You simply cannot call yourself a rapper these days without knowing every lyric to at least one song by the legendary Tupac Shakur. He was the West Coast’s Golden Boy and one of the most prominent figures in hip-hop throughout the early nineties and long after his death. MC’s such as Nas, Eminem and even The Game cite his work as one of their biggest influences and he continues to inspire generations of talented young artists from all different walks of life.
His music did more than just start a party, it crossed the boundaries of race, religion and even nationality by reaching fans all around the world who all continue to honour his memory today with their music and their artwork (not to mention the multicultural attempts at epitomising the phrase ‘Thug Life’. He dominated airwaves with his aggressive vocals and lyrics that would comment on everything, from social injustice, to how to get down in the city of Oakland, and left a mark on the mainstream media that would not go away for decades.
To this day, he remains an icon and, seeing as how Tupac has just been inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, there’s never been a better time to look back at his career and the impact that he managed to make as a rapper, producer, actor, poet and all around threat to the entertainment industry.
Unbeknownst to many, the rapper was actually given the name Lesane Parish Crooks when he was born, but his mother changed it a year later to what we know today after the Peruvian revolutionary, Túpac Amaru II. Although he became a favourite son of the West Coast Scene, Tupac spent most of his childhood on the East coast living in Harlem with his parents. Many of the people he grew up with (including his mother and father) were members of the Black Panther Party in New York and the Black Liberation Army, leaving him exposed to their ideologies.
Despite this, Tupac found himself spending a lot of time on stage but as a thespian (actor) rather than a musician, and he continued to study acting once his family moved to Baltimore, along with poetry, jazz and even ballet (seriously! even ballet!). By 1988, they were living in Marin City, California where the young rapper continued to act in his high school’s drama department and began attending poetry classes taught by Leila Steinberg.
She would eventually put young Tupac in touch with Atron Gregory, who signed the eager artist and set him up as a roadie for the hip-hop group Digital Underground in 1990. He made his debut on their track entitled Same Song which just so happened to be on the soundtrack to the film Nothing But Trouble.
Without hesitation, Tupac released his first album, 2Pacalypse Now, in 1991. A record that focused heavily on contemporary social issues and gave listeners from all corners of the globe a glimpse into the hardcore struggles of a young black man on the urban streets of America. Although not his best-selling record, it gained a lot of respect from critics and became an undeniable underground classic, a hallmark that many young 90s rappers aspired to thanks to Tupac’s exceptional lyrical prowess.
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… came next in 1993 and did far better commercially than its predecessor. His sound had transformed from indie-oriented rap into something that was more commercially viable and with the likes of Ice Cube and Ice-T appearing on some tracks, it was more than enough to put Tupac’s name into the mouths of mainstream media. Lyrical content continued to comment on social issues but the rapper also took the opportunity to express many of his political views as well.
After recruiting a few of his friends, Tupac started the infamous group, Thug Life, and released one album with them before making a phenomenal return with his 1995 album, Me Against The World. It was loved by critics and fans alike with its introspective themes and soul-searching lyrics that showed how much respect he had for the art form that had given him so much. Considered by many to be the magnum opus of his career, it proved that he was more than just an MC but a true artist of his time.
All Eyez On Me…
Tupac’s crowning achievement has to be the double-full-length monster that is All Eyez On Me. It was the pinnacle of nineties rap and the first hip-hop album of it’s kind, supplying two full solo records for mass consumption. It featured many prominent West Coast figures like Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg and did well to step away from the socially conscious sound of his previous albums without losing any fans along the way. It shot straight to the top of the charts and cemented Tupac’s place in hip-hop history as one of the greatest of all time.
Where Is He Now?
Two months before the release of The Don Killuminati: The 7-Day Theory, Tupac Amaru Shakur was slain in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. His death sent shockwaves throughout the world as fans from every nation were forced to say goodbye to their hip-hop hero. At a time when it seemed like the world of music needed him the most, his voice was forever silenced with no-one being implicated for the crime. Many pointed the finger at Notorious B.I.G. and blamed their ongoing rivalry as the cause of this senseless violence but still to his day no arrests have been made.
There’s no denying the impact Tupac Shakur made during his time as a global hip-hop sensation and he continues to gain fans each day, even without all the posthumous material released by death Row and Amaru Entertainment (a company started by his mother after he passed). For anybody looking to get their fix of Tupac Anthems, then there’s no better place to start than the iconic All Eyes On Me but for a more artistic dive into the world of Tupac’s music, I highly recommend Me Against The World. You can’t go wrong either way.
Got any insights you wanna tell us about? Wanna tell us about your love for Tupac? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com