Artist Profile - Tupac Shakur

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2019 10:00 am

Tupac Amaru Shakur, also known as 2Pac or Makaveli, was one of the 20th century’s top-selling hip hop artists with more than 75 million records sold across the globe. He has also been frequently rated as one of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time. He was born as Lesane Parish Crooks on June 16, 1971 in the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. His name was changed to Tupac Amaru II the year following his birth, named after the 18th-century Peruvian Revolutionary who lead an indigenousuprising against Spanish rule. His parents, Afeni Shakur (whom he was immensely close to) and Billy Garland (who shared minimal contact with his son until he rose to fame) were both active members of the Black Panther Party at the time. Shakur, even at a young age, had been considerably introduced to crime as many of his loved ones had been convicted of serious misdemeanors and arrested, including his mother. Afeni was even pregnant with Tupac while serving time for terrorism charges.

            Shakur’s career began early in his life with training in the performing arts in Baltimore. However, it wasn’t until he moved to California that he got his big break. Attending Tamalpais High School, north of San Francisco, where he joined the school’s drama department, he later met his poetry teacher and future manager, Leila Steinberg. She organized a concert for Shakur and his group, Strictly Dope, which led to him being signed with Atron Gregory. In 1990, he was sent as a roadie and backup dancer with the hip hop group, Digital Underground.

            Although beginning to record in ‘87, Tupac did not start his professional entertainment career until the early 1990s when he debuted in the soundtrack for Nothing but Troubleand made an appearance with Digital Underground in the film itself. Continuing his performances with the group, he released his debut solo album 2Pacalypse Nowin November of 1991. Although not prompting any top hits, this album did stir up a notable amount of controversies regarding its theme of unjust social policies. His second albumStrictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.received many more high-profile critiques. Released in February 1993, it debuted at number 24 on the Billboard 200and was considered Shakur’s “breakout” album. 

            Tupac continued his career joining various rap groups, appearing in more films, getting caught up in a number of legal issues, and releasing many more award-winning studio hits, up until his death in a shooting in September of 1996. It was after attending the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson boxing match in Las Vegas that Shakur got involved in a brawl leading to the fatal four bullets going straight to his thigh, arm, and chest. At the hospital, he was heavily sedated, on life support machinery, and eventually put into a barbiturate-induced coma to keep him in bed. While in the intensive-care unit, Tupac was pronounced dead due to internal bleeding at 4:03 p.m. on September 13, 1996. 

            Violence, drugs, and imprisonment were all central themes in both Shakur’s personal life and lyrical successes. These experiences are also recurring ideas in the genre of rap as a whole. It emerged in the 1970s and served as an expressive voice for those who experienced poverty, oppression, violence, and racism within select cities of the United States (with a concentration on New York where Shakur was raised for a good majority of his lifetime). Tupac had been surrounded with these ideas in both youth and adulthood, hence the violent themes behind his lyrics. His tone in 2Pacalypse Nowis greatly shaped by Afrocentrism and the social awareness which infused hip-hop at the time. The record was essential in promoting his political views and the aim on his lyrical expertise. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. contains multiple tracks also highlight his political and societal point of views. “All Eyez on Me” introduced a shift in his style from previous works, while still comprised of these socially mindful songs and themes. And lastly, one of my personal favorites from his works, “Dear Mama,” tells a story following Tupac throughout the course of his life. He goes into detail about the struggles he faced growing up including his family's poverty and his mom's addiction to cocaine. He also recognizes the thugs that, regardless of their drug dealing, provided him with unconditional love and support.

            As one could see, the journey Tupac faced on his path to fame was definitely unique to the hip hop culture and greatly influenced his success. It’s also fair to say that the time period in which he was brought into stardom was exclusive to his personal gateway towards recognition and honor. As previously stated, rap is focused on the cultural history behind people of African descent and the societal consciousness pervading hip-hop in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These expressive statements made through the hip-hop development circled ideas that were indeed collective issues at this time in society, such as poverty, oppression, violence, and racism. Other musicians who were affected by these struggles often used their frustration to fuel this musical genre, whereas Tupac used his voice to inform rather than to denounce. All in all, Tupac Shakur was one of the best-selling and most successful music artists of all time, raising awareness of domestic issues and the unheard voices in the black community throughout the emergence of hip-hop.