As a fan of rap and hip-hop culture, it is seemingly impossible not to know the name of Tupac Shakur as one of the legends and most influential rappers of all time. Many of his songs addressed social issues while also being catchy and addictive. Unlike the songs of today, his music repeatedly stands the test of time with many around the world still listening to his music. Unfortunately, his life was cut short, but he would have turned 50 this year. While his death is tragic, it is more important to focus on the life he led and the legacy he left behind.
Born on June 16, 1971, to black panther party members Billy Garland, and Afeni Shakur. Named after Tupac Amaru II, a revolutionary against the Spanish rule in Peru. Growing up in a family heavily involved in the Black Panther Party, Tupac became a strong advocate for black voices and creating a utopian black society post segregation.
The Beginnings: 1989-1993
Originally debuting as a roadie and backup dancer for rap group Digital Underground, Tupac would appear in their single “Same Song” as well as their album Sons of the P. Soon after, he debuted as a solo artist with his album 2Pacalypse Now. While facing commercial success, it did not come without its backlash with the US Vice President Dan Quayle stating “There’s no reason for a record like this to be released. It has no place in our society”. His second album featuring Ice Cube and Ice-T arrived in February 1993 with critical and commercial success reaching No. 24 on Billboard 200.
While his music career was shining brightly, his personal life did not come without its troubles. In August 1992, Tupac was attacked during one of his concerts and dropped his legally carried pistol. During the ensuing brawl, someone had picked up the pistol and accidentally discharged it killing 6-year-old Qa’id Walker-Teal on his bicycle 90 meters away. A little more than a year later, in October 1993, Tupac shot and wounded 2 off-duty officers in Atlanta. Originally being charged in the shooting, Tupac’s charges were dropped after the discovery that the police officers had been drinking and initiated the altercation. Nevertheless, his actions eventually landed him in jail for 15 days after assaulting director Allen Hughes in 1994, over an argument on the set of Menace II Society.
Thug Life, Me Against the World, and Biggie Troubles: 1994-1995
Near the end of 1993, Shakur formed the hip hop group Thug Life. With this group, they would release only one album titled Thug Life: Volume 1, on October 11, 1994. Right before the release of his third album, Tupac was shot multiple times in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio. Claiming the shooting was due to his rap rival Biggie Smalls, it sparked an east vs west coast rap feud. This led to Tupac releasing a diss track in June 1996, titled “Hit ‘Em Up” aimed at Biggie Smalls and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Stardom and Bigger than Life: 1995-1996
A month after he was imprisoned in 1995 due to sexual assault charges, Tupac released his third album Me Against the World, which is now hailed as his magnum opus. After getting bailed out by Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight, Tupac signed with the record label. He would go on to release his fourth album with them, All Eyez on Me, which was a critical success becoming certified 10x multi-platinum in July 2014. Unfortunately, Tupac would never live to see the release of his fifth album. On September 7, 1996, Tupac was gunned down at a stoplight by a white, four-door Cadillac. The cause of death was respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest from the gunshot wounds he received. His 5th and the final album would be released posthumously, titled The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory through his new stage name Makaveli.
Tupac’s legacy and influence would live on to this day, with many artists around the world citing his music as a major influence in their artistic development. His voice allowed for rap and hip hop to develop from its humble beginnings into the world phenomenon it is today.