He was once the greatest enigma in hip-hop, a mixture of fallen revolutionaries that existed before his time. He resembled the spirit of a leader, warrior and poet through his music and unique persona. He believed in justice, courage and love but above all he believed in himself. This is what gave the world the opportunity to hear his voice, a rose with thorns, maneuverer past concrete and grow through the use of a pen, beat and mic.
Today marks the death of one of hip-hop’s most beloved, respected and admired rappers, Tupac Amaru Shakur.
Tupac was born in East Harlem, New York on June 16, 1971. His name (renamed in 1972 from Lesane Parish Crooks) was given to him after the last Incan emperor and Peruvian revolutionary. He was the son of Black Panther member, Afeni Shakur who was actively involved in the empowerment of African-Americans during the late ‘60’s. He relocated in 1988 to California.
Tupac was drawn to the arts at a young age participating in school plays, musicals and more, this later followed him to California where he started off in the hip-hop group, Digital Underground as a backup dancer and later, emcee. A stepping-stone to what was yet to come for the young aspiring prodigy.
He discovered refuge in many art forms, which shaped him as an iconic rapper inspiring many others such as: Nas, J.Cole, Eminem, The Game and Talib Kweli. Raised in a political and revolutionary upbringing, Tupac felt a social responsibility to have his poetry, persona and music be reflective of something bigger than just rap.
It wasn’t until 1991 that the world discovered his poetic flow through his single, “Brenda’s got a baby“ from his debut album, “2pacalypse Now“. This single, rose to number three on Billboard’s ‘Hot singles chart’ and ultimately, gave the rising emcee his platform in hip-hop.
What followed next was his platinum selling album titled, “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z” with songs such as, “I get around“ and “Keep ya’ head up” crossing over to pop charts across the country. However, what made his single “Keep ya’ head up” so unique was that it was coming from the lips of someone whose music often highlighted violence, gangs and sex.
He took his craft and went against the tide and created a song for women struggling through life as single moms and more, in an era in hip-hop where that form of lyricism could have been easily over shadowed with the many other themes that were popular at the time. That’s gangster as f***.
Tupac had a famous tattoo across his stomach that said, Thug Life and he indeed incorporated that lifestyle on and off the mic. He faced many confrontations with the law in the 90’s and was even sentenced to four years in jail during 1995. During that year he released his third album while serving his sentence titled, “Me against the world“, which debuted as number one on Billboard charts.
“Me against the world” was a unique and reflective album because it showed a softer side to a man who was rough and rugged.It gave his listeners a glimpse of past and present hardships that were currently haunting him and even gave a troubling prophetic snippet of what would be his final chapter in hip-hop music.
Shortly after his release from jail Tupac gave his listeners a double album titled, “All eyez on me” which featured 28 songs, all written at the time of his release. “All eyez on me” was unique because it was the first of its kind, no other rapper at the time had released a double album but it was also an album that he once called, ‘a celebration of life’. This album came at listeners uncensored and ruthless and remains as somewhat as a gospel on West Coast streets.
What made “All eyez on me” a classic album was its relentless word play and its combination of funk and pop elements, which really made Disc 1 a bit more upbeat for Tupac in comparison to his other albums. Disc 2 gave listeners the darker beats and tempos, so listeners got a two-for-one deal from this album; best of both worlds. You can hear celebration, passion and rage in his flow throughout the album in songs such as, “Life goes on”, “California love” and “Got my mind made up”. But what made this album absolutely classic was his manipulation of rhymes, comprised of hidden messages and jabs, extending his legacy as a poetic rapper.
As a poet, the minute I heard “Brenda’s got a baby”, “I ain’t mad at cha“ and “Changes“ I instantly recognized him as a master of words and emotional delivery, which allowed listeners to feel his passion, struggle and rage through every rap. He had a poetic and uncompromising spirit that was present on and off the mic and further than this, he had the ability to communicate a deeper message to those bumpin’ to his music; his revolution was truly artistic.
Sadly, on September 13, 1996 Tupac was killed in a shooting in Las Vegas, cutting his life short but leaving behind a legacy that will never be forgotten or replaced. For that we thank you!