When I was ten years old, I first heard Tupac’s Changes. I had never really heard hip hop music prior to this. In fact, I had never even heard music that dealt with things like racial and social injustice, poverty and loneliness. Needless to say I was changed forever. Now, this was in the days before mp3’s and iPods. I didn’t have the opportunity to purchase CDs either, so I would religiously listen to the radio hoping they’d play this song again. I wondered who this Tupac person was and when his next song was coming out. Unfortunately, after revealing my new obsession to a friend of mine, she dropped the bomb on me that Tupac had passed away. “He’s been dead for like, a few years now actually,” she said in a very matter-of-fact tone.
‘How could this have happened?’ I wondered. How could a young man with so much talent have died? Furthermore, why was I not aware of him while he was still alive? Since none of my friends listened to hip hop music, and my parents new nothing about the genre, I turned to the next great wealth of information – the internet. Thus I embarked on a decade long obsession with Tupac Shakur. I learned about his life, I learned all his lyrics, I watched all his films, I wrote in conspiracy theory forums and talked anyone who’d listen ears off about how he really was still alive. On his birthday and the anniversary of his passing, I’d light a candle. My mother made me keep the candle in the kitchen where she could watch over it because she was convinced that if it stayed in my room, I’d burn the house down. I wrote essays for school about him and I’d get into arguments with fellow classmates who dare said anything remotely negative about him. He was my first crush, my first true hip hop love and my first introduction to a genre that went on to define a huge aspect of who I am as a person.
Tupac was born on this day of June 16th, 41 years ago. I, without hesitation, can say that he went on to become the most legendary figure of hip hop music. It seems that from birth, Tupac was destined for greatness. He was born to Afeni Shakur, a member of the civil rights group the Black Panthers, who raised her son not only to think critically, but to be conscious of the world he lived in. Thus, from early on Tupac became sensitive to many facets of life that most young people aren’t even aware of. While completing the second half of his high school education at the Baltimore School for the Arts, he studied jazz, poetry and even ballet. He was involved in artistic academic pursuits which involved performing in Shakespearean plays and danced gracefully in ballets. Now, some lesser men who are uncomfortable with their sexuality may laugh at this fact and even hold it against him when in fact they should be envious. Tupac spent his high school education being afforded the opportunities that most teenagers only dream of. Clearly it was his enriched upbringing and education that set the groundwork for the man Tupac was to become.
It was in this very high school where Tupac participated in fine art pursuits that he also began rapping. His skills even back then were described as superior and he was said to be social with people from all walks of life including actress Jada Pinkett Smith (their friendship is the archetype for the love I hoped to find someday). In ’88 his family relocated to California and it is perhaps then that things started to drastically change.
The 90s saw the rise of Tupac’s rap career as he did his first vocal appearance on Digital Underground’s Same Song. His first release was the album 2Pacalypse Now which did not generate any buzz on the charts, but is considered an underground classic. The album eventually went on to be certified gold. His second album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished) saw more success on the charts and allowed Tupac to further stretch his lyrical muscles when it came to topics like politics and social climate. The songs I Get Around and Keep Ya Head Up off the album went on to become platinum selling hits. 1993 also saw the year that Tupac was sent to jail over accused of allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in his hotel room.
Now, I love all my sisters of this earth. I will always side with them and help them when they are in need, however, I truly believe that a man like Tupac who wrote songs like Dear Mama, and saw his mother as a queen would never hurt a woman. His tender and respectful relationship with Jada is a testament to his character which is why I have always refused to believe the charges brought forth against him.
In 1994 Tupac formed the group Thug Life (which he used as an acronym for The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everyone) with his stepbrother Mopreme Shakur, Big Syke, Macadoshis and Rated R. The group released Thug Life: Volume 1 which went on to be certified gold. On the night of November 30, 1994, Tupac was shot five times by two armed men in a Manhattan recording studio. He later went on to accuse Sean Combs and Biggie Smalls of setting him up and this eventually sparked the East Coast/West Coast beef that plagued the landscape of hip hop for many years. After being released from hospital, Tupac stood trial to find out that he had been convicted and sentenced to jail. While in prison, Tupac became penpals with actor Tony Danza and I remember in his posthumous documentary Tupac: Resurrection, there was a rumor that Madonna was supposed to visit him in prison. Everyone including the prison staff were so excited that they allowed him to have a second shower. Tupac mention this second shower as if it were the greatest thing he could receive, which just goes to show you how he appreciated the simple things in life. Unfortunately, Madonna never came to visit.
Me Aganist the World was released while Tupac served his sentence and he became the only artist to ever have a Billboard 200 album while serving a prison sentence. What many people don’t know is that while in prison, Tupac went on to marry long term girlfriend Keisha Morris. Unfortunately, the marriage was nullified just a year later. He also read many books like Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince which went on to become inspirations for albums further down the road. Me Againist the World went on to be considered his magnum opus which spawned the hits So Many Tears and Dear Mama. It was perhaps his most intimate album which divulge emotions that alluded to his tender-hearted side.
After 8 months of his sentence were served, Tupac was released on over a 1 million dollar bail by Suge Knight, CEO of Death Row Records. Suge went on to become a very influential figure in Tupac’s career, which I personally feel was not the best thing. His fourth studio album All Eyez on Me was released on Death Row and Interscope Records. It is considered one of the most acclaimed albums of 90s hip hop. It generated the hit California Love with Dr. Dre and in terms of production value, it is immaculate. It is historically significant as the first double full length solo hip hop studio album released for mass consumption. Tupac had also completed Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory but it would unfortunately not be released during his lifetime.
On September 7, 1996, Tupac was gunned down after leaving a boxing match at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He spent six days in the hospital and eventually succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead on September 13, 1996 at 4:03 p.m. PDT.
His death left a void in hip hop that will never be filled, but today we celebrate his birth, which is why I won’t go into tear inducing detail of how much he is missed. I will instead comment on what an outstanding human being he was. His popularity extended far beyond the hip hop community to all people fascinated with this figure. I remember at the end of Tupac: Resurrection a montage was made of young people all over the world holding his albums, paintings of him, wearing t-shirts with his face and standing against huge walls with graffiti portraits. I truly believe that Tupac would have been successful and accomplished even if he chose not to be a rapper. He was a talented actor as well as a poet and playwright. He could have gone on to become an author, social and community activist, ballet dancer, intellectual thinker, academic scholar, social commentator, cultural critic, politician or any sort of world leader.
He was simply created with the most divine tools our Creator could have used and it radiated from every pore in his body. Tupac is an angel because he has given a voice to those marginalized by society and hope to those who carry the weight of the world on their soldiers. He has given inspiration to all those who are surrounded by dead bleakness and strength to those who feel like they are stunted by reality. He will always remain in a special place in my heart. It brings tears to my eyes right now to think that someone who I have never met, nor will ever have the chance to meet provided me with such a broad scope of tools to integrate me into the hip hop community which I now consider home.
There are truly no words to describe how much love and respect I have for this man. Tupac, wherever you may be, I hope you have a awe-inspiring birthday. There may not be such as thing as the perfect man, but you are truly perfect in my eyes.
If you want to discuss the impact Tupac’s had on your life, I’m always down to talk. Hit me up @TheWomansWork