Tupac Shakur, who lived the life of a hip hop and rap luminary, was born June 16, 1971 in New York. Interestingly enough, the most outspoken and unpredictable rap artists of all time was named after a Peruvian leader, by the same name, who led a civil rights rebellion. "Tupac Amaru" also means "Shining Serpent," and "Shakur" means "Thankful to God." Tupac, aka 2Pac, was a natural born leader; not only did he impact the world of hip hop and rap music, he also frequently spoke on societal issues regarding class-ism, racism, and sexism. Despite his troubled upbringing, controversial life, and untimely demise, Tupac is remembered by his family, friends, and fans as an artistic genius and a prophetic speaker who ripped the truth wide open and left it exposed and raw for the whole world to see.
No doubt, Shakur took after his mother, Afeni Shakur, who was notoriously a member of the civil rights activist group The Black Panthers. Tupac and his mother were close, and he stuck by Afeni despite her struggles with drug addiction and being a welfare mom. To hear him say it, she had a tough job raising a precocious young man who was as diverse in his emerging mindset as he was rigid about his ascent out of the poverty that surrounded his early upbringing. During this rare interview, Tupac describes how living life in the ghetto molded him as an artist and an individual.
"Everybody needs a little help when they are working on their way to being, you know, self reliant."Tupac was also known to dabble in the arts. Acting, dancing, and music were the things he loved to spend his time doing as a young man. Throughout his teenage years, he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts. Staying true to what could be referred to as his "Yin/Yang" energy, Shakur thrived on a well-rounded education, and even received formal training in ballet while attending the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Tupac first began to come up when he developed an alliance with hip hop group Digital Underground. At first, Tupac showed up as a dancer and roadie for Digital Underground, but once Greg "Shock G" Jacobs (better known as "Humpty Hump") heard the work Tupac put in on the mic, he insisted on making Pac part of the troupe. In 1990 and 1991, Tupac was included vocally on two of their albums, This is an EP and Sons of the P. While writing for Digital Underground, Tupac began drafting his own material.
In 1993, Tupac showed that he not only had musical chops, but was also a force to be reckoned with on the big screen. He was cast alongside Janet Jackson in the movie Poetic Justice. His role as smooth-talking, ambitious Lucky Lawrence garnered rave reviews, and even landed Tupac a nomination at the Image Awards in 1995 for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.
Many of Shakur's songs were about the trials and tribulations of living life as an African-American in post racial times. He was fearless in his writing, and often would tenaciously tackle lyrics that exposed the lifestyle of his self-professed "thug life." Tupac was passionate about several social causes and was not hesitant to speak out in the name of social justice. His hustle and charisma would make Tupac a role model and inspiration to the hip hop and rap genres of music and one of the most highly respected MCs of all time.
Tupac was a walking dichotomy, however. He often showcased both his inner street thug persona as well as a side that was sentimental, almost sensitive. In "Ain't Nuthin but a Gangsta Party," Tupac not only exposes his lyrical prowess but also his thuggish machismo. "Dear Mama" was the first single off of Shakur's third studio album, Me Against the World, which was released in 1995 and showed a more tender, compassionate side of his personality. To be able to express his emotions and personality through song so freely and without care of judgment was something Shakur would become well known and well respected for among his fans.
In 2013, Tupac's mother Afeni went public with the news that she'd be releasing more Tupac material. In a statement via Billboard, Afeni addressed the intention and motives behind this release.
"I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that Tupac's entire body of work is made available for his fans. My son left many incomplete pieces and even more unfinished ideas. Using blueprints he gave us, I am committed to fulfilling this duty."Shakur would be party to several legal troubles throughout his career, and spent time locked up for sexual assault charges, allegations for which he claimed innocence until his dying day. Despite his legal woes, Tupac would continue to blow up the rap scene throughout the 90s until his untimely death in Las Vegas on September 13, 1996, when he was gunned down after attending a boxing match at the MGM Grand with Death Row Records mogul Suge Knight.
Tupac Shakur was a hugely successful artist who many feel was just hitting his stride when he died. Though his meteoric rise to rap super-stardom was met with such a sudden and tragic end, Tupac Amaru Shakur's life and legacy has left an indelible mark on the world as we know it. The message that he brought to the world through his own brand of rugged, heart-wrenching, in-your-face lyrics only grows stronger and more prophetic as time marches on.
[Photo credit: Billboard/All Hip Hop]