On this day in 1996, the influential rapper, actor, and equality advocate Tupac Shakur was shot four times on his way back from the MGM Grand Casino, leading to his untimely death at age 25 six days later.
Tupac was an infinitely talented but equally troubled artist born on June 16th, 1971 in east Harlem to Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland. Tupac grew up moving frequently and struggling with money with his sister and mother, occasionally staying in shelters. While the family was in Baltimore, Tupac enrolled in the Baltimore School for the Arts, a prestigious public arts high school that Tupac soon had to leave because the neighborhood his family was living in was plagued by crime. The family moved to Marin City in California, where Tupac got into drug dealing after making friends with dealers who cared for him like a son. At the same time, Tupac’s mother, Afeni, fell victim to an addiction of crack, the same drug her son made a living by selling. Tupac references this time in his life frequently in his music, with powerful lyrics like these in his tribute to his mother “Dear Mama”
“I hung around with the thugs, and even though they sold drugs, they showed a young brother love. I moved out, started really hangin’, I needed money of my own, so I started slangin’, I ain’t guilty, ‘cause even though I sell rocks, it feels good putting money in your mailbox.”
“And even as a crack fiend, Mama, you always was a Black Queen, Mama.”
-Tupac Shakur, “Dear Mama”
Tupac would soon be gently steered away from his life of crime by his music career. Tupac’s music career began when he met Leila Steinberg in a park, where they talked about Winnie Mandela and the poetry that Tupac had been writing at the time. Eventually, Tupac convinced Leila to become his manager, even though she had no experience in the music industry. Tupac started out his music career as a roadie and dancer for the group Digital Underground. Tupac had sever other increasingly important gigs before he landed a deal with Interscope Records, leading to his debut album 2Pacalypse Now, featuring powerful songs rooted in social commentary that is still incredibly relevant such as “Brenda’s Got A Baby.”
After rising to superstardom in the rap community, Tupac had more than his fair share of run-ins with the law. Less than a year after the release of his debut album, Tupac was attacked by a jealous crowd during a festival celebrating the 50th year of Marin City. Tupac pulled out his pistol to defend himself against the mob, then thought better of it and dropped the gun. The gun was picked up and fired by someone in the crowd, and the bullet hit a 6-year-old named Qa’id Walker-Teal, killing him. Nobody was convicted of any crimes, but Tupac payed $300,000 to the Walker-Teal family because he felt he was partially responsible for the death of Qa’id. Tupac was caught up in controversy once more in Atlanta during October of 1993, several months after the release of his second album, when 2 drunk off-duty white cops threatened to shoot Tupac and party with a stolen gun. Tupac defended himself and his friends by non-lethally shooting one of the cops in the buttocks, and the other in the lower abdomen. Tupac was immediately misrepresented by the media as a “gun-toting gangster” who shot the cops in cold blood, when in reality he was defending himself and his friend. All of these incidents had an effect on Tupac’s life, but one last conviction would change his career forever.
In February of 1995, Tupac was sentenced to several years in jail on charges of sexual abuse because of an incident in Tupac’s suite in the Parker Meridian Hotel in New York. Four days before the incident, Tupac had met a fan named Ayanna Jackson. Tupac and Ayanna partied together at a Manhattan club, and Tupac invited Ayanna to the aforementioned suite in the Parker Meridian Hotel. Four days later, Tupac was partying with a high-profile New York gangster, his road manager, and one other unidentified man when Ayanna arrived. Tupac maintains that he had no part in the crime, and that he was very intoxicated and was passed out in another room of the suite while the crime was committed by the other 3 men. This statement is supported by Tupac’s long history of advocating for women’s equality and his expressed criticism and disgust of rapists in the past. Ayanna called the police and pressed charges against the group, and all faced charges. Tupac continued to say that he had no part in the crime despite the charges, saying that
“I had a job to protect her, and I never showed up.”
Before he was imprisoned, Tupac was attacked and shot in front of Quad recording studios in New York, reportedly as discipline for exposing the aforementioned gangster “Haitian Jack” in the sexual abuse case. This started the infamous rivalry between Tupac and Biggie Smalls, as Tupac believed that his former friend Biggie, who Tupac had helped raise to fame, was aware of the plan to punish Tupac and chose not to warn him. While serving time in prison for the Ayanna case, Tupac married Keisha Morris, who delivered the message that Suge Knight of Death Row Records would pay Tupac’s 1.3 million dollar bail if he signed on to Death Row Records. Tupac accepted the offer. Tupac’s next album, All Eyez On Me, showed influence of Death Row Records, trading Tupac’s traditionally socially conscious lyrics for a no-questions-asked celebration of the gangsta rap lifestyle.
Seven months later, Tupac was shot and killed. His murder remains unsolved, but there are several prominent theories as to who was responsible.
Two of the most widely accepted theories are:
1: Sean Combs, AKA Puff Daddy, hired people to kill Suge Knight as an attempt to set off an east coast/west coast conflict, and included Tupac in the attempt because of his diss track “Hit ‘Em Up,” which offended Combs because of its trashing of fellow east coast rapper Biggie Smalls.
2: Suge Knight orchestrated Tupac’s murder because he owed Tupac money, and because Tupac was planning to leave Death Row Records.
There are also theories that Biggie Smalls was responsible for Tupac’s death, but Biggie and party fervently deny these claims.
One last theory claims that Tupac faked his own death and moved to Cuba, followed by Biggie Smalls six months later, but there is very little evidence to support this.
Rest In Peace Tupac, you will not be forgotten.