Tupac Shakur

Digital Underground

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 debut 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.

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