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He Was Only 25 Years Old When He Died But He’s Sold More Than 75 Million Albums. A Global Icon and A World Changer | Tupac

So what is it about Tupac that makes him so influential and so meaningful, even now 23 years after his death?

Tupac was born ‘Lesane Parish Crooks’ on June 16, 1971, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, USA, and died on September 13, 1996.

He is widely considered to be one of the greatest rappers of all time and his work has been noted for addressing contemporary social issues that plagued inner cities. Consequently, he is considered a symbol of resistance and activism against inequality. He was particularly passionate about rapping about issues that affected ‘the young black male’ during his time including police brutality, poverty, drugs, jail, broken families and gang violence.

His family fell on hard times after his step-father was sent to prison for robbery and they lived in shelters with his mother when they couldn’t make the rent.

His work contained contradictory themes shaped by his mission and own personality. It was a mix of social inequality and injustice, unbridled aggression, compassion, playfulness, love and hope.

Born into controversy

Tupac was born a month after his mother was acquitted of more than 150 charges of “Conspiracy against the United States government and New York landmarks” in the New York Panther 21 trial. His parents were active members of the Black Panther Party in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Many people in his early life were involved with the Black Liberation Army; some were convicted of serious criminal offenses and imprisoned, including his mother.

Renamed at one year old

At one year old, he was renamed by his mother to “Tupac Amaru” after Túpac Amaru II, the 18th-century Peruvian revolutionary who was executed after leading an indigenous uprising against Spanish rule. She said  she wanted him to have the name of a revolutionary, indigenous person of the world so that he would know that he was part of a world culture and not just from a neighborhood.

He was later given the surname of his step father, Mutulu Shakur, an American activist and former member of the Black Liberation Army, who was sentenced to sixty years in prison in 1986 for his involvement in a 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored truck in which a guard and two police officers were killed. He spent four years at large on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, beginning in 1982.

Early years and schooling

In 1986, his family moved from New York to Baltimore, Maryland. After completing his second year at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Shakur transferred to the Baltimore School for the Arts. There he studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet. He performed in Shakespeare plays and in the role of the Mouse King in the ballet The Nutcracker. Shakur, accompanied by one of his friends, Dana “Mouse” Smith, as his beatbox, won many rap competitions and was considered to be the best rapper in his school. He was remembered as one of the most popular kids in his school because of his sense of humor, superior rapping skills, and ability to mix with all crowds.

In 1988, Shakur and his family moved from Baltimore to Marin City, California, a small unincorporated suburban community located 5 miles (8 km) north of San Francisco. He attended Tamalpais High School in nearby Mill Valley. Shakur contributed to the school’s drama department by performing in several productions. In an English class, Shakur wrote a paper, “Conquering All Obstacles,” in which he said: “Our raps, not the sorry story raps everyone is so tired of. They are about what happens in the real world. Our goal is [to] have people relate to our raps, making it easier to see what really is happening out there. Even more important, what we may do to better our world.”

He began attending the poetry classes of Leila Steinberg in 1989. That same year, Steinberg organized a concert with Shakur’s group, “Strictly Dope”; the concert led to his being signed with Atron Gregory who set him up as a roadie and backup dancer with the hip hop group Digital Underground in 1990.

Music career

Tupac began recording his music in 1988 but his professional entertainment career did not take off until he joined Digital Underground in early 1990 and debuted in Digital Underground’s “Same Song” from the soundtrack to the 1991 film ‘Nothing but Trouble’. The song was later released as the lead song of the Digital Underground extended play (EP) ‘This Is an EP Release’, the follow-up to their debut hit album ‘Sex Packets’. After his rap debut, he performed with Digital Underground again, on the album “Sons of the P”.

Shakur released his debut solo album, “2Pacalypse Now”, in November 1991. Although the album did not generate any hit singles, it has been acclaimed by many critics and fans for its underground feel, with many rappers such as Nas, Eminem, Game, and Talib Kweli having pointed to it as inspiration.

He released his second studio album, “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…”, in February 1993. The album did better than the first both critically and commercially, and contained significant differences in production from his first work. The album debuted at number 24 on the Billboard 200 chart. It reached platinum status and is Shakur’s tenth-biggest selling album, with 1,366,000 units sold as of 2004. Originally released by Interscope Records, the rights to its distribution are now owned by Amaru Entertainment, the label owned by Tupac’s mum.

In March 1995 Tupac released his third album, “Me Against The World”, and this is considered by many to be the best album of his career. It is also perceived to be one of the most influential and best rap albums of all time. It sold 3,524,567 copies sold in the United States as of 2011 and won best rap album at the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards.

His fourth Studio Album, “All Eyes On Me” is often viewed as one of the crowning achievements of 1990s rap music.  It was certified 5× platinum (sold 5 million copies) after just two months in April 1996 and 9× platinum (9 million copies) in 1998.

His fifth and final studio album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, commonly shortened to The 7 Day Theory, was written, recorded and finished in a total of seven days in August 1996. The lyrics were written and recorded in three days and mixing took an additional four days. It was certified 4× Platinum on June 15, 1999. In 2005, ranked it in their top 10 greatest hip hop albums of all-time list and, in 2006, they recognized it as a classic. The emotion and anger showcased on the album have been admired by a large part of the hip hop community.

Acting and love for literature, poetry and Shakespeare

In addition to his endeavors in the music industry, Tupac also acted in films. His music and philosophy are rooted in many American, African-American, and world entities, including the Black Panther Party, black nationalism, egalitarianism, and liberty. Shakur’s love of theater and Shakespeare also influenced his work. As a child his mother would take him to the library almost every day. It is said that he was more well read at his age than the average first year student at an Ivy League school. He was not just a rapper. He was a poet.

Trouble with the law

In October 1991, at the age of 20, Shakur filed a $10-million civil suit against the Oakland Police Department, alleging that the police brutally beat him for jaywalking. He received approximately $43,000 in settlement money, much of which went to pay his lawyer.

On August 22, 1992, in Marin City, Shakur performed at an outdoor festival and stayed for an hour afterward signing autographs and pictures. A confrontation occurred and Shakur drew a legally registered Colt Mustang gun, and allegedly dropped it. As it was picked up by a member of his entourage, a bullet was discharged and fatally struck, about 100 yards (90 m) away, Qa’id Walker-Teal, a 6-year-old boy, who was riding his bicycle at a school playground nearby. Marin County prosecutors said they were stymied by a lack of witnesses. In 1995, a wrongful death suit was brought against Shakur by Qa’id’s mother. The defense attorney acknowledged that the bullet that killed Qa’id was traced by authorities to a gun registered to Shakur. The suit was dropped when Shakur agreed to pay a $300,000–$500,000 settlement to the parents.

On April 5, 1993, Shakur was charged with one count of felonious assault. He was accused of attempting to hit rapper Chauncey Wynn from the group M.A.D. with a baseball bat at a concert at Michigan State University. Shakur pleaded guilty on September 14, 1994, to a misdemeanor in exchange for the dismissal of the felonious-assault charge. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 20 of which were suspended, and ordered to perform 35 hours of community service.

In October 1993, in Atlanta, two brothers and off-duty police officers, Mark and Scott Whitwell, were with their wives celebrating Mrs. Whitwell’s passing of the state law bar examination. The officers were drunk and in possession of stolen guns. As they crossed the street, a car with Shakur inside passed them or “almost struck them”. The Whitwells argued with the driver, Tupac, and the other passengers, who were joined by a second passing car. Shakur shot one officer in the buttocks and the other in the leg, back, or abdomen, according to varying news reports. Mark Whitwell was charged with firing at Shakur’s car and later lying to the police during the investigation. Shakur was charged with the shooting. Prosecutors dropped all charges against the parties.

In November 1993, Tupac and others were charged in New York with sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel room. Shakur denied the charges. According to Shakur, he had prior relations days earlier with the woman which were consensual. Shakur was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse. The judge described the crimes during the sentencing of Shakur to 1½–4½ years in prison, as “an act of brutal violence against a helpless woman”. Because of his considerable legal fees, he could not raise the $1.4 million bail. Tupac began serving his prison sentence on sexual-assault charges at Clinton Correctional Facility on February 14, 1995. After serving nine months of his sentence, Shakur was released from the Clinton Correctional Facility on October 12, 1995 when Suge Knight, the CEO of Death Row Records, had posted the $1.4 million bail, pending Shakur’s appeal of the conviction, in exchange for Shakur releasing three albums under the Death Row label. The album “Me Against the World” was released while Tupac was serving his prison sentence. While in prison, he also married his long-time girlfriend, Keisha Morris, on April 4, 1995 but the couple divorced in 1996. Tupac cited that he married her “for the wrong reasons”.

On April 5, 1996, a judge sentenced Tupac to serve another 120 days in jail for violating terms of his release on bail.

In early 1994, Tupac was found guilty of assaulting Allen Hughes, co-director of “Menace II Society”; he served 15 days in jail.

Victim of robbery in which he was shot 5 times but survived

On the night of November 30, 1994, the day before the verdict in his sexual abuse trial was to be announced, Tupac was robbed and shot five times by three men in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. He believed the robbery was simply a setup for the attack, wondering why they would take jewelry and leave his Rolex watch. Three hours after surgery for his wounds, Tupac checked out of the Bellevue Hospital Center against doctor’s orders, and attended the verdict hearing the next day in a wheelchair.

Shooting leading to his death

On the night of September 7, 1996, Tupac was in Las Vegas, Nevada, to celebrate his business partner Tracy Danielle Robinson’s birthday. He attended the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson boxing match with Suge Knight at the MGM Grand. After leaving the match, one of Knight’s associates spotted Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, an alleged Crips gang member from Compton, California, in the MGM Grand lobby. Earlier that year, Anderson and a group of Crips had robbed a member of Death Row’s entourage in a Foot Locker store. Knight’s associate told Tupac, who attacked Anderson, assisted by his and Knight’s entourage. The fight was captured on the hotel’s video surveillance.

After the brawl, Tupac left with with Knight to go to Death Row–owned Club 662. Tupac rode in Knight’s 1996 black BMW 750i sedan as part of a larger convoy. At 11:00–11:05 p.m. (PDT), they were halted on Las Vegas Boulevard by Metro bicycle police for playing the car stereo too loudly and not having license plates. These were found in the trunk of Knight’s car and the party was released without being ticketed.

At 11:15 p.m. (PDT), when they were at a stop light, a white, four-door, late-model Cadillac with unknown occupants pulled up to the right side of Tupac’s sedan. Someone inside rapidly fired gunshots at Tupac. He was hit four times, twice in the chest, once in the arm, and once in the thigh. One of the bullets went into Tupac’s right lung. Knight was hit in the head by fragmentation.

After arriving at the scene, police and paramedics took Knight and the wounded Tupac to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. At the hospital, he was heavily sedated, placed on life-support machines, and ultimately was put under a barbiturate-induced coma to keep him in the bed. While in the intensive-care unit, on the afternoon of September 13, 1996, Tupac died from internal bleeding. He was pronounced dead at 4:03 p.m. (PDT). The official causes of death were noted as respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest in connection with multiple gunshot wounds. Tupac’s body was cremated the next day.

Posthumous albums

His fifth album, “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory”, was released two months later, and numerous other posthumous albums followed.

Who killed Tupac?

In 2002, the Los Angeles Times published a two-part story by investigative reporter Chuck Philips, titled “Who Killed Tupac Shakur?”, based on yearlong research that reconstructed the crime and the events leading up to it. Information gathered by the paper indicated that: “the shooting was carried out by a Compton gang called the Southside Crips to avenge the beating of one of its members by Tupac a few hours earlier. Orlando Anderson, the Crip whom Tupac had attacked, fired the fatal shots. Las Vegas police discounted Anderson as a suspect and interviewed him only once, briefly. He was later killed in an unrelated gang shooting.”

The article also reported the involvement of East Coast rapper The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac’s rival at the time, in the East Coast – West Coast feud, and several other New York criminals.

Before they died, The Notorious B.I.G. and Anderson denied any role in the murder. In support of their claims, Biggie’s family produced computerized invoices suggesting that he was working in a New York recording studio the night of the drive-by shooting. His manager Wayne Barrow and fellow rapper Lil’ Cease (James Lloyd) made public announcements denying Biggie’s role in the crime and claimed further that they were with him in the recording studio the night of the event. The New York Times called the evidence “inconclusive”.

In 2011, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI released documents revealing its investigation of the Jewish Defense League for making death threats against Shakur and other rappers.


Tupac was inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2003, MTV’s “22 Greatest MCs” countdown listed him as the “Number 1 MC”, as voted by the viewers. In 2008, The National Association Of Recording Merchandisers in conjunction with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized him as a very influential artist and has added him in their Definitive 200 list. On June 23, 2010, Tupac was inducted to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. In 2016, he was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

About The Author

Desmond Mapfumo is a Mindset Coach, Startup Builder and Consultant. He is the Founder and Contributing Editor For Inspiration Media Publications. Inspiration Media is member of the Rebirth Group, which he also founded and leads as the Chief Executive Officer.

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