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Rap Biographies: Tupac Amaru Shakur

Tupac Amaru Shakur
2Pac became the unlikely martyr of gangsta rap, and a tragic symbol of the toll its lifestyle exacted on urban black America. Most of Shakur's songs are about the hardships of growing up around violence in United States ghettos, poverty, racism, and sometimes his feuds with fellow rappers. Tupac is known for the political, economic, and racial equality messages that pervade his work. His music features extensive use of metaphor and shows a high degree of lyrical structure.

Tupac Amaru Shakur was an American hip hop artist, poet and actor. He is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling rap/hip-hop artist ever, having sold 67 million albums worldwide (mostly posthumously), including 37 million in the United States alone, and has had 17 top-10 singles in the U.S. He is consistently voted by fans, critics and industry insiders as one of the greatest rap artists of all time.

Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in Manhattan, New York on June 16, 1971. Tupac Amaru means "shining serpent", and Shakur is Arabic for "thankful to God". Tupac was the son of the political activist Alice Faye Williams (Afeni Shakur). His mother, Afeni, was an active member of the Black Panther Party in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Tupac was born just one month after his mother's acquittal on more than 100 charges of "conspiracy against the United States government and New York landmarks" in the "New York Panther 21" court case. He was named after Tupac Amaru II, an Inca who was sentenced to death by the Spaniards.

Tupac was raised under difficult circumstances. His stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, was found guilty of the attempted robbery of a Brinks armored car in which two police officers and a guard were killed.

At the age of 12 Tupac found a passion for acting and writing poetry. Afeni enrolls him in a Harlem theater group. His first major role with this acting troupe was as Travis in the play A Raisin in the Sun.

In 1984, when he was 15, Tupac's family relocated to Baltimore. Tupac became a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts. At the School for the Arts, he studied ballet, poetry, jazz, and acting, performing in Shakespearean plays and landing the role of the Mouse King in The Nutcracker.

In June 1988, Afeni moved her family once again, this time to Marin City, California, where Tupac continued to pursue his career in entertainment. In 1990 Tupac became a back-up dancer and roadie for the up-and-coming rap group Digital Underground. In early 1991, he debuted his rap skills on the single "Same Song" from the Digital Underground album. Also in 1991 he appeared in the video for "Same Song" and made a brief appearance as himself in the movie Nothing But Trouble.

In late 1991, after his rap debut on "Same Song" with the group Digital Underground, Tupac released his first solo album, 2Pacalypse Now. Initially he had trouble marketing his solo debut. Eventually, Interscope Records executives Ted Field and Tom Whalley agreed to distribute the record. Although produced with the help of his Digital Underground crew, the intent of the album was to showcase his individual talent.

Tupac claimed his first album was aimed at the problems facing young black males, but it was publicly criticized for its graphic nature and images of violence by and against police. In one incident, a young man claimed his killing of a Texas trooper was inspired by the album. "2Pacalypse Now" did not do well on the charts, spawning no number-one hits.

Tupac's second CD, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., was released in 1993 on the Jive label. It was heavily produced by Stretch and the Live Squad, and generated two number one hits: the emotional Keep Ya Head Up and the playful I Get Around, the latter featuring guest appearances by other members of the Digital Underground crew.

In addition to rapping, Tupac also achieved fame as a movie actor. His first starring role was in the 1991 movie Juice, in which he was hailed by Rolling Stone's Peter Travers as "the film's most magnetic figure." Director John Singleton claimed that he wrote the film Baby Boy with Shakur in mind for the leading role, but was killed before the film was made. It was eventually filmed with Tyrese Gibson in his place and released in 2001, five years after Shakur's death.

Along with Shakur's rise to fame came a series of altercations with the law that further complicated his public image. Before he started his recording career, he had no criminal record. In October 1991, he was stopped by two Oakland police officers for allegedly jaywalking. He claimed that when he cursed at the officers he was choked, beaten, and had his head smashed on the pavement. He subsequently filed a ten million dollar lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department, which was eventually settled for $42,000.

Throughout much of 1993 and 1994 Shakur was in and out of jail on various charges. He was arrested in Los Angeles for carrying a concealed weapon, was implicated in the shooting deaths of two undercover policemen and was convicted of sexual assault.

In October 1993, Shakur came upon two off-duty police officers whom he allegedly perceived as harassing a black motorist on the side of the road in Atlanta, GA. Shakur allegedly got into a fight with and shot both officers (one in the leg, one in the buttocks). He faced serious charges until it was discovered that both officers were intoxicated during the incident and were using weapons stolen from an evidence locker. The charges against Shakur were dismissed.

In late 1993, he formed the group Thug Life with a few of his friends, including Big Syke, Macadoshis, his step-brother Mopreme, and Rated R. The group released their first album Thug Life: Volume 1 on Interscope in 1994 which, despite its hardcore content, still managed to be certified as a gold record. The group subsequently disbanded after Shakur's release from prison.

In December 1993, Shakur was charged with sexually abusing a woman in his hotel room. According to his account (given in a pre-sentencing interview), he was introduced to a female fan at a club called Nell's, who was described to him as wanting to "more than meet [him]". Shakur strongly denied her explanation of the incident, but on February 7, 1995 was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for sexual assault.

The day before the verdict was announced, Tupac Shakur was shot five times in an apparent robbery attempt in the lobby of the Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. On the night of November 30, 1994, Shakur, his manager, and two friends had just arrived at a studio to do some recordings for Booker, when two black men in their thirties, both dressed in army fatigues, robbed Shakur at gunpoint. Their aggression was focused almost exclusively on Shakur, although they did threaten to shoot his friend as well. They forced everybody to lie on the floor, but Shakur remained standing. They demanded he hand over his jewelry, which he refused to do. Tupac was wounded once in the leg, and then grazed along his scrotum by the first gun shot. He fell to the floor, and was shot a further four times, which he later claimed not to have realized; he believed he was being kicked and that his head was being beaten upon the floor. He recalled seeing white light, but never believed he could die. He lay silent, pretending to be dead. He was robbed of the gold jewelry he was wearing, worth over forty thousand dollars.

Upon regaining consciousness, he took the elevator upstairs, where his first words after realizing the severity of his wounds were, "Call my mom and tell her I've been shot." He appeared in court the next day in a wheelchair to face his verdict in the sexual assault case.

Shakur began serving his prison sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility later that February. Soon after, his multi-platinum album, Me Against the World, was released. Shakur has the distinction of being the only artist with an album at number one on the charts while serving a prison sentence. He had time to pursue reading, delving into the works of Niccolò Machiavelli, which inspired his later use of the name "Makaveli", Sun Tzu's The Art of War and other works of political philosophy.

In September, after almost eight months in prison, Shakur was released on bail largely due to the help of Suge Knight, the head of Death Row Records. Suge posted a $1.4 million bail for Shakur, and in exchange Shakur was obliged to release three albums through his label. The rapper was unrepentant and grew even more embittered against the authorities, which showed in his music.

Immediately after his release from prison, Shakur went back to work recording. He began a new group, Tha Outlawz, and with them released the song "Hit 'Em Up", a bitterly scathing lyrical attack on Biggie Smalls (Christopher Wallace) and others associated with him. Though the two had been friends, Wallace's behavior on the night Shakur was shot had left Shakur convinced that Wallace had had some prior knowledge of the attack; Wallace steadfastly denied this, but Shakur remained unconvinced. Shakur took the lyrics of Wallace's song "Who Shot Ya?" as being, in effect, Wallace bragging about his involvement in the attack, and the seeds of the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop war were laid. Wallace and Shakur would remain enemies until Shakur's death.

On February 1996, Shakur released his fourth solo album, All Eyez on Me. The double album was the first and second of his three-album commitment to Death Row Records. It was the first double album in hip hop history, going on to sell over 9 million copies.

From there, Shakur continued his recordings despite the impending troubles at Death Row, as Dr. Dre left his post as house producer and Suge Knight became more involved in illegal activities. Shakur produced hundreds of tracks during this period, most of which would be released on posthumous albums such as Better Dayz and Until the End of Time. He also began the process of recording an album with the Boot Camp Clik and their label Duck Down Records, both New York based, entitled One Nation. The goal of this project was to bring closure to the East-West feud by bringing together what Shakur thought were the best rappers from both coasts. This remains unreleased, although 2Pac verses from the album have been put on posthumous releases.

Shakur was shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996 after attending the boxing match between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon. Hours before the shooting, Shakur had been involved in a fight in the lobby of the MGM Grand hotel after the Tyson-Seldon bout. Shakur started the fight when he noticed 21-year-old Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, a reputed member of the Southside Crips, lingering nearby. Anderson had allegedly beaten up one of Shakur's bodyguards in a shopping mall a few weeks earlier, thus prompting Shakur's provocative actions.

After the fight with Anderson, Shakur left the MGM Hotel, went to the hotel with his fiancé, Kidada Jones. Then, he met up with Suge Knight to go to Death Row's Club 662 (now restaurant/club Seven) in Las Vegas. The two drove together in Knight's 1996 black BMW 750i sedan, part of a larger convoy of cars including some of Shakur's friends and bodyguards. Shakur was not wearing a bulletproof vest that night, even though Death Row had provided him with one. At 11:15 P.M., Knight's car stopped at the intersection of East Flamingo Road and Koval Lane. A white Cadillac was seen pulling up to the passenger side of the car, with someone inside firing twelve rounds into the car as Shakur attempted to climb to safety in the back seat.

Shakur was hit five times, twice in the chest, and in his arm and thigh, while Knight was scratched by a piece of flying glass (while later claiming in an interview he had a bullet stuck in his head). The BMW's two passenger tires were also shot out.

Knight drove through the busy strip to find the nearest hospital. His car hit a median and caused a third tire to go flat, forcing the car to stop. The police arrived and called in paramedics. Shakur and Knight were taken to the University Medical Center. Shakur survived on life support for six days, dying on September 13 1996 at 4:03 PM. After his death, Shakur's body was cremated, and family and friends reportedly spread his ashes in the Pacific Ocean near L.A., saying that Shakur would want to be in his beloved city.

Although no one has ever been formally charged, nor publicly identified by the police as a suspect, police sources have indicated that the authorities believe that Anderson and his fellow were behind the shooting, with their immediate motivation being Shakur's involvement in attacking Anderson earlier that night.

In 2002, an investigation by Chuck Phillips of the Los Angeles Times, while not naming its gang-member sources, stated that Wallace met with the Southside Crips who requested that he pay them $1 million in exchange for Shakur's death.

Because of the acrimony between Wallace and Shakur, general speculation about the possibility of Wallace's involvement in the murder had been commonplace from the outset, with Wallace always vehemently denying any taking part. By the time the newspaper article made these allegations Wallace himself had been murdered. On Wallace's behalf, his family and associates have claimed that he was not in Las Vegas on that night; they turned over to MTV documentation which seemed to indicate that indeed Wallace had reserved time that night in a recording studio in New York owned by Sean Combs (Puff Daddy). Additionally, they turned over a digital audio tape supposedly from that recording session which was date-stamped as being from September 7/September 8, 1996. Both manager Wayne Barrow and rapper James Lloyd (Lil' Cease) have publicly stated that they were personally with Wallace at that recording session. Lloyd has stated that after the session, they returned to Wallace's home in New Jersey, which is where they watched the boxing match together.

The video for the single "I Ain't Mad at Cha", shot a month before his death, showed Tupac being shot and killed and later in heaven jamming with mostly other deceased African-American musicians such as, Billie Holiday, Donny Hathaway, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Robert Johnson, and Sammy Davis Jr.

Shakur's last album created while alive was The 7 Day Theory. Released two months after his death, this album was portentous and carried a dark vibe from beginning to end. Radio-friendly tracks included "2 live and die in L.A", "Toss it up" and "Krazy".

The entire album was recorded in a seven day time span, hence the subtitle. Along with hundreds of other theories that sprang up after his death and the release of the album, it was believed for quite a while that within the first few seconds of the album, you could hear someone saying "Suge shot me," or "Suge shot 'em." However, in many independent investigations, including one conducted by MTV, it is believed that the actual quotation is "Shouldn't have shot him."

Labelled as being by "Makaveli" - a pseudonym inspired by Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli - and depicting on its cover a crucified Shakur, the album has sold over five million copies.

His mother Afeni opened the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in June 2005, to carry on his work, by helping youths accomplish their goals. Afeni Shakur has also indicated in several interviews that the final album of original music will be released in 2006.

More of Shakur's recordings have been released posthumously than while he was alive. Rights to his music are now owned by Amaru Entertainment, which is controlled by his mother Afeni, and artist royalties are assigned to the Tupac Foundation, which has used the revenue to build the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in Stone Mountain, Georgia. In 2005 the chart-topping single Ghetto Gospel was released, featuring an Elton John sample. Tupac is also the writer of the screenplay of the upcoming announced film Live 2 Tell debuting in theatres sometime in 2006. He wrote the film project during his jail sentence in 1995.

Tupac Shakur was a multi-talented legend, he is considered by many to be the greatest rapper of all time. 2Pac's lyrics always went deep into the meaning of many political and social subjects including violence, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and broken families. 2Pac was down to die for everything he represented. He was very open and always expressed his mind. Some people consider 2Pac a modern-day prophet. As his career arc began a steep rise toward fame and fortune, Shakur was shot. And his death became a jolt to his fans and the music community. His death brought renewed attention to inner city violence, corruption in the rap music industry, and East Coast/West Coast rap feuds, his shooting remains a mystery, its motive the subject of much speculation by fans and industry insiders.
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