Tupac Shakur was an American rapper and actor who came to embody the 1990s gangsta-rap aesthetic, and who in death became an icon symbolizing noble struggle. Consistently placing on editorial lists as one of the greatest rap musicians of all time, Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) wrote much of his work highlighting the poverty and inequality of life in the inner city. Biography.com has his updated album sales to date at over 75 million world wide. Tupac also acted in multiple movies, the most critically acclaimed, Juice, released in 1992.
A famous tattoo on his torso, the words inked in an arch, “THUG LIFE”, also the name of an earlier Hip Hop group he was a part of, was a message that Tupac would explain this way:
Tupac would tragically die only a few months after his 25th birthday, shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 7, 1996. He passed away in the hospital six days later, on September 13th.
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in Manhattan, New York. Tupac’s mom, Afeni Shakur, was part of the Black Panther movement in the city. Pregnant with Tupac while in prison, Afeni defended herself in the Panther 21 trial and won justice for herself and her fellow Panthers. Tupac memorialized his love for her in his song, “Dear Mama”:
Tupac ended up moving to Baltimore and then to the west coast, to northern California and the Bay Area, and then ultimately to L.A. It was in L.A. where his career took on new heights. California Love with Dr. Dre is one of 2Pac’s most widely known and most successful singles, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song was also nominated for a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (with Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman) in 1997. The song is just undeniably catchy, danceable, and it even name-checks Pasadena, “where you at?” – where this publication was founded : )
Songs like “Ghetto Gospel” which was released posthumous in 2004 for the album Loyal to the Game showcase a sensitive songwriting that carried emotional punch as Tupac calls for an end to the “war on the streets” and focuses on issues of poverty while paying tribute to murdered black activists like Malcolm X.
“And all come in like Malcolm X or Bobby Hutton died for nothing
Don’t it make you get teary
The world looks dreary
When you wipe your eyes see it clearly
There’s no need for you to fear me
If you take your time and hear me
Maybe you can learn to cheer me
It ain’t about black or white cause we human
I hope we see the light before it’s ruined, my ghetto gospel”
Eminem produced this later version of the song and much of the album that housed it, using an Elton John track brilliantly combined with Tupac’s original rhythmic rapping. The results were chart topping and serve to underscore the tragedy of Tupac’s early death and the potential that could have been fulfilled even further.
The life of Tupac was by no means easy, nor was it without controversy. Tupac served nine months of a sentence for sexual assault at the height of his career, charges he always maintained were false, although he seemed to admit that he didn’t act completely honorably in the incident either. His lyrics, in both their challenges to social issues and their glorification of celebrity life, came from real and lived experiences. In James Farr’s new article about Tupac’s last concert at the House of Blues in Hollywood, he remembers going to Tupac’s dressing room and seeing all the trappings of gansta vice. His life in those days, says James, “was like one big music video.”
Tupac the rapper and Tupac the man were intrinsically tied. As a man he was defined by his lyrics of truth that spoke out against the inner city oppression. As a celebrity he was known by his headlines and his run-ins with the law. He was both a mirror to society and its canvas, defining society while being defined by it.
His experiences and the experiences of those around him shaped his lyrics and his lyrics cut deep with so many who listened. Songs like So many tears spoke of the pain and challenges of life, the realisation that like many Black Americans, the prospect of a long and fruitful life was not guaranteed. On the flipside, songs like Ambitionz az a Ridah spoke of Tupac the celebrity, the rockstar.
Legacy living on
One of the best-selling artists of all time, Tupac continues to be prevalent within the music sphere and activism sphere alike. In 2012, a hologram was created featuring Tupac as he rapped alongside real-life Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre at the Coachella Music Festival. A year-long exhibition entitled All Eyez on Me: the writing of Tupac Shakur was also opened at the Grammy Museum in 2015. His life was also memorialized in the film, All Eyez on Me, a movie based on his life.
In the world of activism, his songs continue to strike truth in the treatment of Black and minority Americans and The Hate U Give continues to live on as a reminder of the hatred and oppression placed upon Black people in America. In 2017, a novel entitled The Hate U Give was published by Angie Thomas. In its pages, the novel addressing police brutality in Black communities through the story of teenager Starr Carter whose life revolves between the poor neighbourhood she lives in and the elite private school she goes to. The novel received a great deal of critical acclaim and was later made into a movie of the same title.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
On Friday, April 7, 2017, Tupac Shakur was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Tupac is the first solo hip-hop artist to be inducted and received entry on his first year of eligibility. His label-mate Snoop Dogg received the honor in his name. He joins fellow hip-hop groups Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and NWA.
Snoop calls him “greatest rapper of all time.” He say, “to be human is to be many things at once. Strong and vulnerable. Hard-headed and intellectual. Courageous and afraid. Loving and vengeful. Revolutionary – and oh yeah, don’t get it f***ed up – a gangsta!” and a “strong black man who stood for his”.