WORDS BY: JC RODRIGUEZ
Few can match the complexity, intelligence and charisma of Tupac Shakur - the artist who, in less than a decade, changed the musical landscape and sold more than 75 million records. Known by the stage name, 2Pac, he was a polarizing figure whose influence impacted pop culture for black and white America alike. Anyone growing up in the 90’s can attest to the ongoing debate on whether one was with 2PAC or Biggie - west coast versus east coast. But while he was a man known for his talent, empathy for the black community and almost prophetic intelligence, he also had a reputation for a volatile personality, outspoken opinions and violent behavior. A classic conundrum, Tupac Shakur, attracted fascination for HIS ability to love and hate SO FULLY, making him quite simply an icon.
Born Lesane Parish Crooks on June 16, 1971 in East Harlem, he was later renamed Tupac in 1972 after a Peruvian revolutionary who led an uprising of indigenous people against Spanish rule. His mother Afeni Shakur and his father Billy Garland were active members of the Black Panther Party in New York during the late 60s. Many people in Tupac’s life where involved in the Black Liberation Army, some even convicted and imprisoned for serious crimes.
By 1986, his family moved to Baltimore where he attended the Baltimore School of the Arts to study. He studied poetry, jazz and ballet and even performed in Shakespeare plays and The Nutcracker ballet. In 1988, Tupac moved to Marin City, just north of San Francisco, CA, with his family.
A year later, Tupac would encounter a woman pivotal to his early success as an artist. Her name was Leila Steinberg and, after meeting at a Marin City park, each recognizing the other from a dance party the night before, the pair became close friends despite their different backgrounds. Steinberg recalls an instant “spiritual connection,” with Tupac and said that even though she was eight years his senior, “he always felt older to me.” Initially, Steinberg was his poetry mentor but shortly thereafter, Tupac asked her (a white woman with no experience as a manager) to manage his music career. Even though Steinberg felt uncertain she could do the job, she held Tupac in such high regard that she felt obligated not to disappoint him.
She put together a concert and taped Tupac’s performance to send to Atron Gregory, the man who set him up as a roadie and backup dancer with hip- hop group Digital Underground. In November of 1991, Tupac released his debut solo album, “2Pacalypse Now.” What followed was a string of successful albums including “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z,” “Me Against the World” and “All Eyez on Me.” In October of 1995, after being released from prison following a nine-month sentence for sexual assault, Tupac signed with Death Row Records. His first release, “California Love” with Dr. Dre, was met with immediate success.
Also known for his acting skills, Tupac made his first film appearance in the 1991 film, “Nothing but Trouble” and by 1992 had his first starring role in the cult classic “Juice.” He continued with successful acting roles in other films, including “Poetic Justice” opposite Janet Jackson and the basketball drama “Above the Rim.”
In September of 1996, after attending a Mike Tyson fight with Suge Knight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he was shot multiple times when the car he was riding in came under fire while stopped at a red light. He died six days later from multiple gunshot wounds.
Tupac left behind a career of hits both in music and film, many garnering critical praise. In 2016, (the first year he was eligible) Tupac was inducted by his friend and fellow hip hop legend, Snoop Dogg, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Complex? Yes. There is no question Tupac left many different impressions on the people he touched. He was someone who had a unique ability to bond with many different people and run in all types of social circles. Tupac will always be remembered not only as a hip hop legend but a man of conviction and layers.