Early LifeTupac Shakur was born Lesane Parrish Crooks in New York City to Afeni Shakur, a member of the Black Panthers. Serving jail time on bombing charges while pregnant with Tupac, she faced a possible sentence of up to three hundred years in prison. Acting as her own attorney, she beat the charges and was released one month before Tupac was born.
Shakur 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 Shakur, was not always around to give him the discipline he needed.
Much of Tupac's upbringing revolved around the Black Panther philosophy. Impoverished during most of his childhood, Tupac, with his mother and half-sister, moved around to homeless shelters and various places to stay around New York City. As a result, he retained few friends and relied on writing poetry and diary entries to keep himself busy. At the age of 12, Shakur joined a Harlem theatre group and acted as Travis in Raisin in the Sun.
At fifteen, he and his mother moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he was accepted to the Baltimore School for the Arts. Tupac loved [his] classes and had the opportunity to study theater, ballet, and other arts. Even at this age, Shakur 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 about eastern religions, and even entire encyclopedia sets. He gained the respect of Baltimore kids by acting like a tough guy. Shakur composed his first rap in Baltimore under the name MC New York. The song was about gun control, and was inspired by the killing of one of his close friends.
Two years later, Afeni sent Tupac to live with a family friend in Marin City, California. Tupac described this move away from Baltimore and the arts school as where I got off track. He displayed a strong contempt for law enforcement, and was hassled occasionally for playing music loudly. In August of 1988 Shakur'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 and hustling on the street, but he also made friends who helped spark his interest in rap music. He made friends with Ray Luv, and together they started a rap group called Strictly Dope. Their neighborhood shows brought Tupac enough acclaim to land an audition with Shock G. of Digital Underground.
In 1990 Shakur joined as a second-string rapper and dancer for Digital Underground. While his rapping ability progressed quickly, his early lyrics were unremarkable and he was viewed ambivalently for his tendency to act like a diva and for his occasionally violent personality. Shakur made his first appearance on a record on the Digital Underground release This is an EP in 1991, and then in the Digital Underground's Sons of the P.
Rise to FameIn late 1991, a 20-year old Shakur rose to stardom with his acclaimed album 2Pacalypse Now. Although produced with the help of his Digital Underground crew, the intent of the album was to showcase his individual talent. Tupac drew acclaim for his ability to mix tracks with powerful individual messages exemplifying respect for single black mothers such as Brenda's got a Baby and Single Black Mutha. Many of the songs dealt with the issues of racism and life in the ghetto.
The album was a popular word-of-mouth success, achieving gold status, with Brenda's Got a Baby making it to the R&B Top 30. While Shakur claimed his album was aimed at the problems facing young black males, it was also filled with images of violence by and against police. 2Pacalypse Now quickly attracted public criticism, especially after a young man who killed a Texas Trooper claimed he was inspired by the album. Former Vice President Dan Quayle, as part of his zealous push for morals, publicly denounced the album as having no place in our society.
Along with Shakur's rise to fame came a series of altercations with the law that further complicated his public image. Before he started his recording career, Tupac had no criminal record. In Oakland in October of 1991, Tupac was stopped by two officers for allegedly jaywalking. When he told the police fuck y'all, he was choked, beaten, and had his head smashed on the pavement. He subsequently raised a ten million dollar lawsuit against the Oakland police department, which was eventually settled for $42,000.
Then, in 1992, he was arrested after being in a fight at the Marin City Outdoor Festival that culminated in a six year-old boy being killed by a stray bullet; the charges against him were dropped after Shakur settled with the boy's parents. Shakur is said to have dodged the bullet.
In October 1993, Shakur came upon two off-duty police officers whom he perceived as harassing a black motorist on the side of the road in Atlanta. Shakur got into a fight with them, and shot both officers (one in the leg, one in the buttocks). He faced serious charges until it was discovered that both officers were intoxicated during the incident and were using weapons stolen out of an evidence locker. The charges against Shakur were dismissed.
Shakur's next album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z achieved platinum status and included the hit singles I Get Around and Keep Ya Head Up, songs that exemplified Tupac's description of himself as both a passionate thug and a caring figure. Keep Ya Head Up was especially noted for its message of respect to young black women, and criticism of men for disrespecting them.
Tupac formed the group Thug Life with a few of his friends, including Big Syke, Macadoshis, his half-brother Mopreme, and Rated R. The group released their first album Thug Life: Volume 1 on Interscope in 1995 with moderate success, and were hailed as socially conscious rappers. The group's lyrical strength undoubtedly lay primarily with Tupac, as the group has had little success after his death.
A Troubled EndIn December, Tupac Shakur was charged with sexually abusing a woman in his hotel room. According to his account, he met a female fan at a club, Nell's, who was described to him as wanting to more than meet [him]. She allegedly gave him oral sex on the dance floor before Shakur took her back to his hotel room. The next night, she visited him before he was set to do a show, and was giving him a massage in a hotel room. Some friends who were with him that night interrupted the couple, wanting to enjoy the woman's attentions themselves. Shakur claimed to have left the room disgusted, and went to take a nap. The girl, disagreeing with his account, accused him of encouraging the three men, pulling her hair, and sodomy. On February 7, 1995, Shakur was sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison for the sexual assault charges, though he vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Shortly before his verdict was announced, in an apparent robbery attempt outside a music studio in New York, Shakur was shot five times. Tupac recalled the circumstances in an interview shortly afterwards with Vibe. He was with his close friend Stretch, manager Freddie Moore, and one other friend on the night of November 30, 1994.
They arrived at a studio so Shakur could do some recordings for an acquaintance, Booker, whom he didn't quite trust. When they got to the studio, Tupac was suspicious of two black men in their thirties, both dressed in army fatigues, because neither of them seemed to acknowledge his presence. He noted that he was less wary of them than he should have been because he had just finished smoking chronic. Shakur simply assumed they must be security for Biggie, whom he was still friends with at the time.
The two men, who Shakur described as looking like they were from New York, came at him with identical 9mm handguns, and forced him and his friends to the floor. Their aggression was focused almost exclusively on Tupac, although they did threaten to shoot Stretch as well. Tupac alone was shot, a total of five times while he played dead on the ground, and also robbed of thousands of dollars of gold jewelry he was wearing.
He was dragged into an elevator and taken upstairs to safety, where his then-friends Biggie, Puffy, Little Caesar, and others were waiting. Shakur described his friends as acting very strange, almost surprised at his being alive. His first words after realizing how severe his wounds were, having been shot in the head and testicles, were Oh shit. Roll me some weed.
Miraculously, he survived, and left the hospital a few days afterwards against doctor's orders because he was feeling harassed by phone calls and the doctors. He showed up in court soon afterwards in a wheelchair to face his verdict in the sexual assault case.
Shakur began serving his prison sentence later that February. Soon after, his multi-platinum album Me Against the World was released. Shakur has the distinction of being the only artist with an album at #1 on the charts while serving a prison sentence. From jail, he married his long-time girlfriend, Keisha Morris. He also had time to pursue reading, delving into the works of Niccolo Machiavelli, and even wrote a screenplay titled Live 2 Tell while incarcerated.
In October, after almost eight months in prison, Shakur was released on parole largely due to the help of the head of Death Row Records, Suge Knight. Suge posted a $1.4 million bail for Shakur, and in exchange Shakur was obliged to release three albums under Death Row. The singer was unrepentant and grew even more embittered against the authorities, which showed in his music.
Immediately after his release from prison, Shakur began work on his next album. In 1996, he released his fourth solo album, All Eyez on Me. It was the first double-disc of original material in hip-hop history. It went on to sell more than 9 million copies, and is considered by many to be among the best albums in the genre.
He continued his prolific recordings, despite the impending troubles at Death Row as Dr. Dre left his post as house producer and Suge Knight became more involved in illegal activites.
Shakur's last album created while alive was The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. Released two months after his death, this album was portentous and dark, and predicted his own death in many songs. The entire album is said to have been created in only seven days, and one of the more popular songs off this album, Hail Mary, was reportedly made in only thirty minutes. The album has sold over five million copies.
At the time of his death, Tupac was also building on his acting career. John Singleton wrote the film Baby Boy with Shakur in mind for the leading role, but Shakur died before it was made. It was eventually filmed with Tyrese Gibson in his place, and released in 2001, five years after Shakur's death. From 1991-1996, Shakur acted in 7 films, including the critically acclaimed Juice, Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson, and Gridlock'd with Tim Roth. He had also been slated to star in the Hughes brothers' Menace II Society, but was replaced by Larenz Tate after assaulting the directors.
RivalriesDuring his life, Shakur had a number of rivals. Most famous of all is probably his rivalry with The Notorious B.I.G. and his cohorts at Bad Boy Records. The two were originally close friends when Biggie was still largely unknown. After the robbery, though, Tupac publicly accused Biggie, Puff Daddy, and Andre Harrell of having a hand in his attempted murder.
While Shakur was in jail, he was incensed by Biggie and Puffy's derogatory remarks about him in Vibe Magazine. After all his legal troubles, Tupac claimed he wanted to get out the [rap] game, but Biggie's remarks spurred him to come back.
While filming Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson, Tupac created quite a stir when he refused to take an AIDS test as a prerequisite for a love scene with Janet. Shakur stated that other men had made love to Janet on stage before, without taking a test, and he didn't feel it necessary. However, Janet took offense, and stopped talking to him immediately after the filming was completed. Shakur later apologised to her in the song I Got My Mind Made Up, featuring Method Man, Redman, Kurupt and Daz. D, in the line Lyrics motivate the planet / Forgive me Janet.
As part of the ongoing feud between Shakur and his former friend Biggie, Pac bragged about having slept with Biggie's estranged wife, Faith Evans, in Hit 'Em Up. After Biggie's death six months after Shakur's, Faith and Puffy released a hit single in memory of Biggie called I'll Be Missing You.
In addition to his enemies at Bad Boy Records, Shakur suspected his former friend Stretch (real name Randy Walker) of being involved in the robbery. On November 30, 1995, exactly one year after the shooting of Shakur in New York, Walker was gunned down and killed in Queens, New York.
Pac also had some disputes with Dr. Dre, who was for a while the in-house producer for Death Row. Pac claimed that Dre did nothing at Death Row and was taking credit for other people's work. Shakur got angry when Dre refused to show up and testify in defense of his friend, Snoop Doggy Dogg, in a trial. In addition, Shakur made hints in songs that he thought Dre was gay, and Suge Knight concurred in the Thug Immortal documentary.
Shakur disliked LL Cool J, whom he thought was a wannabe thug and had had an album produced by Puff Daddy. Shakur also mocked Mobb Deep for snubbing him at a concert, and remarked on their small stature in the controversial track Hit 'Em Up, remarking "Ain't one of you niggahs got sickle cell or something?". After his death, Mobb Deep changed tack and apparently showed respect for Shakur.
DeathShakur was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 7, 1996 after attending the boxing match between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon. He died in the University of Nevada Hospital six days later from the four gunshot wounds. Earlier acts of violence were said to have spurred antagonism between him and other East Coast rappers (namely Notorious B.I.G.), bred by gangsta rap.
The Las Vegas Metro Police and Compton police, although they never officially solved the case, concluded that Shakur was shot by Southside Crips after the Tyson fight. Hours before, Tupac had been involved in a fight between the Death Row entourage, mostly made up of Bloods and a Southside Crip by the name of Orlando Anderson in the lobby of the MGM Hotel after the Tyson-Seldon fight. Shakur started the fight when he noticed the 21 year old Baby Lane Anderson, who had beaten up one of his bodyguards in a shopping mall a few weeks earlier, lingering in the lobby. Anderson and others were interviewed by police later in connection to the murder, though no suspects were ever publicly named.
It is appropriate to note that Shakur and the crew at Death Row generally depended on members of the Bloods gang for security, while Biggie and the Bad Boy Crew depended on Crips members for security when visiting California. An investigation by the Las Vegas Times, while not naming its gang-member sources, stated that Biggie (who was also in town for the fight) offered to pay the Crips in exchange for Shakur's death. It was noted by the Compton Gang Unit that the Crips were bragging about the killing soon after returning to Compton. Compton Police were disappointed with the lack of initiative showed by Las Vegas police in pursuing the killing.
Shakur's close childhood friend, and a member of the Outlawz, Yafeu Kadafi Fula, was in the convoy when the shooting happened and told police he might be able to identify the assailants. He too was killed shortly thereafter in New Jersey.
The previous robbery led Shakur to seek protection, and he employed bodyguards after getting out of jail in October, 1995. He was known to always wear a bulletproof vest in public. Why he did not on the fateful night remains a mystery.
Conspiracy theories about his death abound: they usually insist that he faked his death, that the shooting was a government assassination, that Suge Knight arranged the killing, or that Biggie was involved. The theory has attracted a considerable following online and is referred to as the Seven Day Theory, a reference to the fact that much of the evidence supporting it stems from the Makaveli album.
Weak evidence for some of these theories can be found in the following examples:
Shakur's last album before his death was The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory. Its cover eerily depicted him crucified, and was recorded under the pseudonym Makaveli, an allusion to the Machiavelli of old who suggested faking one's death to fool enemies. The executive producer was mysteriously listed as Simon instead of Suge Knight.
Tupac was known for making many allusions to his own impending death in his music, and even depicted himself in the music video of I Ain't Mad At Cha as an angel in Heaven with other dead celebrities, after being shot in a public place; a music video which was released only two days after Shakur's death.
Those who knew him personally find the idea that he is still alive laughable. Indeed, the many believers who expected him to return after seven years, in September 2003 were obviously proven wrong.
Although many hoped that Shakur's death would help heal the East Coast/West Coast rivalry, his rival Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down under similar circumstances six months later. Further clouding Shakur's death, Orlando Anderson, the man later suspected of being the shooter, was killed in an unrelated gang shootout in May of 1998.
Oddly, Shakur has released more songs posthumously than while he was alive. Conspiracies notwithstanding, Shakur was extremely dedicated to his work during his short career. Shock G remembered fondly that Pac would spend entire days in the studio, drinking Hennessy, smoking marijuana, and experimenting with new raps. Much of his work was only dug up and edited after his death. His music is still being actively released and remixed.
Shakur indicated after getting out of jail that he had lofty future plans, including mostly getting out of the rap scene by releasing high-quality, deep albums only once every five years or so. Pac also desired to give back more to the community, suggesting a Little League to encourage young black kids to keep on the right path. He ran an earlier project called The Underground Railroad that aimed to keep youths off drugs by getting them involved in music. Though he did not live to realize these dreams, his mother Afeni is currently attempting to carry on his work by raising money for a Center for the Arts.
On November 14, 2003, a documentary about the rapper entitled Tupac: Resurrection, was released under the supervision of Afeni Shakur and narrated entirely in Pac's voice with archival footage. Proceeds will go to a charity set up by Afeni. There has recently even been a new clothing line based on Shakur, Makaveli Branded.
Read earlier biographies on this page.
Tupac Shakur Facts
|Tupac Amaru Shakur
|June 16, 1971
|Brooklyn, New York, USA
|Date of death
|September 13, 1996 (age 25)
|5' 7" (1m70) How tall is Tupac Shakur compared to you?
|Tupac Shakur: Thug Immortal
|Biggie & Tupac: The Story Behind the Murder of Rap's Biggest Superstars
|Tupac Shakur: Before I Wake
|Tupac: The Complete Live Performances
|Above the Rim