The son of two Black Panther members, Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in New York City. His parents had separated before he was born, and his mother moved him and his sister around the country for much of their childhood. Frequently, the family was at the poverty level, but Shakur managed to gain acceptance to the prestigious Baltimore School of the Arts as a teenager. While he was at the school, his creative side flourished, as he began writing raps and acting. Before he could graduate, his family moved to Marin City, CA, when he was 17 years old. Over the next few years, he lived on the streets and began hustling. Eventually, he met Shock-G, the leader of Digital Underground. The Oakland-based crew decided to hire him as a dancer and roadie, and as he toured with the group, he worked on his own material. 2Pac made his first recorded appearance on the group's spring 1991 record, This Is an EP Release, and he also appeared on their second album, Sons of the P. The following year, he released his own debut, 2Pacalypse Now. The album became a word-of-mouth hit, as 'Brenda's Got a Baby' reached the R&B Top 30 and the record went gold. However, its blunt and explicit lyrics earned criticisms for moral watchdogs, and Vice President Dan Quayle attacked the album while he was campaigning for re-election that year.
Shakur's profile was raised considerably by his acclaimed role in the Ernest Dickerson film Juice, which led to a lead role in John Singleton's Poetic Justice the following year. By the time the film hit theaters, 2Pac had released his second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., which became a platinum album, peaking at number four on the R&B charts and launching the Top Ten R&B hit singles 'I Get Around' and 'Keep Ya Head Up', which peaked at number 11 and 12, respectively, on the pop charts. Late in 1993, he acted in the basketball movie Above the Rim.
Although Shakur was selling records and earning praise for his music and acting, he began having serious altercations with the law; prior to becoming a recording artist, he had no police record. He was arrested in 1992 after he was involved in a fight that culminated with a stray bullet killing a six-year-old bystander; the charges were later dismissed. 2Pac was filming Menace II Society in the summer of 1993 when he assaulted director Allen Hughes; he was sentenced to 15 days in jail in early 1994. The sentence arrived after two other high-profile incidents. In October of 1993, when he was charged with shooting two off-duty police officers in Atlanta. The charges were dismissed, but the following month, he and two members of his entourage were charged with sexually abusing a female fan. In 1994, he was found guilty of sexual assault. The day after the verdict was announced, he was shot by a pair of muggers while he was in the lobby of a New York City recordings studio. Shakur was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on February 7, 1995.
Later that month, Shakur began serving his sentence. He was in jail when his third album, Me Against the World, was released in March. The record entered the charts at number one, making 2Pac the first artist to enjoy a number one record while serving a prison sentence. While he was in prison, he accused the Notorious B.I.G., Puffy Combs, Andre Harrell, and his own close friend Randy "Stretch" Walker of orchestrating his New York shooting. Shakur only served eight months of his sentence, as Suge Knight, the president of Death Row Records, arranged for parole and posted a 1.4 million dollar bond for the rapper. By the end of the year, 2Pac was out of prison and working on his debut for Death Row. On November 30, 1995 -- the one-year anniversary of the New York shooting -- Walker was killed in a gangland-styled murder in Queens.
2Pac's Death Row debut, All Eyez on Me, was the first double disc of original material in Hip Hop history. It debuted at number one upon its February release, and would be certified quintuple platinum by the fall. Although he had a hit record and, with the Dr. Dre duet 'California Love', a massive single on his hands, Shakur was beginning to tire of Hip Hop and started to concentrate on acting. During the summer of 1996, he completed two films, the thriller Bullet and the dark comedy Gridlock'd, which also starred Tim Roth. He also made some recordings for Death Row, which was quickly disintegrating without Dre as the house producer, and as Knight became heavily involved in illegal activities.
At the time of his murder in September 1996, there were indications that Shakur was considering leaving Death Row, and maybe even rap, behind. None of those theories can ever be confirmed, just as the reasons behind his shooting remain mysterious. Shakur was shot on the Las Vegas strip as he was riding in the passenger seat of Knight's car. They had just seen the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight at the MGM Grand, and as they were leaving the hotel, 2Pac got into a fight with an unnamed young black man. The case was never solved, but it has been suggested that this was the cause of the drive-by shooting, and it has also been suggested that Knight's ties to the mob and to gangs were the reason; another theory is that the Notorious B.I.G. arranged the shooting as retaliation for 2Pac's comments that he slept with Biggie's wife, Faith Evans. Either way, Shakur was shot four times and was admitted to University of Nevada Medical Center. Six days later, he died from his wounds.
Hundreds of mourners appeared at the hospital upon news of his death, and the entire entertainment industry mourned his passing, especially since there were no leads in the case. Many believed his death would end the much-hyped East Coast/West Coast Hip Hop rivalry and decrease black-on-black violence. Sadly, six months after his death, the Notorious B.I.G. was murdered under similar circumstances. As Shakur's notoriety only increased in the wake of his death, a series of posthumous releases followed, among them Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (issued under the alias Makaveli in 1996), R U Still Down? (Remember Me) (1997), Still I Rise (1999), Until the End of Time (2001), and Better Dayz (2002).
When 2Pac's full-length debut, 2Pacalypse Now, came out in 1991, it didn't have the same immediate impact, didn't instantly throw him into the upper echelons of rap's elite, as Nas', Jay-Z's, or even his biggest rival, Notorious B.I.G.'s did, but the album certainly set him up for his illustrious and sadly short-lived career. Part of its initial problem, what held it back from extensive radio play, is that there's not an obvious single. The closest thing to it, and what ended up being the best-known track from 2Pacalypse Now, is "Brenda's Got a Baby," which discusses teenage pregnancy in true Pac fashion, sympathetically explaining a situation without condoning it, but it doesn't even have a hook, and most of the other pieces follow suit, more poetry than song.
The album is significantly more political than the rapper's subsequent releases, showing an intelligent, talented, and angry young man (he was only 20 when it came out) who wanted desperately to express and reveal the problems in the urban black community, from racism to police brutality to the seemingly near impossibility of escaping from the ghetto. He pays tribute to artists like KRS-One, N.W.A, and Public Enemy, all of whom he also considered to be provoking discussion and reaction, but he also has cleanly carved out an image for himself: articulate and smart, not overtly boastful, and concerned about societal problems, both small and large (and though he discusses these less and less as career progresses, he never leaves them behind).
Yes, the edges of 2Pacalypse Now can be a bit rough, yes the beats aren't always outstanding, and yes, the MC's flow can be a little choppy, even for him, but it's still a great look at what 2Pac could offer, and a must-have for any fan of his, or Hip Hop in general.
Words - Marisa Brown
On 2Pac's debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, the rapper showed himself to be a supremely passionate man, brimming over with ideas and anger and ready to voice his political and social opinions, call things like he saw them. This same kind of energy and lyrical acumen is found on his sophomore release, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., a record that, while it begins exploring the MC's more gangsta side ("Last Wordz," for example, which features verses from Ice Cube and Ice-T), still includes the provocative, reflective lines on which he first made his name as a solo artist, and which he continued even as he became more and more popular (and, for some, more and more frightening).
"Keep Ya Head Up," one of his biggest hits, and his tribute to black women, especially single mothers, is deeply thoughtful and poignant ("And since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman, and our game from a woman/I wonder why we take from our women, why we rape our women, do we hate our women?"), expressing opinions that aren't often equated with hardcore rappers, while tracks like "I Get Around" brags about his sexual conquests. But this was what 2Pac was, anyway, a juxtaposition between tough and sensitive, social consciousness and misogynistic boasting, and Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. shows this.
The angry protest songs calling out police and politicians, reminiscent of Public Enemy -- and with Bomb Squad-esque beats to boot (albeit a lesser version of) -- the screw-the-world mentality, the soft introspection, the preaching-but-not-proselytizing, and the party anthems are all here, and though the production sometimes suffers, especially in the middle of the album, where it's utterly forgettable, the record shows a continually developing MC, with increasingly complex lyrical themes, well on his way to becoming nearly unstoppable.
Words - Marisa Brown
Recorded following his near-fatal shooting in New York, and released while he was in prison, Me Against the World is the point where 2Pac really became a legendary figure. Having stared death in the face and survived, he was a changed man on record, displaying a new confessional bent and a consistent emotional depth. By and large, this isn't the sort of material that made him a gangsta icon; this is 2Pac the soul-baring artist, the foundation of the immense respect he commanded in the hip-hop community.
It's his most thematically consistent, least-self-contradicting work, full of genuine reflection about how he's gotten where he is -- and dread of the consequences. Even the more combative tracks ("Me Against the World," "Fuck the World") acknowledge the high-risk life he's living, and pause to wonder how things ever went this far. He battles occasional self-loathing, is haunted by the friends he's already lost to violence, and can't escape the desperate paranoia that his own death isn't far in the future. These tracks -- most notably "So Many Tears," "Lord Knows," and "Death Around the Corner" -- are all the more powerful in hindsight with the chilling knowledge that he was right.
Even romance takes on a new meaning as an escape from the hellish pressure of everyday life ("Temptations," "Can U Get Away"), and when that's not available, getting high or drunk is almost a necessity. He longs for the innocence of childhood ("Young Niggaz," "Old School"), and remembers how quickly it disappeared, yet he still pays loving, clear-eyed tribute to his drug-addicted mother on the touching "Dear Mama." Overall, Me Against the World paints a bleak, nihilistic picture, but there's such an honest, self-revealing quality to it that it can't help conveying a certain hope simply through its humanity. It's the best place to go to understand why 2Pac is so revered; it may not be his definitive album, but it just might be his best.
Words - Steve Huey
Maybe it was his time in prison, or maybe it was simply his signing with Suge Knight's Death Row label. Whatever the case, 2Pac re-emerged hardened and hungry with All Eyez on Me, the first double-disc album of original material in Hip Hop history. With all the controversy surrounding him, 2Pac seemingly wanted to throw down a monumental epic whose sheer scope would make it an achievement of itself. But more than that, it's also an unabashed embrace of the gangsta lifestyle, backing off the sober self-recognition of Me Against the World.
Sure, there are a few reflective numbers and dead-homiez tributes, but they're much more romanticized this time around. All Eyez on Me is 2Pac the thug icon in all his brazen excess, throwing off all self-control and letting it all hang out -- even if some of it would have been better kept to himself. In that sense, it's an accurate depiction of what made him such a volatile and compelling personality, despite some undeniable filler. On the plus side, this is easily the best production he's ever had on record, handled mostly by Johnny J (notably on the smash "How Do U Want It") and Dat Nigga Daz; Dr. Dre also contributes another surefire single in "California Love" (which, unfortunately, is present only as a remix, not the original hit version). Both hits are on the front-loaded first disc, which would be a gangsta classic in itself; other highlights include the anthemic Snoop Dogg duet "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," "All About U" (with the required Nate Dogg-sung hook), and "I Ain't Mad at Cha," a tribute to old friends who've gotten off the streets.
Despite some good moments, the second disc is slowed by filler and countless guest appearances, plus a few too many thug-lovin' divas crooning their loyalty. Erratic though it may be, All Eyez on Me is nonetheless carried off with the assurance of a legend in his own time, and it stands as 2Pac's magnum opus.
Words - Steve Huey
The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (commonly shortened to The 7 Day Theory or Don Killuminati and sometimes called Makaveli) is the fifth and final studio album by Tupac Shakur. Released under the new stage name Makaveli, it was his first studio album to be posthumously released. The album was completely finished in a total of seven days during the month of August 1996. The lyrics were written and recorded in only three days and mixing took an additional four days. These are among the very last songs Shakur recorded before his fatal shooting on September 7, 1996. The album was originally due for release in March 1997, but due to his death, Suge Knight released it four months earlier.
The second posthumous release from the Tupac estate, this 1997 album was curated by his mother, Afeni Shakur, via her Amaru Entertainment imprint. The vocals were taken from around the 2Pacalypse Now (’91) to the ‘94 Thug Life period, just before Pac’s first, non-fatal shooting in New York, and much of the original production remained intact. As ever, Shakur was preoccupied with an early death; tracks like ‘Open Fire’ and ‘Thug Style’ were interpreted as the young rapper foreseeing an imminent death, while the morbid ‘Hellrazor’ dwelled on the soul of a man trapped.
Alternating between hardcore West Coast Rap and huge Soul samples, including Mica Paris and Gil Scott Heron, the title track borrowed from Curtis Mayfield while the laidback bounce of ‘Fuck All Y’All’ nodded to southern spitters Geto Boys. Among the inevitable 2Pac themes of rage, violence and pain, Pac paused to show a softer side. ‘I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto’ followed in the tradition of ‘Keep Ya Head Up’, ‘16 On Death Row’ was Pac’s version of providing a positive influence, while the Bobby Caldwell borrowing ‘Do For Love’, became one of Pac’s biggest hits post death. A fitting dedication to one of Hip’s Hop’s most powerful rappers.
Words - Hattie Collins
One of Hip Hop’s most prodigious poets, the one positive to be taken from 2Pac’s tragic death was the vast amount of material the New York born rhymer left behind. Taken from the Makavelli years while he was signed to Death Row, this collection of cutting room edits proved to be a treasure chest of lyrical gems. Demonstrating the range Pac had as a rapper, there’s pathos and paranoia to be found on ‘Ballad of A Dead Soulja’, gentle fury on ‘Fuckin’ With The Wrong Nigga’ while it’s an introspective Tupac, a man searching for answers, that’s found on ‘This Ain’t Livin’’. One of the album’s biggest hits was the ‘Broken Wings’ sampling title track, which became an ‘Changes’ 2001, of sorts. Proof of the passion that remains for Pac was seen by US sales figures, with ‘Until The End Of Time’ 2001’s biggest selling Hip Hop record.
Words - Hattie Collins
Though it was released on the eve of the busiest year in 2Pac's posthumous career, Better Dayz shouldn't be overlooked -- and with the schedule including a feature documentary (with soundtrack), plus two books and another double album, it might be easy for this one to slip from the radar. A lengthy two-disc set, it benefits from a raft of still-compelling material by one of the two or three best rappers in history, as well as excellent compiling by executive producers Suge Knight and Afeni Shakur, 2Pac's mother.
Organizing the set roughly into one disc of hardcore rap and one of R&B jams makes for an easier listen, and the R&B disc especially has some strong tracks, opening with a remix of 1995's "My Block" and including quintessentially 2Pac material -- reflective, conflicted, occasionally anguished -- like "Never Call U B**** Again," "Better Dayz," "Fame," and "This Life I Lead." Most of the tracks are previously unreleased, the rest coming from scattered compilations like Knight's Chronic 2000: Still Smokin' or 1995's The Show soundtrack. It's 2Pac's best album since his death, and bodes well for future material by, and concerning, rap's most legendary figure.
Words - John Bush
Loyal to the Game, the ninth 2Pac album released by his enterprising mother-turned-executive producer, Afeni Shakur, is one of the more unique entries in the martyred rap legend's extensive catalog. Produced entirely by Eminem, it carries on with the approach the man otherwise known as Marshall Mathers took with his production contributions to the preceding year's Tupac: Resurrection. Eminem had produced a few songs on that soundtrack, most notably the landmark 2Pac-Biggie duet "Runnin' (Dying to Live)," and his work here on Loyal to the Game isn't too much of a departure from the style of that song. In the wake of the song's popularity, Afeni gave Eminem some old tapes, and he went to work, stripping them of their productions, giving them his own trademark backing (characterized by his style of punchy, syncopated, unfunky beatmaking), incorporating some guest raps for secondary verses, and polishing them off with various sorts of hooks.
Eminem's efforts here work, yet aren't ideal. On the one hand, there's no questioning Em's integrity. He pens some reverent liner notes, explaining his position (or justifying it, depending on your viewpoint), and Afeni also pens some touching liners, likewise explaining why Eminem of all people gets the green light to produce this album in its entirety. And Em doesn't take his job here lightly. His beats hit hard and are well crafted, most similar to his more hardcore self-productions like "Mosh" or "Lose Yourself." His hooks are also well crafted: he takes the hook himself on "Soldier Like Me"; brings in 50 Cent and Nate Dogg for "Loyal to the Game" and "Thugs Get Lonely Too," respectively; samples Elton John ("Indian Sunset"), Curtis Mayfield ("If There's a Hell Below"), and Dido ("Do You Have a Little Time") for other songs; and lets 2Pac handle his own hooks elsewhere. On the other, more cynical hand, Eminem simply isn't a good fit, and the four bonus tracks here testify to what could have been. Produced by Scott Storch, Red Spyda, Raphael Saadiq, and DJ Quik, these bonus track "remixes" are clearly the highlights of the album (and quite fantastic highlights at that, perhaps alone reason enough to pick up this album). These guys produce beats much more fitting to 2Pac's rhyme style.
Words - Jason Birchmeier
More prolific dead than alive (well, not really, but the amount of records issued by the Californian rapper after September 13, 1996, far outweigh the number issued before), 2Pac has -- mostly thanks to his mother, Afeni Shakur -- come out with another release, ten years after his death. Despite the fact that Pac's Life claims to be comprised of all (minus one verse) previously unheard material, most of the rhymes on the album have been floating around the Internet or on unofficial (and possibly illegal) bootlegs for some time now, which makes listening a little anticlimactic. This isn't to say that there is not some great material on Pac's Life, because there is ("Watch and bear witness to the pleasures of participation/Separation and self-destruction, what's needed is unification," he spits in "Whatz Next"), but the power of 2Pac's words is often lost behind the modern production (from Sha Money XL and L.T. Hutton, among others) and new verses from artists like Ludacris, Lil Scrappy, Ashanti, and Young Buck.
Words - Marisa Brown