If not for a fateful night on September 13, 1996, today the hip hop world would no doubt be celebrating the 40th birthday of venerable rapper, poet and actor Tupac “2Pac” Shakur. Although his death shook the globe, his legacy and towering influence still permeates through the entire span of hip hop music and culture to this very day.
Born on June 16 in New York City, Shakur’s parents Billy Garland and Afeni Shakur were active members of revolutionary activist organization the Black Panther Party which the rapper credited for forming a lot of his earlier socially conscious records and much of his personal philosophy. Reared for many years on the east coast between New York City and Baltimore (where he befriended a young Jada Pinkett Smith), 2Pac moved to Marin City, California in the late 80s.
It was then that Tupac Shakur began to hone his formidable rapping ability and linking up with Bay Area rap group Digital Underground in 1990 on the track “Same Song” – marking his professional debut. 2Pac then went on to release his debut 2Pacalypse Now in 1991, a gold-selling effort and considered a hit album at the time. The first single from his debut release, “Brenda’s Got A Baby” has endured over the last 20 years as this signature work has been quoted and praised by dozens of artists over the years.
Two years later, 2Pac’s fame grew with his sophomore effort Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and garnered the rapper his first platinum plaque. However it was 1995’s Me Against The World where 2Pac would shine heavily on his third studio release. The album spawned the hit single “Dear Mama” and would go on to platinum status in the summer of 1995. Recorded in a few weeks before the rapper served time in prison on a sexual assault case, the album would go on to sell double platinum by the year’s end.
As an actor, 2Pac’s wide range of emotions would be highlighted as shown in his star turn in the role of Bishop in the urban drama classic Juice. Many speculate that after starring as the intense yet villainous Bishop, it would mark a heavy shift in Shakur’s life. Conversely he starred opposite Janet Jackson in the role of Lucky in the John Singleton-directed love story Poetic Justice. 2Pac would go on to do bit roles in a few other films and television shows, most notably the popular 90s sitcom A Different World.
2Pac had his share of legal troubles, and they too helped to shape his image and also defined the turbulence he experienced in his short but sensational career. Shakur, long an opponent of the police, once tried to bring about a $10 million dollar lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department who Shakur said beat him for jaywalking in 1991. 1993 was particularly tough for the rapper as he was involved in a shootout with two off-duty police officers in Atlanta in October of that year; prosecutors eventually dropped all charges as one of the officers lied in his testimony.
2Pac’s legal woes continued in November of 1993 when a young woman claimed Shakur and several of his friends sexually assaulted her after meeting at a New Jersey nightclub, although 2Pac claimed that he and the woman were consensual partners just days earlier. However, he was convicted of the crime a year later and ordered to serve time at the infamous Rikers Island prison for a short time before being shipped to the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. He was held on a $3 million dollar bond.
Just a day before 2Pac was to hear his verdict for the November case, he was shot and robbed on November 30, 1994 inside the lobby of Manhattan’s Quad Studios. Days later while in a wheelchair in court, 2Pac was charged with three lesser counts of molestation and was sentenced to prison in February of 1995 to the tune of one-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years. He was eventually bailed out by Death Row Records boss Suge Knight and this would cement a new union between Pac and Suge. This new partnership marked a shift in the popular Death Row Records direction as flagship artist Dr. Dre would go on to leave Knight’s stable to eventually form his own Aftermath imprint.
2Pac’s move to Death Row Records was for some the beginning of the end as many rap circles found Death Row CEO Suge Knight to be one of the more unsavory characters in the game. 2Pac’s fourth album All Eyez On Me was a smash, selling a reported 5 million copies in just 2 months after its release. The album had two number singles in “How Do You Want It” and the still popular “California Love” featuring Dr. Dre. All Eyez On Me was the first hip hop double album, featuring 27 tracks in total. It would be the last album released by the rapper while he was alive.
2Pac’s fifth studio album would be the last recorded material from the star. Completed in just seven days during the month of August in 1996, the album would be the first of many posthumous from 2Pac’s vast vault of unheard recordings. Recorded under his newly adopted moniker Makaveli, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory album has been considered by many rap fans to be 2Pac’s most complete work. The album also had a prophetic tone, as the rapper seemed to know his time was limited and depicted his demise on the record.
What has to be noted about 2Pac’s career is that in a short span, he alone shifted the tide of how west coast rap was viewed and his deep baritone raps resonated deeply in many fans who resided in some of the harsh communities and upbringings Pac often rapped about. It is this connection 2Pac enjoyed with a still rabid fan base that is the most astounding. Although 2Pac may have aligned himself with the west in an ill-advised war with Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep and other east coast favorites, his impact was felt by many in the so-called enemy territory he railed against.
On September 7, 1996, 2Pac was tragically gunned down after he attended a Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Following an altercation with a gang member, the still unknown assailants shot 2Pac who was a passenger in Suge Knight’s vehicle. He later died at a nearby medical center despite reports that said he would pull through.
Although 2Pac has been gone long physically, his influences are still felt to this day with songs such as Meek Mills’ “2Pac Back” single and Young Money captain Lil Wayne’s recent MTV “Unplugged” performance where the rapper performed a portion of 2Pac’s chilling “Hail Mary” – even calling it the “perfect verse” in an interview with MTV. Other rappers such as JaRule, DMX, and Eminem would go on to perform with the same unbridled passion and intensity of 2Pac and even R&B greats such as Mary J. Blige name 2Pac as a favorite.
2Pac’s crew The Outlawz were formed from the former Thug Life crew in 1995 and featured his stepbrother Mopreme Shakur. The crew continues to uphold the legacy of their fallen leader with several tribute songs and works dedicated to the life of 2Pac.
In Stone Mountain, Georgia, 2Pac’s mother Afeni helms the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation and its Center For The Arts where kids between the ages of 12-18 can hone their acting and vocal chops by trained staff just as 2Pac did as a young boy in New York and Baltimore.
Happy Birthday and Rest In Peace to Tupac “2Pac” Shakur. Your legacy lives on forever in song.