992, in Marin City, Shakur performed outdoors at a festival. For about an hour after the performance, he signed autographs and posed for photos. A conflict broke out and Shakur allegedly drew a legally carried Colt Mustang but dropped it on the ground. Shakur claimed that someone with him then picked it up when it accidentally discharged. About 100 yards (90 meters) away in a schoolyard, Qa’id Walker-Teal, a boy aged 6 on his bicycle, was fatally shot in the forehead. Police matched the bullet to a .38-caliber pistol registered to Shakur. His stepbrother Maurice Harding was arrested, but no charges were filed. Lack of witnesses stymied prosecution. In 1995, Qa’id’s mother filed a wrongful death suit against Shakur, which was settled for about $300,000 to $500,000.
Shooting in Atlanta
In October 1993, in Atlanta, Mark Whitwell and Scott Whitwell, two brothers who were both off-duty police officers, were out celebrating with their wives after one of them had passed the state’s bar examination. Drunk, the officers were crossing the street when a passing car carrying Shakur allegedly almost struck them. The Whitwells argued with the car’s occupants. When a second car arrived, the Whitwells ran away, as Shakur shot one officer in the buttocks and the other in the leg, back, or abdomen. Shakur was charged in the shooting. Mark Whitwell was charged with firing at Shakur’s car and later with making false statements to investigators. Prosecutors ultimately dropped all charges against both parties. Both brothers filed civil suits against Shakur; Mark Whitwell’s was settled out of court, while Scott Whitwell’s $2 million lawsuit resulted in a default judgment entered against the rapper’s estate.
On April 5, 1993, charged with felonious assault, Shakur allegedly threw a microphone and swung a baseball bat at rapper Chauncey Wynn, of the group M.A.D., at a concert at Michigan State University. On September 14, 1994, Shakur pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, twenty of them suspended, and ordered to 35 hours of community service.
Slated to star as Sharif in the 1993 Hughes Brothers’ film Menace II Society, Shakur was replaced by actor Vonte Sweet after allegedly assaulting one of the film’s directors, Allen Hughes. In early 1994, Shakur served 15 days in jail after being found guilty of the assault. The prosecution’s evidence included a Yo! MTV Raps interview where Shakur boasts that he had “beat up the director of Menace II Society“.
Sexual assault conviction
In November 1993, Shakur and three other men were charged in New York with sexually assaulting a woman in Shakur’s hotel room. The woman, Ayanna Jackson, alleged that after consensual oral sex in his hotel room, she returned the next day, when Shakur and the other men gang-raped her. Interviewed on The Arsenio Hall Show, Shakur said he was hurt that “a woman would accuse me of taking something from her”.
On December 1, 1994, Shakur was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse, but acquitted of associated sodomy and gun charges. In February 1995, he was sentenced to 18 months to 4+1⁄2 years in prison by a judge who decried “an act of brutal violence against a helpless woman”. On October 12, 1995, pending judicial appeal, Shakur was released from Clinton Correctional Facility, once Suge Knight, CEO of Death Row Records, arranged for posting of his $1.4 million bond. On April 5, 1996, Shakur was sentenced to 120 days in jail for violating his release terms by failing to appear for a road clean-up job, but on June 8, his sentence was deferred via appeals pending in other cases
Relationship with Biggie Smalls
Most people who have a basic understanding of the East Coast vs West Coast Rap feud, will know that Tupac & Biggie Smalls were often entangled in verbal spats over many diss records however, it wasn’t always the case.
During 1993 and 1994, the Biggie Smalls guest verses on several singles, often R&B, like Mary J. Blige’s “What’s the 411? Remix”, set high expectations for his debut album. The perfectionism of Puffy, still forming his Bad Boy label, extended its recording to 18 months. In 1993, visiting Los Angeles, Biggie asked a local drug dealer for an introduction to Shakur, who then welcomed Biggie and Biggie’s friends to Shakur’s house and treated them to recreational activities. On later visits to Los Angeles, Biggie would stay at Shakur’s place. And when in New York, Shakur would go to Brooklyn and hang out with Biggie and his circle.
During this period, at his own live shows, Shakur would call Biggie onto stage to rap with him and Stretch. Together, they recorded the songs “Runnin’ from the Police” and “House of Pain”. Reportedly, Biggie asked Shakur to manage him, whereupon Shakur advised him that Puffy would make him a star. Yet in the meantime, Shakur’s lifestyle was comparatively lavish, whereas Biggie appeared to continue wearing the same pair of boots for perhaps a year. Shakur welcomed Biggie to join his side group Thug Life. Biggie would instead form his own side group, the Junior M.A.F.I.A., with his Brooklyn friends Lil’ Cease and Lil’ Kim, on Bad Boy.
On November 30, 1994, while in New York recording verses for a mixtape of Ron G, Shakur was repeatedly distracted by his beeper. Music manager James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond, reportedly offered Shakur $7,000 to stop by Quad Studios, in Times Square, that night to record a verse for his client Little Shawn. Shakur was unsure, but agreed to the session as he needed the cash to offset legal costs. He arrived with Stretch and one or two others. In the lobby, three men robbed and beat him at gunpoint; Shakur resisted and was shot. Shakur speculated that the shooting had been a set-up.
Three hours after surgery, against doctor’s advice, Shakur checked out of Bellevue Hospital Center. The next day, in a Manhattan courtroom bandaged in a wheelchair, he received the jury’s verdict in his ongoing criminal trial for a November 1993 sexual assault in his hotel room. Convicted of three counts of sexual assault, he was acquitted of six other charges, including sodomy and gun charges.
In a 1995 interview with Vibe magazine, Shakur accused Sean Combs, Jimmy Henchman, and Biggie, among others, of setting up or being privy to the November 1994 robbery and shooting. Vibe alerted the names of the accused. The accusations were significant to the East-West Coast rivalry in hip-hop, the accusation was because Sean Combs and Christopher Wallace were at Quad Studios at the time and in 1995, months later, Combs and Wallace releasing song “Who Shot Ya?”, whereas the song made no direct reference or naming of Shakur, Shakur took it as a mockery of his shooting and thought they could be responsible, so he released a (direct) diss song called “Hit ‘Em Up”, where he targeted Wallace, Combs, their record label, Junior M.A.F.I.A., and at the end of “Hit ‘Em Up”, he mentions rivals Mobb Deep and Chino XL.
In March 2008, Chuck Philips, in the Los Angeles Times, reported on the 1994 ambush and shooting. The newspaper later retracted the article since it relied partially on FBI documents later discovered forged, supplied by a man convicted of fraud. In June 2011, convicted murderer Dexter Isaac, incarcerated in Brookyn, issued a confession that he had been one of the gunmen who had robbed and shot Shakur at Henchman’s order. Philips then named Isaac as one of his own, retracted article’s unnamed sources.
Death Row signs Shakur
During 1995, imprisoned, impoverished, and his mother about to lose her house, Shakur had his wife Keisha Morris get word to Marion “Suge” Knight, in Los Angeles, boss of Death Row Records. Reportedly, Shakur’s mother promptly received $15,000. After an August visit to Clinton Correctional Facility in northern New York state, Suge traveled southward to New York City to join Death Row’s entourage to the 2nd Annual Source Awards ceremony. Already reputed for strongarm tactics on the Los Angeles rap scene, Suge used his brief stage time mainly to belittle Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, boss of Bad Boy Entertainment, the label then leading New York rap scene, who routinely performed with his own artists. Before closing with a brief comment of support for Shakur, Suge invited artists seeking the spotlight for themselves to join Death Row. Eventually, Puff recalled that to preempt severe retaliation from his Bad Boy orbit, he had promptly confronted Suge, whose reply—that he had meant Jermaine Dupri, of So So Def Recordings, in Atlanta—was politic enough to deescalate the conflict.
Still, among the fans, the previously diffuse rivalry between America’s two mainstream rap scenes had instantly flared already. And while in New York, Suge visited Uptown Records, where Puff, under its founder Andre Harrell, had started in the music business through an internship. Apparently without paying Uptown, Suge obtained the releases of Puff’s prime Uptown recruits Jodeci, its producer DeVante Swing, and Mary J. Blige, all then signing with Suge’s management company. On September 24, 1995, at a party for Dupri in Atlanta at the Platinum House nightclub, a Bad Boy circle entered a heated dispute with Suge and Suge’s friend Jai Hassan-Jamal “Big Jake” Robles, a Bloods gang member and Death Row bodyguard. According to eyewitnesses, including a Fulton County sheriff, working there as a nightclub bouncer, Puff had heatedly disputed with Suge inside the club, whereas several minutes later, outside the club, it was Puff’s childhood friend and own bodyguard, Anthony “Wolf” Jones, who had aimed a gun at Big Jake, fatally shot while entering Suge’s car.
The attorneys of Puff and his bodyguard both denied any involvement by their clients, while Puff’s added that Puff had not even been with his bodyguard that night. Over 20 years later, the case remains officially unresolved. Yet immediately and persistently, Suge blamed Puff, cementing the enmity between the two bosses, whose two record labels dominated the rap genre’s two mainstream centers. In the late 1990s, Southern rap’s growth into the mainstream would dispel the East–West paradigm. But in the meantime, in October 1995, violating his probation, Suge visited Shakur in prison again. Suge posted $1.4 million bond. And with appeal of his December 1994 conviction pending, Shakur returned to Los Angeles and joined Death Row. On June 4, 1996, it released the Shakur B-side “Hit ‘Em Up”. In this venonmous tirade, the proclaimed “Bad Boy killer” threatens violent payback on all things Bad Boy—Biggie, Puffy, Junior M.A.F.I.A., the company—and on any in New York’s rap scene, like rap duo Mobb Deep and obscure rapper Chino XL, who allegedly had commented against Shakur about the dispute.
On the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur was in Las Vegas, Nevada, to celebrate his business partner Tracy Danielle Robinson’s birthday and attended the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson boxing match with Suge Knight at the MGM Grand. Afterward in the lobby, someone in their group spotted Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, an alleged Southside Compton Crip, whom the individual accused of having recently in a shopping mall tried to snatch his neck chain with a Death Row Records medallion. Shakur asked Anderson if he was from the “South” (Southside Crips) and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Shakur and Knight’s entourage assisted in assaulting Anderson. The fight, which was captured on the MGM Grand’s video surveillance, was broken up by hotel security. After the brawl, Shakur went with Knight to Club 662 (since closed), which was owned by Knight. Shakur disclosed to girlfriend Kidada Jones his involvement in the Anderson fight, previously having promised to return to her after entering the MGM Grand and having her stay in a vehicle. Shakur left with Knight after changing clothes, in a black BMW 750iL sedan, part of a larger convoy.
At 11:00–11:05 p.m. (PDT), Shakur and Knight were halted on Las Vegas Boulevard by officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Bike Patrol for playing the car stereo too loudly and not having license plates. The plates were found in the trunk of Knight’s car. The party was released a few minutes later without being cited. At 11:10 p.m. (PDT), while they were stopped at a red light at the intersection of East Flamingo Road and Koval Lane in front of the Maxim Hotel, a vehicle occupied by two women pulled up on their left side. Shakur, who was talking through the window of his brand new 1996 BMW 750iL sedan, exchanged words with the two women, and invited them to go to Club 662.
At 11:15 p.m. (PDT), a white, four-door, late-model Cadillac pulled up to Knight’s right side. The shooter, seated at the back of the Cadillac, rolled down the window and rapidly fired gunshots from a .40 S&W Glock 22 at Shakur’s BMW. Shakur was hit four times – twice in the chest, once in the arm, once in the thigh. One of the bullets went into Shakur’s right lung. Knight was hit in the head by fragmentation.
Bodyguard Frank Alexander stated that when he was about to ride along with Shakur in Knight’s car, Shakur asked him to drive Jones’s car instead, in case they needed additional vehicles from Club 662 back to their hotel. Alexander reported in his documentary, Before I Wake, that shortly after the assault, one of the convoy’s cars followed the assailant but he never heard from the occupants. Yaki Kadafi was riding in the car behind Shakur with bodyguards at the time of the shooting, and along with members of the Death Row entourage, refused to cooperate with police.
Despite Knight’s injuries, and his vehicle having a flat tire, he was able to drive Shakur and himself a mile from the site, to Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue. They were again pulled over by the Bike Patrol, who alerted paramedics through radio. After arriving on the scene, police and paramedics took Knight and Shakur to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. They were pulled over just a short distance from the MGM Grand, where their evening had begun.
Gobi Rahimi, a Death Row music video director who visited Shakur at the hospital, later reported that he received news from a Death Row marketing employee that the shooters had called the record label and threatened Shakur. Gobi told Las Vegas police, but said they claimed to be understaffed. No attackers came to the hospital. Shakur said he was dying while being carried into the emergency room.
At the hospital, Shakur was heavily sedated, was placed on life support machines, and was ultimately put under a medically-induced coma after repeatedly trying to get out of bed. He was visited by Jones and regained consciousness when she played Don McLean’s “Vincent” on the CD player next to his bed. According to Jones, Shakur moaned and his eyes were filled with “mucus and swollen.” Jones told Shakur that she loved him.
Knight was released from the hospital the day following the shooting on September 8, but did not speak until September 11. He told officers he “heard something, but saw nothing” the night of the shooting. A spokesman for the officers said Knight’s statement did nothing to help the investigation. Officers at the time of Shakur’s hospitalization reported having no leads. Sergeant Kevin Manning said during the week that officers did not receive “a whole lot of cooperation” from Shakur’s entourage.
Rahimi and members of Shakur’s group Outlawz guarded Shakur while he stayed in the hospital due to their fear that whoever shot Shakur “was gonna come finish him off”. Rahimi mentioned the possibility that Outlawz brought weapons with them. While in the critical care unit on the afternoon of Friday, September 13, 1996, Shakur died of respiratory failure that led to cardiac arrest after the removal of his right lung. Doctors attempted to revive him, but could not stop the hemorrhaging. His mother, Afeni, made the decision to cease medical treatment. He was pronounced dead at 4:03 p.m. (PDT).
In 2014, a police officer who claimed he witnessed Shakur’s last moments said Shakur refused to state who shot him. When the officer asked Shakur if he saw the person or people who shot him, Shakur responded by saying, “Fuck you” to the officer as his last words. Paramedics and other officers present at the scene did not report hearing Shakur say those words, nor did Knight or Alexander, who were also present.
Shakur’s body was cremated the next day. Members of the Outlawz, recalling a line in his song “Black Jesus”, (although uncertain of the artist’s attempt at a literal meaning chose to interpret the request seriously) smoked some of his body’s ashes after mixing them with marijuana.
One year after the shooting, Sgt. Kevin Manning, who headed the investigation, told Las Vegas Sun investigative reporter Cathy Scott that Shakur’s murder “may never be solved”. The case slowed early in the investigation, he said, as few new clues came in and witnesses clammed up. Manning stated the investigation was at a standstill. E.D.I. Mean, a collaborator of Shakur’s and a member of Outlawz, said he was positive law enforcement knew “what happened” and added, “This is America. We found bin Laden.”
In 2002, the Los Angeles Times published a two-part story by Chuck Philips, titled “Who Killed Tupac Shakur?” based on a year-long investigation. Philips reported that “the shooting was carried out by a Compton gang called the Southside Crips to avenge the beating of one of its members by Shakur a few hours earlier. Orlando Anderson, the Crip whom Shakur had attacked, fired the fatal shots. Las Vegas police considered Anderson as a suspect and interviewed him only once, briefly. Anderson was killed nearly two years later in an unrelated gang shooting.” Philips’s article also implicated East Coast rappers, including The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac’s rival at the time, and several New York City criminals.
The second article in Philips’ series assessed the murder investigation and said that Las Vegas police had mismanaged the probe. His article stated that missteps of Las Vegas police: were (1) discounting the fight that occurred just hours before the shooting, in which Shakur was involved in beating Anderson in the MGM Grand lobby; (2) failing to follow up with a member of Shakur’s entourage who witnessed the shooting, who told Las Vegas police he could probably identify one or more of the assailants, but was killed before being interviewed; and (3) failing to follow up a lead from a witness who spotted a white Cadillac similar to the car from which the fatal shots were fired and in which the shooters escaped.
Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported in 2011 that the FBI released documents, as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request, revealing its investigation of the Jewish Defense League for extorting protection money from Shakur and other rappers after making death threats against them. In 2017, Knight claimed he might have been the target of the attack that killed Shakur, arguing that it was a hit on him as a staged coup to seize control of Death Row Records.
In 2011, via the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI released documents related to its investigation which described an extortion scheme by the Jewish Defense League that included making death threats against Shakur and other rappers, but did not indicate a direct connection to his murder
All Music’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine described Shakur as “the unlikely martyr of gangsta rap”, with Shakur paying the ultimate price of a criminal lifestyle. Shakur was described as one of the top two American rappers in the 1990s, along with Snoop Dogg. The online rap magazine AllHipHop held a 2007 roundtable at which New York rappers Cormega, citing tour experience with New York rap duo Mobb Deep, imparted a broad assessment: “Biggie ran New York. ‘Pac ran America.” In 2010, writing Rolling Stone magazine’s entry on Shakur at No. 86 among the “100 greatest artists”, New York rapper 50 Cent appraised, “Every rapper who grew up in the Nineties owes something to Tupac. He didn’t sound like anyone who came before him.” Dotdash, formerly About.com, while ranking him fifth among the greatest rappers, nonetheless notes, “Tupac Shakur is the most influential hip-hop artist of all time. Even in death, 2Pac remains a transcendental rap figure.” Yet to some, he was a “father figure” who, said rapper YG, “makes you want to be better—at every level.”
According to music journalist Chuck Philips, Shakur “had helped elevate rap from a crude street fad to a complex art form, setting the stage for the current global hip-hop phenomenon.” Philips writes, “The slaying silenced one of modern music’s most eloquent voices—a ghetto poet whose tales of urban alienation captivated young people of all races and backgrounds.” Via numerous fans perceiving him, despite the questionable of his conduct, as a martyr, “the downsizing of martyrdom cheapens its use”, Michael Eric Dyson concedes. But Dyson adds, “Some, or even most, of that criticism can be conceded without doing damage to Tupac’s martyrdom in the eyes of those disappointed by more traditional martyrs.” More simply, his writings, published after his death, inspired rapper YG to return to school and get his GED. In 2020, California Senator and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris called Shakur the “best rapper alive”, a mistake that she explained because “West Coast girls think 2Pac lives on”.
In 2006, Shakur’s close friend and classmate Jada Pinkett Smith donated $1 million to their high school alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts, and named the new theatre in his honour. In 2021, Pinkett Smith honoured Shakur’s 50th birthday by releasing a never before seen poem she had received from the late rapper.
In 1997, Shakur’s mother founded the Shakur Family Foundation. Later renamed the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, or TASF, it launched with a stated mission to “provide training and support for students who aspire to enhance their creative talents.” The TASF sponsors essay contests, charity events, a performing arts day camp for teenagers, and undergraduate scholarships. In June 2005, the TASF opened the Tupac Amaru Shakur Centre for the Arts, or TASCA, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Afeni also narrates the documentary Tupac: Resurrection, released in November 2003, and nominated for Best Documentary at the 2005 Academy Awards. Meanwhile, with Forbes ranking Shakur at 10th among top-earning dead celebrities in 2002, Afeni Shakur launched Makaveli Branded Clothing in 2003.
In 1997, the University of California, Berkeley, offered a course led by a student titled “History 98: Poetry and History of Tupac Shakur”. In April 2003, Harvard University cosponsored the symposium “All Eyez on Me: Tupac Shakur and the Search for the Modern Folk Hero.” The papers presented cover his ranging influence from entertainment to sociology. Calling him a “Thug Nigga Intellectual”, an “organic intellectual”, English scholar Mark Anthony Neal assessed his death as leaving a “leadership void amongst hip-hop artists”, as this “walking contradiction” helps, Neal explained, “make being an intellectual accessible to ordinary people.” Tracing Shakur’s mythical status, Murray Forman discussed him as “O.G.”, or “Ostensibly Gone”, with fans, using digital mediums, “resurrecting Tupac as an ethereal life force.” Music scholar Emmett Price, calling him a “Black folk hero”, traced his persona to Black American folklore’s tricksters, which, after abolition, evolved into the urban “bad-man”. Yet in Shakur’s “terrible sense of urgency”, Price identified instead a quest to “unify mind, body, and spirit.”
In 2005, Death Row released on DVD, Tupac: Live at the House of Blues, his final recorded live performance, an event on July 4, 1996. In August 2006, Tupac Shakur Legacy, an “interactive biography” by Jamal Joseph, arrived with previously unpublished family photographs, intimate stories, and over 20 detachable copies of his handwritten song lyrics, contracts, scripts, poetry, and other papers. In 2006, the Shakur album Pac’s Life was released and, like the previous, was among the recording industry’s most popular releases. In 2008, his estate made about $15 million.
In 2014, BET explains that “his confounding mixture of ladies’ man, thug, revolutionary and poet has forever altered our perception of what a rapper should look like, sound like and act like. In 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Lil Wayne, newcomers like Freddie Gibbs and even his friend-turned-rival Biggie, it’s easy to see that Pac is the most copied MC of all time. There are murals bearing his likeness in New York, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Bulgaria and countless other places; he even has statues in Atlanta and Germany. Quite simply, no other rapper has captured the world’s attention the way Tupac did and still does.”
On April 15, 2012, at the Coachella Music Festival, rappers Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre joined a Shakur hologram, and, as a partly virtual trio, performed the Shakur songs “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted”. There were talks of a tour, but Dre refused. Meanwhile, the Greatest Hits album, released in 1998, and which in 2000 had left the pop albums chart, the Billboard 200, returned to the chart and reached No. 129, while also other Shakur albums and singles drew sales gains. And in early 2015, the Grammy Museum opened an exhibition dedicated to Shakur.
Film and stage
In 2014, the play Holler If Ya Hear Me, based on Shakur’s lyrics, played on Broadway, but, among Broadway’s worst-selling musicals in recent years, ran only six weeks. In development since 2013, a Shakur biopic, All Eyez on Me, began filming in Atlanta in December 2015, and was released on June 16, 2017, in concept Shakur’s 46th birthday, albeit to generally negative reviews. In August 2019, a docuseries directed by Allen Hughes, Outlaw: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur, was announced.
Awards and honors
In 2003, MTV’s viewers voted Shakur the greatest MC. In 2005, on Vibe magazine’s online message boards, a user asked others for the “Top 10 Best of All Time”. Vibe staff, then, “sorting out, averaging and spending a lot of energy”, found, “Tupac coming in at first”. In 2006, MTV staff placed him second. In 2012, The Source magazine ranked him fifth among all-time lyricists. In 2010, Rolling Stone placed him at No. 86 among the “100 Greatest Artists”.
In 2007, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Definitive 200” albums—choices irking some otherwise—placed All Eyez on Me at No. 90 and Me Against the World at No. 170. In 2009, drawing praise, the Vatican added “Changes”, a 1998 posthumous track, to its online playlist. On June 23, 2010, the Library of Congress sent “Dear Mama” to the National Recording Registry, the third rap song, after a Grandmaster Flash and a Public Enemy, ever to arrive there.
In 2002, Shakur was inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. Two years later, cable television’s music network VH1 held its first ever Hip Hop Honors, where the honorees were Shakur, Run-DMC, DJ Hollywood, Kool Herc, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Rock Steady Crew, and the Sugarhill Gang. On December 30, 2016, in his first year of eligibility, Shakur was nominated, and on the following April 7 was among five inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
A journalist for the Guardian shared her experiences of Tupac – She was a 19-year-old reporter for the Barnsley Chronicle when she first came into contact with Tupac.
“At 22, I went to New York to interview the rapper Treach. He advised me I should check out someone called Tupac. I was more into rave then, but the first time I heard his album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…, I got goosebumps. He knew pain the way I did. I got in touch with his publicist for an interview and she said to send copies of my magazine.
I was back in Barnsley a few months later when the phone rang and I asked who it was. The voice said, “It’s Tupac. You sent me a copy of your fly-ass magazine.” He asked me to keep sending it, and we started corresponding by letter.
We were both passionate about social issues, especially police brutality. Writing to him struck a light in me. I’ve had to deal with racism, anorexia and mental health issues, but hearing from Tupac, who had been through terrible things and yet was still so determined, was a big smack around the face. It was like: you’d better get your act together.
… I’m very bookish and introverted, and so was he. He’d read all the books I’d read. I’d send excerpts from Frederick Douglass, the Bible or Machiavelli’s The Prince. His letters were largely about hustling and writing; they weren’t romantic. I’d send poems, but he didn’t. He never talked about fellow rapper Biggie Smalls.
Talking about when Shakur was imprisoned: “Tupac hated jail. His letters were more lucid, as he wasn’t smoking weed, but he wasn’t in a good place. I was concerned for him. He’d just been robbed and shot; that’s serious post-traumatic stress. Over time, the tone of his letters seemed to evolve: from depression to rage and, eventually, to courage and creativity.”
Bhadreshwar didn’t have a face to face meeting with Tupac until much later “I didn’t meet him until October 1995, in the car park of the downtown courthouse in Los Angeles. I said, “I’m Nina, I wrote you in jail.” He lifted me up off the tarmac and gave me the tightest hug I’ve had. I felt so much love radiating from him.”
After he was released from jail, I’d send him packages to the recording studio. I loved Oasis and I sent him my CD of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?. We spoke on the phone, too. He told me my name was appropriate, because I was protective and a fighter; he explained that “nina” is LA slang for a 9mm handgun.
Michael K Williams
Best known for his role as Omar on The Wire revealed he got his first movie acting role in the 1996 film Bullet thanks to Tupac.
“It was a time in New York when music videos would make you a star. You’d go round all the production offices and audition, if it wasn’t a dance video, you’d stand against a wall and they’d Polaroid you & say “next!” and if they liked the look of you, you’d get the gig. Tupac came into the offices one day and he saw a picture of me and he saw that scar and was like “ go find this dude, he looks thugged out enough to play my little brother” and he told me that in between takes.
Actor Wood Harris had a story about meeting ‘Pac in the 90s
The two had starred in the hood classic, Above the Rim, together and got close during the filming.
By the time they met, Pac had a nice acting resume established, by starring in classics like “Juice” and “Poetic Justice,” opposite Janet Jackson.
Harris shared, “I met Tupac, I didn’t meet the superstar dude. I met the young actor, rapper. We would sit around and rap. He was very intelligent and very smart … He brought John Singleton on set, they’d made ‘Poetic Justice.’”
He told Rose that Pac helped him understand himself as an actor.
“I understood some things about filmmaking from my first film because of him. For instance, he realized how much power he had on the set and he didn’t relinquish it just for any old reason. And I’m kind of like that, like so when I’m on the set, you know, I just really stick to myself. I’m in the trailer,” Harris said. “I kind of pick that up from movie No. 1. And I think those habits were good for me. Because I watched Tupac use his power. You know, my interpretation is to do it the way I did it.”
He continued to reveal more gems he learned from Pac. Being a sex symbol requires attention to his fans.
“Outside his trailer every morning when you get there he’d have fans, he’d have women lined up outside the trailer. It was crazy,” Harris revealed.
Conspiracy theories surrounding Tupac
1. Shakur faked his own death.
The most pervasive theory that emerged after the rapper died days after he was targeted in a drive-by shooting on the Las Vegas strip. Conspiracy theorists have rationalized it by pointing to Shakur’s respect for political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, whose treatise The Art of War (not to be confused with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War) has been misconstrued as advocating for faking one’s death in order to manipulate an enemy. Machiavelli actually wrote: “Sometimes it has been of great moment while the fight is going on, to disseminate words that pronounce the enemies’ captain to be dead, or to have been conquered by another part of the army. Many times this has given victory to him who used it.”
But believing that Machiavelli espoused faking one’s death, fans reasoned that Shakur’s adoption of the stage name, Makaveli, and the inclusion of the phrase “Exit 2Pac, Enter Makaveli” in the album sleeve for The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory — an album which also depicted Shakur as Jesus Christ — were all deliberate clues left behind by the artist. Theorists have also picked apart a video interview with Shakur’s mother Afeni — the only individual besides hospital personnel to see the artist after he was admitted — who said, “in the end, he chose to leave quietly.”
2. He’s hiding in Cuba.
Some speculate that Shakur was weary of the bloodshed that accompanied rap beef and longed for an escape, holing up in Cuba with his aunt, Assata Shakur. Assata was a staunch figure within the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army who sought political asylum in Cuba in the early 80s after escaping from a New Jersey prison following a hotly-contested murder conviction.
3. He’s being harboured by the government as a witness.
Of course, the CIA has long refuted this. They famously tweeted in July 2014 “No. we don’t know where Tupac is #twitterversary”
4. Suge Knight — and his then-attorney David Kenner — called for his death.
“Tupac Shakur was becoming a very outstanding actor. And it came to Suge Knight’s attention that Tupac was going to leave Death Row Records – and the evidence shows you just don’t leave Death Row Records and get away with it,” said LAPD Detective Russell Poole, who worked closely with author Randall Sullivan on LAbyrinth, a damning look into the LAPD’s involvement with the Death Row Records label head and pattern of police brutality and cover-ups, all of which were chronicled in reports on the LAPD Rampart Scandal.
LAbyrinth also revealed that Shakur fired Kenner shortly before his death, and was looking to launch his own label, a move which would have barred Knight from the profits of Shakur’s work.
Knight was in the car with Shakur on the night of shooting but, as Sullivan argues, “if you look at the police report, the shooter’s car pulled up and shot at an angle that could really only hit Tupac. No shot really came close to hitting Suge.”
5. Biggie Smalls was the mastermind behind the shooting.
Their feud was one of the most storied in hip-hop history — and, in an anonymously-sourced Los Angeles Times investigative piece, former Times reporter Chuck Philips wrote that the Notorious B.I.G. offered the Crips $1 million to kill Shakur. However, after a 2008 Times story by Philips was retracted due to the inclusion of falsified FBI reports, this notion was widely dismissed as well.