Born: June 16, 1971
Date of Birth: June 16, 1971
Date of Death: September 13, 1996
Tupac Shakur, also known by his stage name 2Pac, is an American rapper and actor who has sold over 75 million records worldwide. Not only is Tupac one of the best-selling artists of all time, he is heralded as a hip hop visionary who brought the topics of institutionalized gang violence and systemic racism to the forefront of mainstream music.
Tupac was born in East Harlem, New York City to well-known Black Panther activists. Although his birth name was Lesane Parish Crooks, his mother, Afeni Shakur, changed it to Tupac Amaru Shakur. The name came from an 18th-century Peruvian revolutionary who led a rebellion against the Spanish conquistadors. His father, Billy Garland, was largely absent during Tupac's tumultuous childhood. Moving frequently between Brooklyn and the Bronx, Tupac was surrounded by people who were involved in the Black Liberation Army, including his godfather and uncle. Through his mother's radical politics, he learned much about racial injustice; however, he also faced hardship due to her ongoing problems with substance abuse.
At age 12, Tupac decided to explore his artistic side by enrolling in the 127th Street Ensemble, a Harlem-based theater company. While at the company, he played Travis Young in an Apollo Theater production of A Raisin in the Sun. In 1986, he and his family relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, where the young performer attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. After his sophomore year, he transferred to the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he studied acting, poetry, and dance.
During his time at the latter school, he began competing in rap competitions alongside his friend Dana "Mouse" Smith, who acted as his beatbox. After defeating many of his classmates, he became known as the best rapper in his school. An incredibly popular kid, he also began a friendship with a young Jada Pinkett (now known as Jada Pinkett Smith). In archival footage in the documentary Tupac: Resurrection, the rapper called Jada his "heart," and said, "She will be my friend for my whole life." He was right — the two remained friends until his death.
In 1988, Tupac and his family moved again, this time to Marin City, California, just north of San Francisco. There he attended Tamalpais High School, performing in several of the school's productions, and emerging as a star student in poetry class. It was around this time that he joined the California-based hip hop group Digital Underground, which previously rose to fame with the hit "The Humpty Dance."
Although he was initially slated as just a roadie and backup dancer, Tupac appeared on two of the group's albums — This Is an EP Release (1990) and Son of the P (1990). After four years of recording his own music to little effect, Tupac was finally making a name for himself in the industry. In 1991, he broke out as a solo artist — using the name 2Pac — and released his debut album 2Pacalypse Now. His track "Brenda's Got a Baby" reached the top three on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart, due in part to the controversy surrounding its lyrics.
Many people criticized the album for its strong message of anti-police brutality and social injustice. Of the backlash, Tupac told writer and investigative journalist Chuck Phillips, "I started out saying I was down for the young black male ... 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. I just figured since I lived that life I could do that, I could rap about that." The album truly did reflect Tupac's reality; in late 1991, he filed a $10 million civil suit against the Oakland Police Department, claiming the police violently beat him for jaywalking. He won the case and was awarded just over $40,000 in settlement money.
Despite the backlash and the album failing to garner any other mainstream success, many of today's most-lauded rappers, including Nas and Eminem, continue to cite 2Pacalypse Now as an inspiration for their own music.
Because of his art school past, Tupac had his sights set on more than just music. In 1992, he made his feature film debut as Roland Bishop in the urban crime drama Juice, alongside Omar Epps, Khalil Kain, Jermaine Hopkins, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film, including Tupac's performance, received widespread critical acclaim.
The following February, Tupac returned to music and released his second studio album, Strictly 4 My N. I. G. G. A. Z. (1993). This "breakout" album was considered much more commercially friendly than his first outing. It would sell over one million copies and spawn the chart-topping singles "I Get Around" and "Keep Ya Head Up."
Tupac then made his second film appearance in the romantic drama Poetic Justice (1993) opposite Janet Jackson. Due to comparisons to director John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood (1991), the film was not received well by critics. However, it did go on to be nominated for Best Original Song at the 1994 Academy Awards.
The next year or so was a dramatic time for the rapper. First, in April 1993, he was charged with one count of felonious assault after attempting to hit rapper Chauncey Wynn with a baseball bat, and had to perform 35 hours of community service. Seven months after that, he was involved in a shooting with two police officers; however, all charges were eventually dropped. Then, in November, he and some of his crew members were charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel room. He was later convicted of second degree sexual abuse. Tupac maintained his innocence and entered into a lengthy appeals process. Finally, in early 1994, he served 15 days in jail for assaulting Menace II Society (1993) director Allen Hughes.
Although his legal issues were mounting, Tupac continued working steadily in both movies and music, starring in the sports drama Above the Rim (1994), and forming the new rap group Thug Life. In September 1994, Thug Life released their first and only album: Thug Life: Volume 1. Due to the outcry against gangster rap at the time, many of the album's songs had to be changed or cut. Despite this, Thug Life achieved gold status.
Unfortunately, Tupac's personal problems would not end there. On the night of November 30, 1994, he was robbed and shot five times in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. Tupac was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, but checked himself out early in order to go to his final verdict hearing for his sexual assault case from the year prior. He entered the courthouse in a wheelchair and was found guilty of three counts of molestation, and was eventually sentenced to four years and a half years in prison.
While it was never proven who shot the rapper, in an interview with Vibe magazine in 1995, Tupac accused Sean Combs, Jimmy Henchman, and Biggie Smalls (The Notorious B.I.G.) of the crime. For years, the artists and fans of East-Coast hip hop and West-Coast hip hop were embroiled in a bitter rivalry, with Sean Combs and Biggie as the faces of the East, and with Tupac and Death Row Records as the faces of the West.
Before he was sent to prison, Tupac released his third solo album, Me Against the World (1995), which was hailed as his most creatively successful attempt thus far. It is still considered one of the greatest hip hop records of all time. The album won Best Rap Album at the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards and as of 2011, has sold over $3.5 million copies around the world.
In October 1995, after serving only nine months of his four-year prison sentence, Tupac returned to music to record his fourth album, All Eyez on Me (1996), under the Death Row label. The label's CEO, Marion "Suge" Knight, reportedly paid a $1 million bond for Tupac's early release from prison. During this time, he also formed the group Outlaw Immortalz, later known as Outlawz. Each member of the Outlawz was given a name based on a dictator, military leader, or enemy of the state. Tupac's was Makaveli, named after Renaissance Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, whose works inspired him while he was in prison.
In February 1996, All Eyez on Me, which saw 2Pac return to his seminal "gangsta" style of hip hop, was released to incredible profit. The album produced two number-one hit singles — "How Do U Want It" and "California Love" — and sold close to 600,000 copies in its first week of release. By the end of 1996, it had sold five million copies. Not only was it a commercial success, but All Eyez on Me also won the 1997 Soul Train R&B/Soul or Rap Album of the Year Award, and Tupac won Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist at the American Music Awards.
In June 1996, Tupac and Outlawz released the single "Hit 'Em Up," a diss track towards Biggie in which Tupac claims to have had sexual intercourse with Biggie's wife, Faith Evans, causing a major uproar in the hip hop community. The drama did not sway Tupac, however, and he began work on his fifth studio album under the alias Makaveli, titled The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996). Under collaboration with Outlawz, the album was completed within a week; although it would not be released before Tupac's death. The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996) was the first of Tupac's albums to be released posthumously. It would be hailed as yet another of his greatest albums, rising all the way to the top of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and by 2013, selling over five million copies.
On September 26, 1996, Tupac and Death Row CEO Suge Knight attended the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. One of Suge's associates spotted a rival Crips gang member from Compton, California — Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson — who had previously robbed a member of Death Row's entourage. Tupac, Knight, and his followers proceeded to assault Anderson in the lobby of the MGM Grand.
After the brawl, Knight, Tupac, and some of their entourage entered Knight's BMW Sedan and made their way to the Death Row-owned nightclub, Club 662. At approximately 11:15 p.m., while the BMW was stopped at an intersection, a white Cadillac pulled alongside its passenger side — where Tupac was seated — and began rapidly firing gunshots. While Knight was hit in the head by bullet fragments, Tupac was hit directly in the chest, arm, and thigh. Both were immediately rushed to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where six days later, Tupac died of internal bleeding. He was just 25 years old.
Following his death, Tupac's body was cremated. According to myth, members of the Outlawz mixed his ashes with marijuana and smoked them. It was never proven who was responsible for the assassination, although it seems likely that it stemmed from the scuffle at the MGM Grand. However, some reports indicate it may have been a result of the long-running West Coast/East Coast hip hop rivalry. Before his own death in March 1997, Biggie Smalls denied any involvement.
Tupac's incredible legacy did not die with him, as fans, critics, and other MCs continue to hold him in the highest esteem. In 2003, Tupac was voted by MTV as the number-one greatest MC of all time. And in 2016, he was nominated to be inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — in his very first year of eligibility.
A self-proclaimed "reflection of the community," Tupac's aggressive lyrics represented much more than just a "street thug" or "anti-establishment" mentality. He often cited Shakespeare as his inspiration, and such was seen in his methodical and eloquent lyricism. Following Tupac's passing, Chuck Phillips wrote, "The slaying [of Tupac Shakur] 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. The 25-year-old 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."
During his time at Death Row, Tupac continued to record hundreds of songs, and since his death, seven of his studio albums (one in collaboration with Outlawz), and 14 compilation albums have been released. He also appeared in the films Bullet (1996) and Gridlock'd (1997), which were released one month and four months after his death, respectively. In 2003, he was the subject of a documentary called Tupac: Resurrection. Directed by Lauren Lazin, the film went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Tupac has also been portrayed by numerous actors, including Anthony Mackie in The Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious (2009), and Marcc Rose in 2015's critically acclaimed biographical drama about the N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton.
Over 20 years after his death, the film All Eyez on Me, named after the rapper's final album, was released in November 2016. Directed by Benny Boom, the biopic details Tupac's rise to fame, his life of violence and excess, and his tragic death, and stars Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Tupac Shakur, with Danai Gurira as his mother Afeni Shakur, Jamal Woolard as The Notorious B.I.G., Stefon Washington as Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, Kat Graham as Jada Pinkett, and Dominic L. Santana as Suge Knight.
Filmography:Tupac: Resurrection (2003)