The Life and Works of Tupac Amaru Shakur
Both Tupac and Amaru are words of Inca origin. Together they mean, “shining serpent.” Shakur means “thankful to God,” from the Arabic language. Tupac, commonly known as America’s most controversial rapper was labeled a gangster rapper and one of the largest figures in the rap community. He was always known for doing what he wanted and not caring what others thought of him. His life symbolized what a lot of people have gone through. Through his music and movies he showed how hard life can be.
On June 16, 1971 Tupac was born to Alice Faye Williams in Brooklyn, NY. His mother was a “revolutionary” as she called herself “Afeni Shakur.” For many years she associated herself with members of the well-known Black Panther Party. She joined a New York chapter of the Panther Party in 1964 and fell in love with an organizer, Lumumba Abdul Shakur. After four years with Lumumba, Afeni started to see another party member, William Garland who was another activist working with the party members to support their causes. Around this time things were going downhill for Afeni. In 1969 she and other members of the Panther were arrested and charged with several felony counts, including conspiracy to bomb a public place. A well-educated schoolteacher, Afeni decided to defend herself. However, things took a turn for the worst. While out on bail she became pregnant with Tupac. Soon after, her bail was revoked. Afeni recalls: having previously miscarried “four or five” times, she did not expect to carry him to term. But Tupac, she says, “wanted to be in this world.” She remembers while in her cell she would pat her belly and say, “This is my prince. He is going to save the black nation” (Kin 151).
Acquitted and released on 156 counts from the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village for lack of evidence, she was now out of jail and eight months pregnant with Tupac.
By the time Tupac was born, Afeni had already lined up a job as a paralegal and things started looking up. However, soon after his birth, Afeni started snorting cocaine. For a while she was a very loving mother. Afeni started to see a man by the name of Mutulu as she tried to bring a father figure into Tupac’s life. He was also a member of the Panther party. Soon after, Afeni was pregnant with her second child, Sekyiwa. A few months before her due date, Mutulu had been sentenced to sixty years for a fatal armored car robbery. Afeni was once again a single mother raising Tupac along with his sister. A couple of years later his mother decided to move her family to Baltimore, Maryland, for a fresh start. While in Maryland the world got its first true taste of the life and works of Tupac Amaru Shakur.
By the age of twelve Tupac had already landed his first role with the 127th Street Ensemble, a theater group he attended in the impoverished Harlem section of Manhattan. Having to suddenly leave the group, Tupac wanted to continue studying theater. In Baltimore, Tupac was quickly enrolled in the High School of the Performing Arts. His mother made sure he was well educated, she recalls “He was articulate. I trained him. Punishment for him was reading The New York Times.” At age fifteen Tupac began to study acting and ballet at the Baltimore School of the Arts. Although mostly white students attended the school, Tupac felt in touch with them. He recalled:
Them white kids had things we never seen. That was the first time I saw there was white people who you could get along with. Before that, I just believed what everyone else said: They were devils. But I loved it. I loved going to school. It taught me a lot. I was starting to feel like I really wanted to be an artist. (Tupac)
While in the school of Arts, Tupac met a special friend, Jada Pinkett, whom he shared time with and created performances for anyone interested. Most teachers said he looked very promising; unfortunately he never finished school because his mother felt she needed an overall change.
Afeni Shakur then moved her family to a small town outside Oakland, CA. Shortly after Tupac moved to California, he enrolled in a college program, which allowed him to finish his high school credits. Tupac gained his rap experience through writing poetry, although no one recognizes this as one of his talents.In 1993, Tupac entered a poet circle where he wrote poems, which foretold his death. “In The Event of My Demise” is one of the poems taken from actual writings of Tupac Shakur from The Poetry Circle which seemed to indicate he was aware of his eminent death:
I have come 2 grips with the possibility
and wiped the last tear from My eyes
This poem caused many people to stop and think about the reasons that could have possibly made Tupac write this. Could it have been an assignment given by the Poets Circle or could it have been his overwhelming feelings of what was yet to come. Several “common” people were randomly asked who they thought the author of this poem was, why was it written and who was the audience. Most believed the author was writing to a family member or to people who didn’t like what he stood for. It was also felt that the author accepted his fatal death, but overall wanted to be understood. Others believed the author was aware he was dying and was actually writing his own eulogy. After disclosing the poem was written by Tupac, most were surprised yet were able to gain a better understanding of how deep he really was.
Sometime after moving to California with his family, he moved out on his own to Marin City, California and began to sell drugs. Around this time he also started to focus his time on dancing and rapping. In the late eighties, Tupac teamed up with Humpty-Hump (a.k.a. Eddie Humphrey, a.k.a. Gregory “Shock-G” Jacobs) and other Oakland-based rappers to create Digital Underground. The rap group was different; they had a live bass band, and a somewhat funk sound. With the low-key member Tupac, Digital Underground had great success. This opened the door for 2Pac to enter the rap game, where his socially conscious lyrics earned him the nickname ‘Rebel of the Underground’.
In 1991, Tupac achieved his dream and released his first solo album, “2pacallyps Now.” Tupac told Vibe:
Everybody knew me even though my album wasn’t out yet, I never went to bed. I was working it like a job. That was my number-one thing when I first got in the business. Everybody’s gonna know me. (“Vibe,” 1995)
This first album gained Tupac national popularity and created the first of his many life controversies. One song that attracted controversy was “Trapped”, which addressed certain issues and feelings of some young black males not having hope in “white America.” Another controversial song off the album was “Brenda’s Got A Baby”, which dealt with the alarming rate of black female pregnancy. However, in April, 1992 the album gained more controversy. A Texas state trooper was shot to death by a 19 year old young man, Ronald Howard, who later claimed to have been listening to “Soulja Story” off of Tupac’s album “2Pacalypse Now”. The man cited Tupac’s lyrics:
is it my fault, just cause I’m a young black male cop sweat me as if my destiny is makin’ crack sells only 15 and got problems cops on my tail, so I bail till I dodge ’em they finally pull me over and I laugh remember Rodney King and I blast on his punk ass now I gotta murder case. (Tupac)
This incident pushed Vice President Dan Quayel and a number of other politicians to call for a band on “gansta rap”. While all of this was going on with Tupac’s rap career, he believed it was the best time to start his acting career. In Ernest Dickerson’s 1992 film Juice, Tupac played Bishop, a kid who become addicted to violence. Some people said that after Tupac played Bishop, he began to become Bishop.
He began to lead a violent life. On August 22, 1992, he returned to his old neighborhood in Marin City; where he was in a shoot out which left a 6 year old boy dead. In April 5, 1993, he assaulted a fellow rapper with a baseball bat. October 31, 1993, he was charged with shooting two off duty police officers in Atlanta, Ga. The charges were later dropped. On September 7, 1994, there was another claim toward Tupac’s song “Souljah’s Story” by 2 teens that murdered a police officer. The teens said Tupac’s song was their inspiration. On November 19, 1993, he was charged with sexual assault of a 19-year-old New York female. On November 31, 1994, Tupac is found guilty of sexual assault, but is acquitted of sodomy and weapon charges. While out on bail waiting sentencing, he was shot five times during an attempted robbery outside a music studio in New York. Tupac was sentenced to eighteen-months to four and one-half years. Afterward, Tupac spoke with Vibe’s writer Kevin Powell, from behind bars he spoke of his disavowed “Thug Life”:
Thug life to me is dead. If its real, let somebody else represent it because Im tired of it. I represented it too much. I was Thug Life. I’m going to show people my true intentions, and my true heart. I’m going to show them the man that my mother raised. I’m going to make them all proud. I see my incarceration as a gift–straight up. It’s God’s will. Being getting clean after years of incessant marijuana smoking has cleared my head and given me a new perspective on my work. If we’re really saying rap is an art form then we got to be true to it and be more responsible for our lyrics. If you see everybody dying because of what you saying, it don’t matter that you didn’t make them die, it just matters that you didn’t save them. (Vibe, 1995)
Throughout his troubles with the law, Tupac had a very promising career. His first album 2Pacallyps Now went gold. He released two more albums, Februarys 1993 Strictly for my Niggaz(platinum) and Aprils 1995 Me Against The World (multi-platinum). He made two more movies Poetic Justice (1993) with Janet Jackson and Above the Rim(1994). In May 1995, while still in the New York’s Rickers Island penitentiary, Tupac married Keisha Morris. Tupac is released from jail on bail in October 1995 when “Suge” Knight, CEO of Death Row Records, paid $1.4 million to free him. In return, Tupac signs a record contract with Death Row, in Los Angeles. The last album released before he died, “All Eyes on Me,” was out April 25, 1996. This album sold over 6 million copies and was a groundbreaking for its quintuple platinum sales and was the first double CD for rap music.
Tupac was not happy recording under Death Row Record label and worked hard to fourfold his contact. By September of that year he had recorded over 2 albums for Death Row but was also mysteriously shot. On Friday, September 13, 1996, at 4:03 p.m. PDT, Tupac Amaru Shakur was pronounced died of respiratory failure and cardio-pulmonary arrest at University Medical Center, Las Vegas, after lingering in a coma for days. He died of bullet wounds to the abdomen and chest received seven days prior. Tupac was only 25 years old. To date, police still have no suspects in his murder.
After Tupacs death, Death Row released Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory under the artist name Makaveli. On this album, Tupac speaks of his death as his resurrection as Makaveli. This led many people to believe that he may still be alive. Soon after his death, Afeni released a new album by Tupac under her own label “Amaru Records” called “2Pac R U Still Down? remember me. This album was also a double CD that had several unreleased recordings by Tupac that he previously recorded at Interscope Records. Along with his other albums, this was also controversial. “Only Fear of Death” is the title of one of the most controversial songs on the album with such lyrics:
They wanna bury me, I’m worried — no need to lie. I pray to God I don’t scream when it’s time to fry. Nowhere to rest I’m losin homies, ain’t that a bitch. When I was rich I had clout, now a nigga’s lonely. I put the pistol to my head, and say a prayer. I see visions of me dead, Lord are you there? Then tell me am I lost cause I’m lonely. I thought I had friends but in the end a nigga dies lonely. Nowhere to run I’m in terror, and no one cares. A closed casket at my funeral and no one’s there. Is there a future for a killer? I change my ways But still that don’t promise me the next day They wonder if I’m hell bound… well Hell can’t be worse than this, cause I’m in Hell now Never will I die, I’ll be back Reincarnated as a mother*censored*in mack I love it cause in heaven there’s no shortage on G’s. I’m tellin you now, you mother*censored*ers don’t know me(Tupac)
In this portion of the song, Tupac once again foretells his vision of his death. The irony of the song is that it was released after his death, which lead many people to believe that he is still alive. Throughout the song, he repeatedly mentions not fearing his death, but rather, returning after death resurrected.
Hahaha, I ain’t scared to die. I ain’t scared to die. To my homies in heaven, I ain’t scared to die. Do you wanna live forever? Are you scared, to die? Or will you scream, when you fry? I don’t fear death. My only fear of death is comin back, reincarnated. (Tupac).
Tupac ended the song with the emphasis of being resurrected. The final chorus continuously repeated “Only fear of death is comin back reincarnated.” This further lead people to wonder who the song was directed.
Just as Afeni, Tupac was thought of as a revolutionary. He knew people wouldn’t understand what he stood for, but knew in his heart and mind that if he didn’t stand for what he believed in he couldnt stand for anything at all. Rev. Jesse Jackson best explained Tupac while standing outside the hospital in which Tupac died as he was talking to society as a whole: “Tupac has had many close calls. But this is about more than Tupac. It’s about the culture of violence that we live in, this survival of the fittest mentality that too often calls out for revenge, for retaliation. This is so sad, sometimes the lure of violent culture is so magnetic that even when one overcomes it with material success, it continues to call. He couldnt break the cycle.”
I believe Tupac, though he lived a violent life, mostly tried to keep others away from the life he had lived. He died after going farther than a lot of people would have gotten in their entire life. Some believe that Tupacs death was faked but I do not know which to believe. This man was great at what he did, rap, and movies and that is what I admire him for.
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Pareles, Jon. “Tupac Shakur, Rap Performer Who Personified Violence, Dies.” New York Times 14 September 1996, Sec. 1: 1+.
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