Family & Companions
A bonafide folk hero to millions of hip-hop fans around the world, musician-actor Tupac Shakur's brief life and legacy saw him rise to the top of his profession through his lyrics, which embraced both the profane and the spiritual, before his untimely murder in 1996. The son of radicals, Shakur brought political awareness and emotional depth to his best work, which included fiery tracks like "Keep Ya Head Up" and "Dear Mama," and brought credibility to the gangsta rap field. While climbing the music charts, he also established himself as a talented actor in features like "Juice" (1993) and "Poetic Justice" (1993). But violence seemed to shadow his every move, and after a brief incarceration in 1995, he emerged a changed man, obsessed with his apparent persecution and lusting for vengeance against perceived enemies. In the months before his death, he attempted to again embrace his earlier visions, but was gunned down in Las Vegas before he could fully invest in his new direction. In death, Shakur became a symbol for perseverance, honesty and dedication to justice in all its forms, and continued to inspire and entertain new audiences who came to hear the legend for themselves.
Born Tupac Amaru Shakur on June 16, 1971 in East Harlem, NY, he was the son of Billy Garland and Afeni Shakur, who were both members of the Black Panther Party; both were also part of the Panther 21, who were acquitted of attempting to blow up various New York landmarks in a lengthy 1969 trial. Garland and Shakur separated prior to Tupac's birth, and she later married Mutulu Shakur, who spent four years on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted fugitives list for his involvement in a 1981 armored car hijacking that resulted in the deaths of three law enforcement officials. His godfather, Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, was also a high-ranking member of the Panthers, and the focus of a 1968 murder case that was eventually overturned in the courts, while his step-aunt, Assata Shakur, was accused of numerous crimes, including murder, armed robbery and kidnapping before escaping from prison and fleeing to Cuba in 1979.
Mutulu Shakur's 1986 arrest for the hijacking and murder charges forced Afeni Shakur to move her son, his half-sister Sekyiwa and stepbrother Mopreme on numerous occasions. Despite living in dire poverty, Shakur's mother was able to enroll him in Harlem's 127th Street Repertory Ensemble, where he made his acting debut in a production of "A Raisin in the Sun" at the Apollo Theater. Later, after moving to Baltimore, he won a scholarship to the esteemed Baltimore School for the Arts, where he studied acting, poetry, jazz and ballet. There, he began experimenting with writing and performing hip-hop, frequently taking top honors at school-wide rap contests. Prior to his graduation, Shakur and his family moved to Marin City in Northern California, where he attended poetry classes by writer-teacher Leila Steinberg. A street marketer for various labels, Steinberg arranged for Shakur to work as a roadie and dancer for the irreverent rap group Digital Underground in 1990.
Shakur made his professional debut on the Digital Underground track "Same Song," which appeared on the soundtrack for the 1991 comedy, "Nothing But Trouble." Shakur and Digital Underground also appeared in the film, and he contributed to their next album, Sons of the P (1991). That same year, Shakur released his first solo album, 2Pacalypse Now, an unpolished but potent collection of tracks featuring the lead single, "Brenda's Got a Baby," which addressed teen pregnancy. Thanks to word of mouth, it eventually reached gold status in sales, but generated more controversy after Vice President Dan Quayle condemned the album after it was cited as the influence on a teenager who murdered a Texas state trooper in 1992.
The following year proved to be Shakur's breakthrough year. His second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., displayed his versatility as a writer and rapper by tackling political and social issues, in addition to the standard hip-hop tales of braggadocio and crime fantasies. "Holler if Ya Hear Me" addressed black poverty and Shakur's own travails after the release of 2Pacalypse Now, while "Keep Ya Head Up" offered solace and sympathy to young listeners who were undergoing their own problems. The album reached platinum status in sales, and established Shakur as a major figure in early 1990s rap and R&B. That same year, Shakur was top-billed in Ernest Dickerson's urban drama "Juice" (1993), about a quartet of young Harlem men who become involved in a murder case. Critics widely praised Shakur's performance as a teen whose aggressive nature leads to multiple murders; his next feature, John Singleton's drama "Poetic Justice" (1993), helped to cement him as a movie star in the making thanks to his sympathetic turn as a single father who travels with poetess Janet Jackson on a road trip.
However, his rise to fame was immediately tempered by a string of violent criminal scenarios, which helped to brand him as an outlaw. In 1992, he was named in a wrongful death suit involving a six-year-old boy who had been shot when a gun carried by Shakur discharged during an altercation. He was eventually acquitted of the charge, but paid a substantial settlement. The following year, Shakur was allegedly involved in a shootout with two off-duty officers, which resulted in dropped charges, as well as assaulted director Allen Hughes during an altercation on the set of "Menace II Society" (1993). Not surprisingly, the Hughes Brothers recast his role. His fortunes reached their nadir later that year when he and two associates were accused of sexually abusing a fan, resulting in a 1994 conviction of sexual assault. The day before the verdict was announced, Shakur was shot five times and robbed by two men after entering a Manhattan recording studio. After surgery, he checked out of the hospital to attend his hearing, where he was sentenced to four-and-a-half-years at Clinton Correctional Facility in New York.
While serving his sentence, Shakur's third album, Me Against the World, debuted at the top of the Billboard charts in 1995, making him the first artist to earn a No. 1 album while in prison. The album, which would go on to sell over 2 million copies, was widely praised for its confessional tone, as displayed in tracks like the nostalgic "Old School" and "Dear Mama," which paid tribute to Afeni Shakur. Me Against the World went on to net Grammy nominations for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Dear Mama." Shakur himself was pleased by the response to his work, but was also busy with other matters while awaiting his release from prison. He married his long-time girlfriend, Keisha Morris, and pored over books on political strategy and philosophy. Among the works that struck the deepest chord with him was Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince, which discussed the occasional need for brute force when attempting to acquire and keep power.
After serving 11 months of his sentence, Shakur was released from incarceration after posting a $1.4 million bail. The funds came from Suge Knight, the notorious head of the Los Angeles hip-hop label Death Row, who paid the bail in exchange for three albums by Shakur for his company. The newly freed rapper immediately began work on his fourth album, All Eyez on Me (1996). The double album was a marked departure from his previous work, with the material now largely focused on a celebration of the criminal life. The result was an immediate hit, reaching quintuple platinum status after only two months; unfortunately, it would also serve as the last original material released during his lifetime. In the months that followed All Eyez on Me, Shakur wrote and recorded hundreds of tracks, many of which would fill out his posthumous releases. One of these tracks was "Hit 'Em Up," a scathing assault on the New York-based Bad Boy label, its president, Sean "Puffy" Combs, and its chief artist, the Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls). While in prison, Shakur made no bones about his belief that Combs, Smalls and his own friend, Randy "Stretch" Walker had been behind his 1994 shooting. His alignment with Suge Knight, whose own antipathy towards Combs and Bad Boy was well known in rap circles, seemed to indicate the beginning of a major East Coast- West Coast rap feud.
However, there were indications that the alliance between Shakur and Knight was less solid that many industry insiders assumed. Shakur had begun to focus his interests on the movie business, devoting much of 1996 to appearing in two films, the thriller "Bullet" and the dark comedy "Gridlock'd." He also began to distance himself from Death Row Records, which was undergoing internal turmoil over business practices and reported illegal activity. Shakur threw himself into a new project, Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, which he recorded under a new stage name, Makaveli, and with new, non-Death Row producers and artists. The new direction seemed to indicate a growing schism between Knight and Shakur, which would have dire implications in the months that followed.
In July of 1996, Shakur would make his last live performance at the House of Blues in Los Angeles with Snoop Dogg and various other rap outfits. Two months later, he traveled with Knight to Las Vegas to attend the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon boxing match at the MGM Grand. While there, an associate of Knight spotted a member of the Crips street gang who had led an assault on a Death Row employee in Los Angeles some weeks before. Shakur, Knight and several followers attacked the gang member, and the melee was captured on hotel security cameras. Later, Shakur and Knight would head for Club 662, a Death Row-owned establishment. While waiting at a red light, Knight's vehicle was approached by a Cadillac with an unknown number of occupants. A hail of bullets from the Cadillac struck Shakur, who was then rushed to a nearby medical center. Despite numerous surgeries, Shakur was expected to survive the assault; however, internal bleeding led to his death on Sept. 13, 1996.
In the months and years that followed, Shakur was elevated to folk hero status, while his death became one of the most hotly contested and mythologized incidents in rap history. Many suggested that the murder had been set in motion by Biggie Smalls, who himself was slain in a similar shooting just one year later in Los Angeles. A major investigation by the Los Angeles Times in 2002 suggested that evidence had been uncovered that linked Smalls to the shooting, but the documents were later proven to be fraudulent. However a documentary by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield, titled "Biggie and Tupac" (2002), alleged that Suge Knight was the guilty party due to Shakur's perceived departure from Death Row. Despite these and other theories, Shakur's murder was officially listed as an unsolved case with the Los Angeles and Las Vegas police departments.
However, Shakur would live on through recordings and tributes from family and friends. Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory would be released in 1996 and reach double platinum sales, and eight additional albums, composed of remixed tracks and abetted by guest contributions by a host of rappers and singers, would follow between 1997 and 2006. In 2003, the documentary "Tupac: Resurrection," which featured narration recorded by him before his death, received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Two years later, Afeni Shakur opened The Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in Georgia, which was designed to provide programs in drama, dance and creative writing to young people. Shakur's life and work became the subject of academic forums and discussions, which paralleled his brief existence with black folk heroes and figures in African-American culture. For his legion of dedicated followers, Shakur would become something of an urban saint, inspiring young people from his home in New York City to the slums of Brazil and the neighborhoods of South Africa.
In 2004, Shakur was named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest selling rap/hip-hop artist in history, with over 67 million albums sold worldwide. Publications ranging from Rolling Stone to Vibe placed him alongside Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Bob Dylan in their list of greatest artists, while the National Recording Registry added "Dear Mama" to its library in 2010. Even the Catholic Church placed their faith in Shakur's legacy by including his posthumous single "Changes" to their social networking site's streaming music service, where it was featured alongside Mozart, among others.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Made professional acting debut in a production of "A Raisin in the Sun", part of a benfit for Jesse Jackson's first presidential campaign
Debut album "This Is An EP Release"
Released first solo album "2Pacalypse Now"
Feature acting debut, "Juice" co-starring Omar Epps and directed by Ernest R Dickenson
Charged by former VP Dan Quayle that Shakur was partialy responsible for the shooting of a Texas state trooper by a young man who was listening to his first album
Starred in John Singleton's "Poetic Justice" opposite Janet Jackson
Sued by the wife of the Texas state trooper
Charged with aggravated assault after being involved with the shooting of two off-duty police officers in Atlanta; charges were dropped due to conflicting eyewitness reports
Acted in "Above the Rim"
Shot five times during a robbery in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio
Convicted of attacking a former employer while on a music video set; sentenced to 15 days in jail, 15 days on a highway work crew, 30 days of community service; was also fined $2000
Sentenced to 1 1/2-4 1/2 years for sexual assault; served 11 months
Sentenced to serve 120 days in jail for parole violation (April)