Born: June 16, 1971 in New York, New York, United States
Died: September 13, 1996 in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States Ethnicity: African American
Occupation: Rap Musician, Musician, Actor
"Don't shed a tear for me ... / I ain't happy here / I hope they bury me and send me to my rest / Headlines readin' murdered to death."--from "If I Die Tonight" on Me against the World (1995) BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
With his tattoo-splattered physique, piercing deep-set eyes, and shaved head, Tupac Amaru Shakur came across as middle America's worst nightmare, the darkest strain of hip-hop. To fans, Shakur was only "thuggin' against society, thuggin' against the system that made me," as he once rapped. Like some other rappers, Shakur was criticized for his sexist lyrics He celebrated his mother, Afeni, but was equally capable of debasing women in his music. The contradictions hardly ended there. In his last video, "I Ain't Mad at Cha," Shakur--newly arrived in Heaven--saluted an old friend for quitting the "thug life." In "Only God Can Judge Me," Shakur foresaw death bearing down on him, yet seemed unable to tolerate his rival, The Notorious B.I.G. and B.I.G.'s mentor, Sean "Puffy" Combs. Shakur's "Hit 'Em Up," the last single issued during his twenty-five-year lifetime, set new highs of profane rage against B.I.G., who was later gunned down after Shakur's own untimely death. Yet millions of fans found something meaningful in Shakur's troubled life and lyrics, like a thirty-two-year-old Detroit accountant buying her first Shakur album. "I've never supported that kind of music," she told the Detroit News, "but there was something so tragic about the way he died ... It's almost like I'm looking for answers." Politician Jesse Jackson also tried to explain Shakur's downfall and apparent appeal, telling the Los Angeles Times: "Sometimes the lure of violent culture is so magnetic that even when one overcomes it with material success, it continues to call." Acting bug bit early
From his June 16, 1971, birth in New York City, Shakur's life read much like an epic melodrama. His mother, Afeni, and father, Billy Garland, belonged to the Black Panthers, a militant group dedicated to achieving racial equality. Just two years earlier, in 1969, Afeni and then-husband Lumumba Adbul Shakur were among twenty New York Panthers arrested for multiple felonies. While out on bail, she dated Garland--a Panther from Jersey City, New Jersey--and a low-level gangster known only as "Legs." Although Afeni lost bail in 1971, she and thirteen codefendants beat the charges in May; in June, Tupac was born. His first and middle name (Tupac Amaru) come from an Inca prince, while his surname (Shakur) means "thankful to God" in Arabic. By then, Garland was no longer seeing Afeni, and he didn't see Tupac until his son filmed Juice in 1992. Tupac always cited his family background as a source of underlying conflict --along with the gap between his mother's revolutionary ideals and living with relatives or in homeless shelters. "Here we was," he told Rolling Stone, "kickin' all this [talk] about the revolution--and we starvin'. That didn't make no sense to me." He held greater admiration for Legs, an associate of reputed Harlem druglord Nicky Barnes, until Tupac discovered that it was Legs who had introduced Afeni to crack cocaine. (Legs later died of a crack-induced heart attack.) But Tupac showed a flair for performing; at fifteen, he won enrollment to the Baltimore School for the Arts, taking roles in several productions there. "I was writing poetry," he told Rolling Stone, "and I became known as MC New York, because I was rapping, and then I was doing the acting thing.... It was the freest I ever felt in my life." That ended at seventeen, when his family moved to Marin City, California--a ghetto called "The Jungle"--and Tupac's relationship with Afeni broke down completely. He survived by hustling on the streets and selling drugs. "Everybody's...