Tupac Amaru Shakur was an American rapper. In addition to his status as a
top-selling recording artist, Shakur was a successful film actor and a
prominent social activist. He is recognized in the Guinness Book of World
Records as the highest-selling rap artist, with over 75,000,000 albums
sold worldwide, including over 50,000,000 in the United States alone. Many fans, critics, and industry insiders rank him as one of the greatest
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in the East Harlem section of Manhattan in New York City, New York. He was named after Tupac Amaru II, an Incan revolutionary who led an indigenous uprising against Spain and subsequently received capital punishment. The names “Tupac Amaru” and “Shakur” mean Shining Serpent or Royal Serpent in Quechua and Thankful (to God) in Arabic, respectively.
His mother, Afeni Shakur, was an active member of the Black Panther Party in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s; Tupac was born just one month after her acquittal on more than 100 charges of „Conspiracy against the United States government and New York landmarks“ in the New York Panther 21 court case Tupac grew up around nothing but self-delusion. His mother, thought she was a „revolutionary. “ She called herself „Afeni Shakur“ and associated with members of the ill-fated Black Panther Party, a movement that wanted to feed school kids breakfast and earn civil rights for African Americans.
During her youth she dropped out of high school, partied with North Carolina
gang members, then moved to Brooklyn: After an affair with one of Malcolm X’s bodyguards, she became political. When the mostly white United Federation of Teachers went on strike in 1968, she crossed the picket line and taught the children herself.
After this she joined a New York chapter of the Black Panther Party and fell in with an organizer named Lumumba. She took to ranting about killing „the pigs“ and overthrowing the government, which eventually led to her arrest and that of twenty comrades for conspiring to set off a race war. Pregnant, she made bail and told her husband, Lummuba, it wasn’t his child. Behind his back she had been carrying on with Legs (a small-time associate of Harlem drug baron Nicky Barnes) and Billy Garland (a member of the Party). Lumumba immediately divorced her.
Tupac 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 Tupac, was rarely present to give him the discipline he needed.
At the age of twelve, Shakur enrolled in Harlem’s famous „127th Street Ensemble.“ His first major role with this acting troupe was as Travis in 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 Tupac became close friends with another student named Jada Pinkett. Even at this young age, Tupac 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. Tupac 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.
From childhood, everyone called him the „Black Prince.“ For misbehaving, he had to read an entire edition of The New York Times. But she had no answer when he asked about his daddy. „She just told me, ‘I don’t know who your daddy is.’ It wasn’t like she was a slut or nothing’. It was just some rough times. „When he was two, his sister, Sekyiwa, was born. This child’s father, Mutulu, was a Black Panther who, a few months before her birth, had been sentenced to sixty years for a fatal armoured car robbery.
With Mutulu away, the family experienced hard times. No matter where they moved-the Bronx, Harlem, homeless shelters Tupac was distressed. „I remember crying all the time. My major thing growing up was I couldn’t fit in. Because I was from everywhere. I didn’t have no buddies that I grew up with.“
At the age of twelve, Tupac 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. In 1986, his family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. After completing his second year at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, he transferred to the Baltimore School for the Arts. There he studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet. He performed in Shakespeare plays, and in the role of the Mouse King in the ballet The Nutcracker.
In June 1988, 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, where Tupac attended Tamalpais High School. He joined the Ensemble Theater Company (ETC) to pursue his career in entertainment.
Tupac move into Leila Steinberg’s home with his friend Ray Luv at the age of seventeen and he eventually dropped out of high school. Leila Steinberg acted as a literary mentor to Tupac, an avid reader.
In August of 1988, Tupac’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.
Steinberg has kept copies of the books that he read, which include J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Eileen Southern’s Music of Black Americans, and the feminist writings of Alice Walker and Robin Morgan. Most of these books were read before the age of twenty. It has been said that Tupac was, in fact, more well-read and intellectually well-rounded at that age than the average student in the first year class of most Ivy League institutions In 1989, Leila Steinberg organized a concert with Tupac’s group, Strictly Dope. The concert lead to him being signed with Atron Gregory who set him up with Digital Underground.
Tupac’s professional entertainment career began in the early 1990s, when he debuted his rapping skills on „Same Song“ from the Digital Underground album “This is an EP Release“. He first appeared in the music video for „Same Song„. After his rap debut, Tupac performed with Digital Underground again on the album “Sons Of The P“.
Later, he released his first solo album, 2Pacalypse Now. Initially he had trouble marketing his solo debut, but Interscope Records‘ executives Ted Field and Tom Whalley eventually agreed to distribute the record.
Tupac claimed his first album was aimed at the problems facing young black males, but it was publicly criticized for its graphic language and images of violence by and against law enforcement.In one instance, a young man claimed his killing of a Texas-based trooper was influenced by the album. Former Vice President Dan Quayle publicly denounced the album as having „no place in our society“ 2Pacalypse Now did not do as well on the charts as future albums, spawning no top ten hits.
His second record, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…, was released in 1993. The album, produced mostly in part by Randy „Stretch“ Walker (Shakur’s closest friend and associate at the time) and the Live Squad, generated two hits, „Keep Ya Head Up“ and „I Get Around„, the latter featuring guest appearances by Shock G and Money-B of the Digital Underground.
Shakur’s profile was raised considerably by his acclaimed role in the Ernest Dickerson film Juice, which led to a lead role in John Singleton’s Poetic Justice the following year. By the time the film hit theaters, 2Pac had released his second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…, which became a platinum album, peaking at number four on the R&B charts and launching the Top Ten R&B hit singles „I Get Around“ and „Keep Ya Head Up,“ which peaked at number 11 and 12, respectively, on the pop charts. Late in 1993, he acted in the basketball movie “Above the Rim“. Tupac was filming “Menace II Society“ in the summer of 1993 when he assaulted director Allen Hughes; he was sentenced to 15 days in jail in early 1994. Although Tupac was selling records and earning praise for his music and acting, he began having serious altercations with the law; prior to becoming a recording artist, he had no police record.
By the time he was twenty, Tupac had been arrested eight times, even serving eight months in prison after being convicted of sexual abuse. In addition, he was the subject of two wrongful-death lawsuits, one involving a six-year-old boy who was killed after getting caught in gang-war crossfire between Tupac’s gang and a rival group.
In late 1993, Shakur formed the group Thug Life with a number of his friends, including Big Syke, Macadoshis, his stepbrother Mopreme Shakur, and Rated R. The group released their first and only record album Thug Life Vol. 1 on September 26, 1994. The group usually performed their concerts without Tupac.
The concept of „Thug Life“ was viewed by Tupac as a philosophy for life. He developed the word into a backronym standing for „The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody„. He declared that the dictionary definition of a „thug“ as being a rogue or criminal was not how he used the term, but rather he meant someone who came from oppressive or squalid background and little opportunity but still made a life for himself and was proud.
In 1994, he was found guilty of sexual assault. The day after the verdict was announced, he was shot by a pair of muggers while he was in the lobby of a New York City recordings studio. Shakur was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on February 7, 1995.
On the night of November 30, 1994, the day before the verdict in his sexual abuse trial was to be announced, Tupac was shot five times and robbed after entering the lobby of the Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan, New York City, New York, by two armed men in army fatigues. He would later accuse Sean Combs, Andre Harrell, and Biggie Smalls whom he saw after the shooting of setting him up. Shakur also suspected his close friend and associate, Randy „Stretch“ Walker, of being involved in the attempt.
According to the doctors at Bellevue Hospital, where he was admitted immediately following the incident, Shakur had received five bullet wounds; twice in the head, twice in the groin and once through the arm and thigh. He checked out of the hospital, against doctor’s orders, three hours after surgery. In the day that followed, Shakur entered the courthouse in a wheelchair and was found guilty of three counts of molestation, but innocent of six others, including sodomy.
On November 30, 1995, exactly one year to the day of the shooting, Stretch was killed in an execution-style murder in Queens.
Shakur began serving his prison sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility on February 14, 1995. Shortly afterwards, he released his multi-platinum album Me Against the World. Shakur is the only artist ever to have an album at number one on the Billboard 200 while serving a prison sentence. The album made its debut on the Billboard 200 and stayed at the top of the charts for five weeks. The record album sold 240,000 copies in its first week, setting a record for highest first week sales for a solo male rap artist at the time.
He married his long-time girlfriend, Keisha Morris, while serving his sentence. This marriage was later annulled. While imprisoned, Shakur read many books by Niccolo Machiavelli, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and other works of political philosophy and strategy.
Read for Keisha Morris, here.
He also wrote a screenplay titled “Live 2 Tell“ while incarcerated, a story about an adolescent who becomes a drug baron.
After serving eleven months of his one-and-a-half year to four-and-a-half year sentence, Tupac was released from the penitentiary, due in large part to the help and influence of Marion „Suge“ Knight, CEO of Death Row Records. Knight posted $1.4 million bail pending appeal of the conviction, in exchange for which Shakur was obligated to release three albums for the Death Row label.
It debuted at number one upon its February release, and would be certified quintuple platinum by the fall. Although he had a hit record and, with the Dr. Dre duet „California Love,“ a massive single on his hands, Shakur was beginning to tire of hip-hop and started to concentrate on acting. During the summer of 1996, he completed two films, the thriller Bullet and the dark comedy Gridlock’d, which also starred Tim Roth. He also made some recordings for Death Row, which was quickly disintegrating without Dre as the house producer, and as Knight became heavily involved in illegal activities.
While incarcerated in Clinton Correctional Facility, Shakur read and studied Niccolo Machiavelli and other published works, which inspired his pseudonym „Makaveli“ under which he released the record album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.
The album presents a stark contrast to previous works. Throughout the album, Tupac continues to focus on the themes of pain and aggression, making this album one of the emotionally darker works of his career. Tupac wrote and recorded all the lyrics in only three days and the production took another four days, combining for a total of seven days to complete the album (hence the name). The album was completely finished before Shakur died and Shakur had complete creative input on the album from the name of the album to the cover, which Shakur chose to symbolize how the media had crucified him. The record debuted at number one and sold 663,000 copies in the first week. Tupac had plans of starting Makaveli Records which would have included Outlawz, Wu-Tang Clan, Big Daddy Kane, Big Syke, and Gang Starr.
On the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur attended the Mike Tyson – Bruce Seldon boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. After leaving the match, one of Suge Knight’s associates spotted 21 year-old Orlando „Baby Lane“ Anderson, a member of the Southside Crips, in the MGM Grand lobby and had Shakur aware. Shakur immediately rushed Anderson and knocked him to the ground. Shakur’s entourage, as well as Knight and his followers assisted in beating down Anderson. The fight was captured on the hotel’s video surveillance. A few weeks earlier, Anderson and a group of Crips robbed a member of Death Row’s entourage in a Foot Locker store, precipitating Shakur’s onset. After the brawl, Shakur went to rendezvous with Knight to go to Death Row-owned Club 662 (now known as restaurant/club Seven).
He rode in Knight’s 1996 black BMW 750i sedan as part of a larger convoy with some of Tupac’s friends, Outlawz, and bodyguards.
At 10:55 p.m., while paused at a red light, Shakur rolled down his window and a photographer took their photo at around 11:00-11:05 p.m., they were halted on Las Vegas Blvd. by Metro bicycle cops for playing the car stereo too loud and not having license plates. The plates were then found in the trunk of Knight’s vehicle; they were released without being fined a few minutes later.
At about 11:10 p.m., while stopped at a red light at Flamingo Road near the intersection of Koval Lane in front of the Maxim Hotel, a vehicle occupied by two women pulled up on their right side. Shakur, who was standing up through the sunroof, exchanged words with the two women, and invited them to go to Club 662. At approximately 11:15 p.m., a white, four-door, late-model, Cadillac driven by unknown person(s) pulled up to the sedan’s right side, rolled down one of the windows, and rapidly fired around twelve to thirteen shots at Tupac.
He was struck by four rounds; one hit him in the chest, the pelvis, and his right hand and thigh. One of the rounds apparently ricocheted into Shakur’s right lung. Knight was hit in the head by shrapnel, though it is thought that a bullet grazed him. According to Knight, a bullet from the gunfire had been lodged in his skull, however, medical reports later contradicted this statement.
At the time of the drive-by, Tupac was riding alongside Knight, with his bodyguard following behind in a vehicle belonging to Kidada Jones, Shakur’s then-fiance. The bodyguard, Frank Alexander, stated that when he was about to ride along with the rapper in Knight’s car, Shakur asked him to drive Kidada Jones’ car instead just in case they were too drunk and needed additional vehicles from Club 662 back to the hotel. Shortly after the assault, the bodyguard reported in his documentary, “Before I Wake“, that one of the convoy’s cars drove off after the assailant but he never heard back from the occupants.
After arriving on the scene, police and paramedics took Knight and a fatally wounded Shakur to the University Medical Center. According to an interview with one of Shakur’s closest friends and music video director Gobi, while at the hospital, he received news from a Death Row marketing employee that the shooters had called the record label and were sending death threats aimed at Shakur, claiming that they were going there to „finish him off“.Upon hearing this, Gobi immediately alerted the Las Vegas police, but the police claimed they were understaffed and no one could be sent.Nonetheless, the shooters never arrived.At the hospital, Shakur was in and out of consciousness; heavily sedated, breathed through a ventilator and respirator, was placed on life support machines, and was ultimately put under a barbiturate-induced coma after repeatedly trying to get out of the bed.
Despite having been resuscitated in a trauma center and surviving a multitude of surgeries (as well the removal of a failed right lung), Shakur had gotten through the critical phase of the medical therapy and had a 50% chance of pulling through Gobi left the medical center after being informed that Shakur made a 13% recovery on the sixth night.While in Critical Care Unit on the afternoon of September 13, 1996, Shakur died of internal bleeding; doctors attempted to revive him but could not stop his hemorrhaging.