20 years ago, today, the world of music lost one of its brightest and most charismatic stars; Tupac Amaru Shakur, better known by fans as 2Pac. It was on this day that Tupac had succumbed to gunshot wounds he received six days earlier, on September 7th. Tupac, along with his entourage, were leaving a fight between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon,at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. As his car came to a stop, on the intersection of Flamingo and Koval, gunshots rang out that would change the face of rap forever.
Before that hazy September night however, Tupac was on top of the world. He had just released All Eyez On Me, the first double album in the history of rap music, had established a well respected acting career and was heavily entrenched in social activism. But things weren’t always this way for the legendary MC. Tupac Amaru Shakur was born as Lesane Parish Crooks, on June 16, 1971, to Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland. His mother Afeni was an active and vocal member if the Black Panther Party. Before Tupac was born, police arrested and detained Afeni; she was released from prison before Tupac was born, but knowledge of this fact helped shape Tupac’s rebellious demeanor.
His father left when he was young, an experience which he painfully recites in his song Papa’z Song. His mother later married his step father, Mutulu Shakur, for whom he’d take his same from. Afeni named Tupac after the Inca revolutionary Tupac Amaru, who fought against the Spanish in the 16th century. The name Tupac itself means “shining serpent”. Tupac grew up in poverty with his mother and siblings. They moved to Baltimore, where Tupac enrolled at the School of the Arts. Here he met one of his closest friends; Jada Pinkett, who would go on to be an actress and wife of actor Will Smith. Unfortunately, Tupac’s mother forced her son to move to Marin City, California; this made it so that he could never graduate high school.
It was in California that Tupac discovered his talent for rapping. He had wrote poetry to himself as a hobby (which can be read in the book The Rose That Grew From Concrete), but now he was able to utilize it musically. He started off as a roadie for the rap group Digital Underground, before landing a record deal with Interscope Records, In 1991, he released his debut album 2Pacalypse Now; this album,known for its rough and poetic tone, would be known as Tupac’s most politically charged, and indicative of his revolutionary upbringing, as he talks about police brutality, teen pregnancy and urban poverty. His second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. was a critical and commercial it, with singles like I Get Around and the iconic Keep Ya Head Up.
Tupac went from a poverty stricken teenager in the streets of Baltimore, to one of the biggest names in the music industry. But everything changed in 1994, when a woman accused Tupac of rape. In the same year he was shot five times in a New York recording studio; a shooting he would later accuse former friend and rapper, The Notorious B.I.G., of knowing about and thus sparking the infamous East Coast/West Coast rap feud. Tupac was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In response he said to the judge, “You know, your honor, throughout this entire court case, you haven’t looked me or my attorney in the eye once. It’s obvious you’re not here in the search for justice, so therefore, there’s no point in me asking for a lighter sentence. I don’t care what you do cause you’re not respecting us, this is not a court of law; as far as I’m concerned, no justice is being served here, & you still can’t look me in the eye. So I say, do what you wanna do, give me whatever time you want, because I’m not in your hands, I’m in God’s hands.” While in jail, Tupac’s third album, Me Against the World, was released. It would be the first rap album to reach number one on the charts while the artist was in jail.
Only eight months into his sentence, Suge Knight, the CEO of Death Row Records, offered to pay Tupac’s bail in exchange for a three album contract with the label . After being released from jail, Tupac recorded and released his magnum opus, All Eyez On Me, in the February of 1996; an album that, 18 years after his death, would be certified diamond by the RIAA. Tupac in 1996 then changed his stage name to “Makaveli”, after the famous Italian philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, whom he read about in jail. He had plans to branch off from Death Row and start his own record label, but he died before any of this would ever come to pass. His murder, even to this day, has yet to be solved.
Since his death, five albums worth of unreleased songs were released, with every one, but the fifth, going platinum. He is still revered as one of, if not the greatest, musicians of all time. To me he represented so much more. He represented the fragile artist, who’s voice was clouded by a cruel world, an poet who could never fully express how he truly felt. He always rapped about his own death near the end; I find a slight solace in that. I feel that he knew. Rest peacefully Pac; you deserve it.