Real Name: Tupac Amaru Shakur (Born as Lesane Parish Crooks)
D.O.B: June 16, 1971 Brooklyn, New York (Died September 13, 1996 Las Vegas, Nevada)
Label: Death Row/Interscope Records
Tupac Shakur is an icon in hip-hop culture, a legend of the modern art and one of the most prolific artists of the 20th Century. A very accomplished recording artist, poet and actor, Tupac stands as the highest selling rap/hip-hop artist of all-time as listed in the Guinness Book of Records having sold 67 million albums worldwide (mostly posthumously), with 37 million copies in the US alone. He is consistently ranked by peers, fans, music critics and executives in the music industry as the greatest rapper of all time, a hip-hop legend. Representing the ‘Thug Life’ image, Tupac presented a strong sense of hatred and prejudice to his surroundings, growing up with violence and standing for the justice of not only racism in America but the economic struggle of urban politics as presented throughout his musical career. As well as painting this vivid picture, he carried a very real sense of living his every word and persona of the misdirected passion of the ghetto. Shaped by a history of proud Black Panther role models in his upbringing, Tupac’s legacy is immortalized eternally through his extensive catalogue of classic albums still releasing ten years after his death.
Black Panther Baby
Tupac Shakur was born to mother Alice Faye Williams (Afeni Shakur) and father Billy Garland as the name listed on the birth certificate, Lesane Parish Crooks.He would officially, later be named Tupac Amaru Shakur - his mother naming him after the last Inca Chief to be murdered by the Spanish conquistadors. The Islamic meaning of Tupac Amaru is ‘Shining Serpent’ and Shakur ‘Thankful to God’. During her 1971 pregnancy to her only son, his mother who changed her name to Afeni Shakur was standing trial as a member of the Panther 21, the group held responsible for the conspiracy to blow up two New York department stores. For this she served jail-time facing a three year sentence whilst pregnant with him. Acting as her own attorney, she won the verdict and was released one month before Tupac’s birth. Tupac was brought up in very diverse circumstances, not unlike a lot of black youth in the ghettos he never knew his biological father leaving him confused as Afeni was married to Panther activist Lumumba Shakur at the time of her pregnancy Afeni told ‘Pac his father was either Harlem drug dealer ‘Legs’ or another activist Billy Garland who claimed paternity but rarely undertook fatherly responsibilities. Far better choice than Legs who entered Tupac’s life at the age of 12 and stayed long enough to turn his mother into a crack addict. During this unsettled period he was raised by his stepfather, Dr. Mutulu Shakur who held very strong ties to the civil movement and Black Panther Party. A convicted felon and political prisoner he is the brother of Joanne ‘Assata Shakur’ Chesimard, a civil rights activist who in 1977 was found guilty of murdering a New Jersey state trooper. After escaping from prison two years later with the help of Mutulu who himself was listed on the FBI’s Top Ten list for aiding in the escape of his sister and the attempted robbery of a Brinks armoured van in which two police officers and a security guard were killed. His godfather was the infamous Elmer ‘Geronimo’ Pratt, a high-ranking Black Panther member who was sentenced to life in prison for the convicted murder of a school teacher during an armed robbery in Santa Monica, LA. Tupac naturally had very politically motivated role models however with almost every adult member of his family behind bars this would profoundly affect Tupac’s life. He was given the title of ‘Black Prince’ and forecast to becoming the next leader of the ‘revolution’. Being raised in the black power movement and Black Panther philosophy gave him a very confident and distrusting outlook on society. Tupac lived an impoverished childhood with his mother and half-sister Sekyiwa by Dr. Mutulu Shakur. With Afeni’s boyfriend and Pac’s early father-figure Legs on the scene Afeni found herself addicted to crack-cocaine and with her two children was living unsettled between homeless shelters and moderately priced accommodations around Brooklyn and South Bronx of New York City, Tupac found it hard to retain any standing friendships and lived through writing poetry and diary entries as encouraged by his mother to stay out of trouble as well as being educated by Panther elders. By the age of 12 Tupac was enrolled in a Harlem theatre group and subsequently cast in Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ as Travis. He was also exposed to professor Cornel West’s work as well by his mother. This interest had never left ‘Pac as he continued studying theatrical acting later as a teenager in Baltimore. Before their move in ’84 Legs was arrested on credit card fraud and died a short time after of a strong drug overdose. This eternally fucked Tupac up. It took him three months to let out a tear and when he did he cried out, “I miss my daddy.” Afeni moved her family away from everything, out to Baltimore.
School Of Arts
By 1985 Pac’s family had moved to Baltimore, Maryland to live. They lived on Greenmount Ave. in East Baltimore, where Tupac found it hard to fit in with a different look and unfashionable cheap dress sense. He attended Roland Park Middle School and spent his freshman year at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High. At his sophmore level Tupac was accepted to the Baltimore School for the Arts where he enjoyed his classes studying theater, ballet, poetry, jazz and other arts. This was the most positive period in his young life where he performed Shakespearean plays and was accepted for who he was and free to express his nurtured creativity. He played the mouse king in the ‘Nutcracker’ play. Enrolled there also was another accomplished actress, Jada Pinkett who formed a lifelong friendship with Tupac. Remembered as a very gifted student by his teachers, Tupac carried an outspoken racial equality belief. He was an enthusiastic reader, reading books on eastern religions and philosophy. He had a love of literature and a strong will to learn. Unlike the bullied life in New York Tupac claimed he felt in touch with himself here, “I was feeling like I really wanted to be an artist… I was fucking white girls.” Tupac showed a very different side with his peers acting with bravado. It was this influence that fed Tupac with a new passion for rapping and he composed his first rap whilst in Baltimore under the name “MC New York”. Inspired by the fatal murder of a close friend of his, he wrote the song about gun control and political awareness.
This idyllic story ended by 1988 when Afeni moved everyone out west to Marin City, Oakland to escape the squalor in the home life of living off a dependency to the crack pipe during her third pregnancy. Marin City was an isolated ghetto surrounded by rolling hills of middle class whites with money. This gave young Pac the glimpse over the other side of the fence. However he did not fit in with the black kids, dressed like a hippie and being no good at basketball he became a target for local gang bullies who thought he was weird with his interest in poetry and acting he kept this to himself and was considered a nerd. The move away from his study of arts in school had affected him greatly. Tupac himself pinpointed leaving Baltimore’s arts school to getting off track. He grew strong animosity for local law enforcement after continually being at the focus of hassled attention for playing music loudly. By August 1988 Tupac was thrown further into the depths of the ghetto’s criminal element after his stepfather Mutulu was sentenced to sixty years in prison for armoured car robbery stemming from 1980 and after being listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for several years.
Tupac had moved in with a neighbour and begun selling drugs on the street. It was during this period he gained friendship with similar interest in rapping. With Ray Luv and a mutual friend DJ Dize they started a rap group called Strictly Dope. Their recordings made underground notoriety but failed to reach a substantial market base. By 2001 their work was considered collectable due to Tupac’s fame and consequently renamed under ‘Tupac Shakur: The Lost Tapes’. However their subdued success had enough acclaim to obtain an audition with Shock G from Oakland’s Digital Underground. By 1990 he was a backup dancer for the group with occasional vocal assistance. His early lyrics were considered pedestrian and mixed with a reputation as a volatile and unreliable member he was fired by Shock G many times but with very persistent nature managed to find himself back in the group. Tupac managed to eventually graduate from a backup dancer and vocals to having his own prominent spot in the rap group by consistently showing his increasing talent as a lyricist. Digital Underground was commissioned with the soundtrack for ‘Nothing but Trouble’ and Tupac was given his first professional opportunity to shine on the track, ‘Same Song’. Shock G was impressed with Tupac’s capability to fit so many lyrics in when given only eight bars in which to perform on. This allowance would only increase over the following period with Digital Underground.
The Solo Career
By 1991, Tupac had made the next step in his career by moving away from the group that overshadowed his blossoming talent and went about establishing his solo career. After Interscope executives Tim Fields and Tom Whalley took an interest in a demo tape of Pac’s they signed him to a recording contract. With continued help from his mentor Shock G who produced the project and picked the beats for Tupac’s lyrics as Tupac did not have the flair for the mechanics of creating music. He managed to release his début album, 2Pacalypse Now by November 12, ‘91. The album was received with pressure from public criticism with his violent portrayal of the urban struggle against police brutality and was translated as inciting police hatred. After a young man had killed a Texas trooper claiming he was inspired by Tupac’s album, the success was limited and sold not as many as he hoped with no singles released on the charts. The album was publicly denounced by former Vice President Dan Quayle and stated the album had “no place in our society”. (Incidentally this quote was later repeated as a sample on Tupac’s follow-up album a year later.) With strong attention received, the album sold 500,000 copies. Another side of Pac torn between his demons and his angels was seen as he released the single “Brenda’s Got a Baby” inspired by the newspaper account of a twelve year old girl who got pregnant by a cousin then threw her baby down an incinerator shaft. The track formed a sentimental rap in support of black women. Tupac explained, “Because I was raised by a woman half my life, then thrown out onto the streets, its like I’ve got the woman’s side, then I’ve got the real rough, manly values that were forced onto me.”
The next year he released his follow-up album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., this time with production from Stretch and the Live Squad. Spawning two number one hits: ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ which encouraged positive persistence for people trapped in the urban struggle and “I Get Around” an uplifting party jam. At this same stage of his career, and with slight appearances in Digital Underground video clips and a cameo in Nothing But Trouble with the group, after his first solo album release he landed his first starring role in the movie, Juice before his first album was released. He fronted up to his audition sporting new tattoos “Outlaw” on one arm and ‘Heartless’ on the other. He recited the poem by Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. The movie was released January 17, 1992 with Pac playing ‘Bishop’, a young man in New York struggling to find his own identity alongside New Jersey rapper from Naughty By Nature, Treach and young actor Omar Epps. Rolling Stones Peter Travers flattered Tupac’s performance as being the most magnetic figure in the film. This gave birth to a promising acting career and ran parallel to his musical career evenly. His next movie role was on John Singleton’s ‘Poetic Justice’ with singer, Janet Jackson whom he took offence to when she ordered him to take and AIDS test before he began his role as her on-screen lover. However he went ahead with the role regardless but there was no love lost between the stars. Later that year he undertook a role in the film, ‘Above the Rim’ playing ‘Birdie’ a gangster scouting a promising talent to play in a basketball tournament sponsored by a team surrounded in the criminal element. It was following the success of his acting in this film that impressed directors, Allen and Albert Hughes in their movie, Menace II Society about the life in the ghettos of South Central Los Angeles. However after an abrasive fight with the brothers, Tupac relinquished the starring role in the movie and was subsequently replaced by Larenz Tate.
In late 1993, Tupac formed the group Thug Life with friends from different states across the US, 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 with notable hits such as “Pour Out a Little Liquor” and “Bury Me a G” which, despite its hardcore content, still managed to be certified as a gold record. The group subsequently disbanded after Shakur’s release from prison.
While in New York filming, Above the Rim in 1994 Tupac got to know James ‘Henchman’ Rosemond. (They originally met in ’92 briefly.) The pair hung out in between filming and Henchman introduced Pac to Haitian born, Jacques ‘Haitian Jack’ Agnant who was a friend of Henchman’s from their hustling days in the Vanderveer projects in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Agnant was a very flashy player, had the bling bling, cars and the crew. Pac was impressed and studied the hustler’s every move in preparing for the role as Birdie in Above the Rim. According to Henchman in Vibe magazine December ’05 Tupac and Agnant were inseparable fighting together, club hopping together almost every night. At this period Tupac claimed he needed to seriously change his ways or declare bankruptcy due to increasing legal fees. This would be first blood for west coast record label Godfather, Suge Knight who circled the financially-weakened Tupac and paid him $200,000 for the track he did with his group Thug Life “Pour Out a Little Liquor”. Then Suge served him a lucrative offer to join the powerhouse Death Row records. Pac refused, going in favour of Haitian Jack Agnant and Jimmy Henchman. Not long after as Tupac was imprisoned for the sexual assault conviction, he was dropped from the lead role in Higher Learning, another John Singleton film.
The Hunted Child
Tupac’s public image was defined not through his music or acting prowess but by a series of altercations with the law as before his recording career he had no criminal record. By October 1991 he found himself entangled with the Oakland police filing a $10 million lawsuit over police brutality. Oakland P.D. claimed he was jaywalking and when he swore back at them he was immediately choked, beaten and had his head smashed onto the pavement. The case was eventually settled out of court for $42,000.
By 1992 Tupac moved out to Los Angeles and began amercing himself in the local gang culture. He used this lifestyle as a vehicle for personifying an identity and sponging up stories for upcoming songs. At 5 foot 8 and 150 pounds with fine features and bold eyes he scared nobody, until he purchased his first pistol and began training at shooting ranges. He illustrated his body with tattoos, most famously the “Thug LIFE” emblazoned across his solar-plexus and the image of an assault rifle above it with “50 Niggaz”. His first brush with the law occurred when he returned to Marin City’s fifteenth anniversary celebration and got into a shouting match with young men from the neighbourhood that didn’t end until shots were fired and a six year old child was fatally wounded with a bullet to the head. Tupac’s half-brother was arrested but later released due to insufficient evidence. The only thing remembered about the incident was the national headlines with Tupac and six year old boy shot.
After releasing his follow-up album Pac was high on the fumes of his success and lived like a celebrating gun-toting brat. With an antagonistic temperament Tupac would find himself involved in several more violent incidents in 1993 proving to be very costly in the US courts of law. In March ’93 during a drive into the Fox lot in Hollywood to record a segment for In Living Color, Tupac pulled a gun on the limo driver after the man asked Tupac not to smoke pot inside the vehicle, then after insulting Pac about not having a father-figure role model, he watched on as his entourage beat the man senseless.
Atlanta Police Shooting
The following Halloween, while filming Poetic Justice Tupac was in Atlanta when he got into a shoot-out with police. Tupac came across two off-duty police officers and witnessed them harassing a black motorist in Atlanta on the side of the road. Tupac took it upon himself to aid the motorist and after a fight with the officers he shot both officers with his own gun. One officer was hit in the leg, the other in the buttock. It was later revealed in court both officers were heavily intoxicated and were using guns stolen from the evidence room. Also one of the officers was charged with aggravated assault on the same day as Tupac’s first hearing. The case was dismissed with no charges against Tupac. Once again his public image was growing sour. He was painted as a media villain and ghetto martyr. These building events left Tupac in serious financial peril with legal fees mounting up.
The bad press continued to mount up when he was the target of civil lawsuits relating to the shooting of a Texas state trooper and the paralysis of a woman who was shot by a stray bullet at a near-riot at a concert in Arkansas, blaming the lyrics in his songs. Press headlines grew stronger when he was arrested on sexual assault charges at Thanksgiving. This next period in Tupac’s young professional and personal life would not only challenge his freedom in society, doomed to follow behind the elders in his family but after an orchestrated assassination in New York would leave him fighting for his life in hospital before resuming a prison sentence in Dannemora.
Sexual Assault Case
Accounts of what happened on December 1993 in this event of sexual assault would never be proven due to the victim whose untoward behaviour would leave her character inspiring neither sympathy nor trust in the matter. In New York for the filming of ‘Above the Rim’ Tupac went out club-hopping with new friend Jacques ‘Haitian Jack’ Agnant and it was while at Nell’s nightclub in downtown Manhattan where Tupac claimed he first encountered young Ayanna Jackson on the dancefloor where she unzipped his pants and led him to a dark corner of the club by the penis where she performed oral sex. Jackson claimed Tupac chased her all around the club before cornering her and, using her words: “Pressed my head down onto his penis in a brief three-second encounter.”
The couple had further pursued their relations in Tupac’s hotel room that night, (Whether Pac allegedly physically carried her the distance back without people noticing, despite him being the hottest young face of hip-hop or she went willingly despite apparently being forced to perform oral sex) would be obvious to some. Four days later the girl showed up at the Le Parker Meridian hotel and spent the afternoon with Pac in his suite massaging him before a scheduled performance. He was soon joined by Agnant and friend of the promoter’s. Tupac and friends claimed Jackson was a willing participant in group sex, she claims she was the victim of gang rape. Tupac insisted he left the room disgusted and went to take a nap. The girl, disagreeing with his account, accused him of encouraging the three men, pulling her hair, and sodomizing her. Pac vehemently denied her account. Agnant was represented by an attorney affiliated with the police union and the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. Tension grew between Pac and Agnant after Pac made disparaging remarks about the hustler in New York’s Daily News. The case continued over the following year. This left Tupac to attend other pending cases.
On February 1, ’94 Tupac wound up in municipal court in Los Angeles to answer assault charges filed against him by film directors Allen and Albert Hughes after they had both cast him in their film ‘Menace II Society’. When he read the script he considered he had been cast as a sucker and arrived on set with an entourage of gangbangers where Allen was beaten badly while his brother fled the scene. Tupac later pleaded guilty in court and faced sentencing on March 10. Less than twelve hours before his scheduled appearance he was confronted by five Crips at a convenience store on Sunset Boulevard and after one struck Tupac in the face, he grabbed a pair of scissors from a display case and chased after the group down the street in front of dozens of witnesses. The news was spread over the morning papers and national TV crews showed up at his court appearance where prosecutors argued that Mr. Shakur was a young man who could not control his temper. He was sentenced to fifteen days in jail and community service. He immediately flew back to New York after finishing his time.
Quad Studios Ambush
On the evening of November 28, 1994 Tupac was smoking pot as he made his way over to 723 Seventh Avenue, Times Square New York organized by manager, James ‘Henchman’ Rosemond who at the time was a close confidant with Pac to perform on a track for unknown Uptown Records artist named Little Shawn. He was promised $7000 paid in cash personally by Uptown CEO Andre Harrell, as he needed it badly for court costs. Biggie’s associate Lil’ Caeser greeted Tupac and his two companions, (Stretch and Oakland friend named Shorty) from an open window as they exited the car approximately 10pm en-route to the Quad Recording Studios lobby. On this same night Brooklyn rapper Christopher ‘Notorious BIG/Biggie Smalls’ Wallace and Bad Boy CEO, Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs were in house working in the studio. While waiting two hours for Pac to arrive, Andre Harrell and Henchman joined company with Combs, Biggie and their entourage. By the time Pac had reached the elevator downstairs two men in army fatigues (suspected assailants were Brooklyn friends of Henchman, Walter ‘King Tut’ Johnson and his promoter Jacques ‘Haitian Jack’ Agnant) brandishing identical 9mm pistols. Tupac was the only one shot, five times in the leg, abdomen, groin and one creasing his head. The shooters stripped him of his jewellery a $30,000 diamond ring and $10,000 in gold chains leaving only the diamond studded Rolex watch given to Pac as a present from Agnant. Tupac was still mobile and caught the elevator up eight floors to the recording studios bleeding profusely from the wounds where he was met by Harrell, Combs and Biggie who were all dripping in jewellery and when confronted with a bullet-ridden Tupac could not look him in the eye. Immediately Pac became convinced the party of men had banded together as rivals of his and sought to eliminate him. Over the next stages of his life Pac would venomously attack them as enemy. A team of twelve doctors at Bellevue Hospital operated on Tupac during the early morning hours after the incident and were shocked when he checked himself out later that day, who claimed his life was in danger if he stayed there. He chose to spend that evening at the home of his friend actress Jasmine Guy. A group of Fruits of Islam soldiers guarded Tupac behind his wheelchair as he arrived in court the following morning for the jury’s verdict. Relieved by the acquittal of the sodomy and weapons charge against him only to be instantly shocked to hear that a guilty verdict on sexual assault meant he would serve a prison sentence. He was given two and a half months to convalesce for the injuries sustained in the Quad Studio shootings. He rested back in hospital and at Jasmine Guy’s apartment until Valentine’s Day where he received a sentence of four and half years. He was immediately housed at the infamous Rikers Island in New York. While in prison Pac campaigned heavily against Henchman, Bad Boy’s Combs and Biggie telling prison inmates and Interscope executives they were involved in bringing him down. Incidentally shortly after being locked down, on February 27, 1995 his third album ‘Me Against The World’ hit the streets selling over a million units in the US alone in it’s first week and remained number one for its first four weeks. It is today considered to be his most proficient recording accomplishment.
“If Thug Life is real, then let somebody else represent it, because I’m tired of it. I represented it too much.”
He commenced his sentence at New York’s Rikers Island where he opened his mind by reading books on Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War and Niccolò Machiavelli’s, The Prince until he memorized it. He even wrote a screenplay called Live 2 Tell. Then Pac announced to Vibe he was done with gangsta rap. At the time of his Me Against the World release he told magazine reporter “If Thug Life is real, then let somebody else represent it, because I’m tired of it. I represented it too much.”
He even hinted at retiring to Arizona with his new bride and starting a family.(The marriage was soon annulled.) It was at this time a rumour spread that he was raped in Rikers by a Latino gang, soon after he was transferred to Clinton Correctional facility in Dannemora. Here he became engaged to Keisha Morris, a John Jay College graduate who refused to sleep with him on their first date and does not smoke dope. Tupac claimed she was his first girlfriend ever. It was at this stage where Tupac ashamedly admitted in a Vibe prison interview to be responsible for the assault on Ayanna Jackson.
“Even though I’m innocent of the charge, I’m not innocent in terms of the way I was acting… I’m just as guilty for doing nothing as I am for doing things.”
He regretted not aiding in the defence of the young woman from the two men who actually did rape her. Behind the bars, Pac was plotting vengeance against the party he believed to be responsible for setting him up in both the sexual assault case and attempted murder at Quad studios. Sean Combs, Andre Harrell and Biggie. It was the back-stabbing by Biggie that cut Pac the deepest, as they were close homies through Pac’s early career in New York. He had been convinced with letters received in prison detailing the Brooklyn rapper’s involvement. It was this escalating feud that catapulted the ‘East/West’ beef that plagued hip-hop during the mid ‘90s.
Out On Death Row
“I’m selling my soul to the devil.”
Tupac had more pressing issues, as his attorneys hired to defend him through criminal charges and lawsuits across the country had exhausted his bank account. During the past few years Pac had become the sole supporter of his mother, sister and her child, his aunt and her children and assorted family members. Financially crippled and his career in need of a jolt, Suge Knight was never too far with promises of relieving all his problems. He also carried the ability to release him from prison. What he offered was a lucrative deal to join his Death Row Records. Pac had a visitor from childhood friend Watani Tyehimba who insisted he should not sign over to Suge Knight… between tears Tupac admitted to him, “I know I’m selling my soul to the devil.” On October 12th Tupac had signed a three-page hand-written contract drafted by Death Row’s lawyer, David Kenner and was released from Clinton Correctional the same day, Knight paying his $1.4 million bail. Waiting outside was a large white limo and together they flew back to LA on a private jet, straight into the studio, Tupac vowed to bring Death Row back to the forefront of the industry. Interviewed on The Source magazine, Tupac proclaimed, “Whether the odds are in your favour or appear to be stacked against you, the Death Row family sticks with you.”
Tupac entered the stage like Tyson entered the ring fresh out of prison, hungry to return to form, the environment he thrived on. His first post-New York state prison performance was in Suge Knight’s infamous 662 Las Vegas night spot in November ‘95. In front of a crowd including Mike Tyson, NFL/MBL legend Deion Sanders and actor Forrest Whittaker filled to twice its maximum capacity of 680, drooling in anticipation for this break-out explosion of pent up energy and expression. With the crowd getting completely out of hand, Las Vegas police did not appreciate dealing with such drunk and volatile dangerous gang members and private associates of Death Row. However Tupac tore the roof off the club busting out his most popular hits and freestyles with ferocious animosity for those who kept him caged. This was repeated in the spring of ’96 for Tyson’s fight against Frank Bruno which saw him regain his heavyweight title. Tupac and Snoop Dogg both performed to a star-studded crowd of entertainers and athletes, as the club was becoming notorious for post-fight parties with Death Row performances.
Death Row took on-board Tupac’s family baggage, Suge Knight purchased a house for his mother Afeni Shakur, and when she and family members came out to LA Knight lodged them in the luxurious Westwood Marquis hotel. Pac kept himself busy in the Death Row studios in Tarzana heavily intoxicated on weed and alcohol. It was here where he recorded an unprecedented amount of tracks and lyrics which apart from making hip-hop’s first ever double album, allowed his music to be continually released in albums long after his untimely death. Tupac was by far the brightest star and biggest celebrity in the hip-hop community, thanks to his impressive acting career and even more impressive street-credibility built by his continual criminal convictions and run-ins with the law. With Pac heading up Death Row the label remained on top of the pile in the west coast and Suge reaped the profits of the industry’s best-selling artist. It appeared as if Tupac sided with the most fearsome record executive in America and his notorious gang affiliation being the only ones powerful enough to protect him against those who wanted Pac gone. Despite the distinct bravado front he put up, Pac had a growing army of enemy and by association with Suge’s MOB Piru street gang he was physically backed against any of his foes. Hand in hand Suge and Tupac relied upon each other and with a lasting common interest a strong bond was established. They shared an interest in tearing down east coast’s Bad Boy Entertainment and the record executive Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs whom Suge declared war against the year prior during Pac’s incarceration at The Source Awards starting the East/West feud.
All Eyes On Me
During early 1996 Tupac insisted upon negotiating movie deals without going through Suge Knight’s agency. By February the all-coastal legend had formed a production company called “Euphanasia” entirely independent from any ties with Knight and Death Row Records hiring friend Yaasmyn Fula to run the company. She however found it hard to obtain any financial accounts from Death Row management, but although Pac kept her from pressing any legal threats he did warn his younger cousins not to sign contracts with Death Row. By this stage Tupac had also begun to lean heavily on the advice of his east coast attorney and Harvard graduate Charles Ogletree who was frustrated by having to deal with his LA lawyer, Death Row’s David Kenner. (Tupac would later fire the services of David Kenner, a move seen by associates as deadly.) This would mould the first movements by Tupac to escape from Death Row by maintaining a friendly relationship with Knight but to separate his business. Easy enough to accomplish legally and on paper, but not so easy physically to walk away from the frightening wrath of Knight, they remained on a level of unity against their rivals, Bad Boy Entertainment.
Meanwhile by mid February Tupac released the first hip-hop double LP, All Eyes On Me sales were explosive, selling more than half a million copies in it’s first week in stores earning $10million, second only to The Beatles Anthology as the best commercial opening in the history of the music industry. The fresh-out-of-jail comeback marketing worked like a charm, the same way as selling seats or pay-per-view for Tyson’s first fight after release from prison. The album was more anticipated than LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out and remains today a 9x platinum classic rap album. The album hosted a long list of successful chart-topping singles the most recognized was the west coast anthem of the decade “California Love” an internal controversial track that crippled the record label indefinitely. The track was written and produced by Dr. Dre and was to be the headliner for his upcoming album but Suge insisted he was taking too long and as Pac was the newest and hottest recording star in the family, the hit was re-produced with Tupac’s added vocals and released on All Eyes. The single went straight to number one on the US charts. Also Tupac collaborated with newly Suge Knight-managed R&B sensations K-Ci and Jo-Jo from Jodeci on the next single “How Do U Want It” which also débuted at number one on the US charts. Immediately afterwards he began working on his follow-up Death Row album.
Tupac’s next album was recorded under the pseudonym Makaveli for the respect of the book he read in prison by the great tactician Niccolò Machiavelli that taught him about the secrets of war. Don Kiluminati – 7 Day Theory was released soon after his murder, by November 1996. The album cover was an illustration depicting Tupac on a cross under a crown of thorns mimicking Jesus with a map of the nation’s major gang areas superimposed on it. He recorded videos for his singles, “To Live & Die in LA” which served as another ode to the city who adopted him in his last 5-6 years here. Another was “Toss It Up” which directs abuse at former labelmate Dre. Pac took a dislike to Dre after he was absent at Snoop’s court hearings and leaving Death Row with his name down on production for artists he had nothing to do with on the label. In this track Pac rapped, “Still down with that Death Row sound searchin’ for pay days no longer Dre Day/Arriverderci, lonely forgotten, rotten for plottin’ child’s play/ check your sexuality as fruity as this Allaize/Quick to jump ship, punk trick what a dumb move/Cross death Row now who you gon’ run to/Flossin’ with those suckers ‘cause you similar/pretendin’ to be hard, oh my god check your temperature/Screamin’ Compton but you can’t return/You ain’t heard brothers pissed ‘cause you switched and escaped to the ‘burbs.”
Several other singles were released detailing a deeper, somewhat remorseful outlook for Tupac. The album sold over a million copies as soon as it hit the streets, eventually going 5x platinum and is now considered a hip-hop classic.
Tupac was always celebrating his freedom and partying across LA and the US wherever his career took him. While on the set of Gridlock’d where he starred alongside Tim Roth on Vondies Curtis-Hall’s movie about heroin junkies trying to kick their habit while being caught in a social trap of bureaucracy. His personal bodyguard was a very professional body-builder, Frank Alexander. The pair were tight, homies as well as keeping to their professions respectively. He was hired by Knight’s Wrightway Security force and always assigned to looking after Tupac. He would score copious amounts of dope for the star and kept Tupac out of fights and made sure he was where he needed to be with appointments, acting as his driver as well. Alexander’s niece was disabled and confined to a wheelchair. She was awarded by a program that allowed her to have one dream come true for her. As she was a huge Janet Jackson fan she wished to meet her and spend a day with her. As Janet became increasingly busy and scheduled with appointments she was unable to fulfil her dream. Alexander vented his frustrations to Tupac who offered his condolences and suggested the girl spent time with him while he was on the set, filming Gridlock’d. Tupac and the girl spent the next three days together, dedicating his whole time to her, he behaved like a father-figure and showed her around his home and took her to the recording studio while he worked on tracks for his album. What the girl experienced was more than her dream coming true, she took a strong liking to Tupac and tore down her Janet posters at home, replacing them with Tupac’s imagery. Frank Alexander had never expected such attention and devotion as shown by Tupac and this is a side to Pac that is rarely shown in them media.
Tupac’s final movie was to be Gang Related starring alongside James Belushi as a crooked detective framing suspects in order to gain profits from drug dealing. In between this filming, Pac enjoyed his fast-paced lifestyle and red carpet treatment using LA and Vegas as playgrounds. He was slated to star in another John Singleton South Central LA movie, Baby Boy as Jodie, a local thug struggling to find work and balance personal issues with his babys’ mamas, starring alongside Omar Gooding and Snoop Dogg. Due to his death he was replaced with Tyrese Gibbons.
Bad Boy Killa
“I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker!”
Even before the release of Pac’s post-prison album, as a means of publicly embarrassing and striking at the personal life of Biggie, Tupac had been seen out at several LA parties with his new wife and Bad Boy singer, Faith Evans who knew her husband had been carrying on an affair with Junior Mafia’s Lil’ Kim had called Tupac “mad cool” in one interview and agreed to perform with him on his upcoming album. However she was startled and embarrassed herself to find out the song she starred on came out called “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch” was dedicated to her and Pac stated in The Source magazine interview that he had been having sex with Faith. Further more on the unreleased b-side cult collector hit, “Hit ‘Em Up” the ultimate-throw-down defamation track to Bad Boy Entertainment, spat venom at Biggie with his lyrics about Faith, “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker!” This was a direct strategic war manoeuvre as learnt from books read in prison, (Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ and Niccolò Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’) against his biggest enemy, Notorious BIG (or ‘Piggie’ as Tupac refers to him as.)
Soon after his first Death Row album dropped, Tupac confronted his east coast rivals Bad Boy’s Biggie and Puffy when they invaded LA for the ’96 Soul Train Awards. Backstage after their appearance, they faced off for the first time in almost two years. Suge stood beside Pac who answered threats from the Bad Boy camp who abused Pac from behind a wall of gun-heavy Crip security detail. Tupac, Suge and their Blood members were about to strike when one of the Crips drew a gun and the crowd dispersed. Several disparaging remarks were made through the medium of magazine interviews. One suggesting the two camps should box off in a charity event in Las Vegas. However, the coastal war grew monstrous when in April ’96 Suge declared his new venture of expanding Death Row Records to opening an east coast faction in Manhattan with Tupac promoting this move on an Oakland radio interview. New York industry took this as a distasteful insult. By this stage Tupac had publicly declared a war against east coast acts, releasing an infamous and very venomous b-side single “Hit ‘Em Up” which verbally fired shotgun slugs into the heads of any Bad Boy artist and associate, Chino XL, Wyclef Jean, Mobb Deep, Nas, Jay-Z, even on radio interviews Tupac violently antagonized the East/West feud warning parties of those against him of his deadly intentions.
The East/West war had reached a breaking level of devastation, the climax of every war indicated by death. This seemed evident to the entire hip-hop community when Death Row made their aggressive entrance in New York at the MTV Awards on September 7. It took 20 NYPD officers to separate and maintain safety between Death Row inmates and Bad Boy staff. Suge and Tupac spoke out on their Death Row East invasion. The animosity soared beyond control after this event between not only the coasts of the US hip-hop community but the major contributory parties, Bad Boy and Death Row Records.
This was the last public announcement to television Tupac would appear on.
Last Night In Vegas
“Frank I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe.”
The following weekend to the MTV Awards was Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s title defense against Bruce Seldon, an event Tupac and Suge Knight never missed. Since his release from prison from similar circumstance to Tupac’s, he has become a heroic figure for many gangbangers, black athletes and entertainers, and became a honourary member of the Death Row family. Tupac was always in the dressing room with Tyson before and after a fight as a close confidant. Suge Knight resided next door to him in Las Vegas, and the Death Row family was right there in Tyson’s corner. This weekend Tupac and Suge would enjoy the sun, casinos, women and the fight in Vegas like every other occasion in the gangsters’ desert. He entered Las Vegas with fiancé Kidada Jones, daughter of famous musician and owner of Vibe magazine, Quincy Jones. He would stay at the Luxor Hotel and later join up with Suge Knight and the Death Row entourage. The nearest accuracy to this night came from the account of his personal bodyguard, Frank Alexander who worked for Death Row under Suge Knight and Reggie Wright’s Wrightway Protection
Alexander was told by Death Row attorneys that he was not permitted in the state of Nevada to carry a firearm, as Death Row had failed to secure the appropriate clearances from the police. Alexander felt naked without a gun on his hip when on the job with Tupac. It was a must and he felt quite vulnerable. At this stage Tupac was losing big hands on the $25 blackjack table at the Luxor. Tupac was not sporting the gold chain with Death Row medallion seen as a strong sign of allegiance instead deferring to his $30,000 diamond studded replication of his own production company, Euphanasia which was a black angel fallen to it’s knees with head tilted down, backed by enormous wings and golden halo. This significant change caused a low rumble with fellow Death Row employees and Blood associates. Pac’s luck changed on the table and he stayed until later in the afternoon winning $1,400 to $2,000 a hand when he hopped over to the MGM Grand where the fight would later take place, via the footbridge. Tupac was not one to wait for anyone. His entourage kept up or lagged behind, including bodyguard Alexander who spent the afternoon chasing him down from casino floor to hotel rooms. The weather was typically steaming hot and Pac was refusing to wear his bulletproof vest.
At the start of Tyson’s scheduled fight, after the pre-fights Tupac was forced to wait at the entrance for Suge who held the front-row tickets. After some time, battling enclosing fans, Tupac grew impatient and threatened to buy his own tickets as it was getting close to the first bell. He stated he had no intention of coming to Vegas this weekend, in favour of spending the weekend in LA with Kidada. Suge finally arrived as Tupac quickly changed into a more amicable demeanor. They walked in, past celebrities like Rev. Jesse Jackson, NBA legends, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson, with hip-hop acts Run DMC who were booked to perform later at 662 and Too $hort. They took their seats for two minutes as the fight was over 55 seconds into the first round. Tyson burst out of his corner throwing devastating punches at a furious rate dropping Seldon to the canvas in 109 seconds. Tupac was thrilled by this show of tenacity and continually boasted about the hits like a child at a circus yelling “Fifty blows, fifty blows I counted them.” Tupac headed down toward Tyson’s dressing room with his Outlawz and Death Row entourage only to be told by Suge they had to leave. Pac contested that this would be the first time he hasn’t gone back to congratulate Tyson personally on his achievement. Suge grabbed his arm and led him towards the exit with Alexander shortly behind. As they approached the main lobby of the MGM, Suge embraced Pac like close brothers, buffered by Pirus and security, a Piru Travon ‘Tray’ Lane whispered into Tupac’s ear to point out a man in the lobby. This worried Alexander who was responsible for Pac’s safety, even when in the company of Suge Knight. The man standing alone looking like he was expecting someone was Orlando ‘Baby lane’ Anderson a Southside Crip and member of Bad Boys’ LA security. Orlando with 7-8 other Crips had encountered Tray outside a Foot locker store in Lakewood Mall and snatched the Death Row chain from around his neck as they beat on him. Volatile as always, especially in the company of his Death Row family, Tupac walked up to Orlando and cleanly dropped him with a blow to the head after asking him, “You from the south?” he struck him before he could answer. Orlando cowered down as the mob of Death Row surrounded him with kicks and punches. Alexander had pulled Pac out of trouble, as he did so the link off his medallion broke, as he went down to pick it up he was pulled back again by the very strong Alexander and ushered him out the nearest exit, with the Outlawz, Suge and his Pirus behind him. The whole scuffle was caught on CCTV.
The cavalcade from Death Row associates to awe-struck fans scuffled their way over to the Luxor hotel where Tupac would check in with Kidada in the room and change his outfit for the after-party at Suge’s club 662 later in the evening. As they resumed downstairs in the front drive, the Death Row vehicle procession was in full effect, a collection of dropped and chrome wheel Mercedes, BMWs, Cadillacs and Lexus’ nearly all black with tinted windows. This was a badass site on the road. Tupac rode in with Suge in his new one week old BMW 750IL yet to be fitted with registration plates as Alexander followed behind in Kidada’s Lexus (which he found out was running very low on fuel) with the Outlawz as were Pac’s instructions. Suge was in no rush as it was still too early for his usual grand entrance at the club. He instructed to meet half way at his house. (This was the residence used in the film Casino where DeNiro’s character Sam Rothstein lived, next door to Mike Tyson.) On the drive over Suge blasted Pac’s latest Don Kiluminati album, the bass was so loud from the sound system the ground was trembling. He loved to listen to his own tunes. Suge and Pac were both lead foots, hardly stopping at all for traffic lights, they reached Suge’s residence and stayed for a total of fifteen minutes before resuming their trip into town for 662.
As they entered the main strip a bicycle cop motioned for Suge to pull up as they were playing Makaveli’s music louder than the city limits allowed. The officer then asked Suge to exit the vehicle and open the trunk, very relaxed he followed orders and got back into his car and was free to continue on. Instead of driving right onto Tropicana to enter the club from the rear to avoid the crowds, he drove through traffic lights at an alarming rate taking Flamingo for a grand front entrance. Through The Strip the entrance was a spectacle. Women were sidling up to the line of luxury vehicles with their breasts out and hitched skirts with flirtatious intentions. The crowd of fans almost swarmed Suge and Pac’s car when they reached the front of the Maxim Hotel. They stopped at the next red light on Korval Lane. A Chrysler sedan with four young ladies immediately pulled up on the BMW’s left catching Pac’s attention. Moments later on the opposite lane heading toward Suge’s car, a white Cadillac screeched to a halt slightly in front and to the left passenger side where Tupac was. Four black men were seated inside the car as the left rear window opened stretching a black arm out extended by a .40 calibre Glock. Between ten to fifteen shots were fired into the vehicle. There were over a hundred or so witnesses watching as Pac climbed into the backseat and got hit four times in the process. Two bullets ripped open his torso splitting his “Thug Life” tattoo in half while the two other bullets wounded him in the hand and leg. The Cadillac sped away and turned right in the direction of Korval Lane away from The Strip.
Rather than call 911 on his phone, he made a U-turn into oncoming traffic as cars scattered to avoid collision with the entire caravan of Death Row vehicles followed by jumping median strips. Two bicycle cops who overheard the shots gave chase and caught up with the BMW because two of the car’s tyres had been deflated with shots. The scene of the shooting was vacated, crowds dispersed as did the vehicles involved. The two police on bicycles approached the BMW with guns drawn and ordered Suge out of the car. With blood dripping from his head he stepped out informing them he had been shot. However they forced him to the ground spread eagle with officers holding him down as he bled profusely. Alexander was yelling at the police to get off Suge, when they finally did both of them ran over to the BMW to check on Tupac. The door was closed tight. Alexander reached for Tupac through the window, his medaliion was soaked with blood and his body was trembling like he was cold. As ambulances and cars sped onto the scene, this was by the time Suge had gotten the door open and the both of them laid Tupac out on the ground. Within minutes the whole area was a chaotic scenario of flashing and howling alarms from screeching emergency vehicles. Many onlookers swarmed the BMW as it sat stationary on Vegas Boulevard and Harmon trying to rip themselves off mementos from the car, hubcaps, mirrors but police drew them back with the threat of arrest.
Alexander knelt down beside Tupac with his hand touching him, “You’re gonna be ok, Pac.” Through tears he kept talking to him, “Pac, you’re ok, you’re ok.” Tupac looked up at him and said “Frank I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe.” Tupac repeated this over and over to Frank Alexander. He witnessed Tupac with his own strength cross his arms over his chest, take a deep breath and close his eyes. This was the last time he saw Tupac breathe on his own. As paramedics arrived at Las Vegas University Medical Center to deliver Tupac he had lost vast amounts of blood. A team of surgeons removed his shattered left lung that evening and operated again the next morning. He was given a 50-50 chance of survival only to be improved when he regained consciousness. Prayer vigils were held by the Outlawz with fans that helped drive away the media and their snappy cameras before they could get any images caught of the rapper’s condition. In the lobby a teenage girl chanted the lyrics from ‘All Eyes On Me’ and outside Tupac’s room Jesse Jackson and Minister Tony Muhammed head of LA’s Nation of Islam chapter comforted the Shakur family.
At 4:04pm on Friday the thirteenth, at twenty five years young Tupac Amaru Shakur was pronounced dead from respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest. Suge arrived moments later in a black lexus just after the announcement was made. As he exited his vehicle the crowd went quiet and everybody noticed the gunshot wound to his scalp was barely noticeable. Inside Suge spoke briefly to Tupac’s family then walked strtaight out the front entrance smoking a cigar ten minutes later. This spelled the end of an era, a defining moment in black history. The loss of a generational icon who could have stood still through eternal evolution had he not met his demons along the way.
- 1991 2Pacalypse Now (Gold)
- 1993 Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (Platinum)
- 1994 Thug Life: Thug Life Vol. 1 (with Thug Life) (Gold)
- 1995 Me Against the World (2x Platinum)
- 1996 All Eyez on Me (9x Platinum)
- 1996 The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (5x Platinum)
- 1997 R U Still Down? (Remember Me) (4x Platinum)
- 1998 2Pac’s Greatest Hits (9x Platinum)
- 1999 Still I Rise (with Tha Outlawz) (2x Platinum)
- 2000 The Rose that Grew from Concrete
- 2000 The Lost Tapes: Circa 1989 on Lightyear Records
- 2001 Until the End of Time (4x Platinum)
- 2002 Better Dayz (3x Platinum U.S.)
- 2003 Tupac: Resurrection (OST) (Platinum)
- 2003 Nu-Mixx Klazzics
- 2004 2pac Live
- 2004 Loyal to the Game (Platinum U.S.)
- 2005 The Rose, Vol. 2
- 2005 Live at the House Of Blues (With the Dogg Pound)
- 1991 Nothing But Trouble (brief appearance as self)
- 1992 Juice (as Bishop)
- 1993 Poetic Justice (as Lucky the postman)
- 1994 Above the Rim (as Birdie)
- 1996 Bullet (as Tank)
- 1997 Gridlock’d (as Ezekiel ‘Spoon’ Whitmore)
- 1997 Gang Related (as Detective Rodriguez)
- 2002 Biggie & Tupac (archive footage)
- 2003 Tupac: Resurrection (archive footage)
- 2006 Live 2 Tell - as screenwriter (currently in pre-production)