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Art and Culture/Music
Date Posted:7/19/04

by: Janelle Jemmott

When Tupac Shakur officially entered the rap game, the industry was definitely not ready for the tactics he worked by. Along with his mind-blowing skill and powerful voice, Tupac brought with him a gangsta boy image. Although he was not the first to engage in this sort of image, the magnitude to which he did it made it more popular. He plagued the medias with his bandana tied bald head, pierced nose, exposed six pac tattooed with his infamous title, "Thug Life." When all these elements combined, they formed the ultimate formula for success.

Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in a New York Afeni Shakur on June 16th, 1975. Afeni Shakur was arrested when she was 21 for conspiring to bomb several New York department stores, police stations, and commuter railways. With no choice she gave birth to her son who she named Tupac. Afeni named her child Tupac Amaru, which means ‘shining serpent’, after an eighteenth century Incan chief and revolutionist.

Unlike most children, Tupac gained early exposure to the life of a radical revolutionist. He was surrounded by people who lived and died the struggle of freedom. Some of theses figures include his mother, his father- Billy Garland, and his stepfather Mutulu Shakur. He attended his first Black Panther rally when he was only ten months. Black Panther activity had great influence on Tupac’s life. (When the FBI searched for Afeni, Tupac and his half sister unwillingly had to move and hide.)
In 1986, Afeni gathered some money to move her family from New York to the tough ghettos of Baltimore. Before leaving New York, Tupac made his first acting debut? In Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, during an Apollo Theater fundraiser for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign.
Those who knew Tupac during his adolescence witnessed how his mother’s lifestyles and choices affected him. Part of Tupac’s destructive behavior came from an unstable home and family life. At some point in Tupac’s development, Afeni became addicted to crack and cocaine. While she was out satisfying her addiction, Tupac stayed in his godfather wife’s home. Being the oldest child there with no male influence caused Tupac to feel abandoned. Through this abandonment he learned to channel his anger through art.

Famed actress, Jada Pinkett Smith recalls, " Because his relationship with his mother, he didn’t have a good opinion of himself. He took every opportunity to punish anybody he felt didn’t do right by him, by his standards. We all paid the price for her drug addiction".
Afeni Shakur’s participation in the Black Panther movement also had a positive effect on young Tupac. Tupac used his brain at an early age to question his surroundings. When he saw something he believed was unjust, he learned to express his opinions. Most impressively Tupac acquired amazing oratorical skill, which is evident in his later recordings.

When seventeen -year old Tupac and his family relocated to Marin City, California, he quickly became acquainted with the wrong people. He started to develop a tough man mindset that would stay with him for the rest of his life. However, he still concentrated on his education, especially reading. In a 1988 interview, the youngster spoke clearly with an amazing vocabulary. In the interview he expressed his views on his future, the world, and his mother.

Tupac’s lyrics expressed his views on various subjects. He rapped on issues such as teenage pregnancy, sex, social flaws, and life as a thug.

In the hip- hop culture it is not unlikely to find woman being degraded. From the way they are underdressed in videos to demeaning lyrics, the status of women is usually reduced. Women are prominent characters in many of Tupac Shakur’s songs. In "Keep Ya Head Up" Tupac praises women for rearing children by themselves. In his hit single, "Brenda’s Got A Baby", he explores the factors leading to teenage pregnancy and how it affects the community as a whole. Despite his many accolades to females, Tupac also did his part in trashing them. In his songs "Lunatic" and "I Get Around", he says things such as " This is the life, new b***h every night" and “Don't be picky. Just be happy with this quicky”.
Tupac also gave his insights on God and other fractions of spirituality through his lyrics. In "So Many Tears" he pleas to God to intervene in his suffering when he asks, "God can you feel me? / Take me away from all the pressure and the pain". In "Only God Can Judge Me" he seeks an answer to his own existence and the deaths of his friend. The video for "I Ain’t Mad At Cha", which he co directed not long before his death, bleeds with religious imagery. In the video Tupac is shot five times while walking with a friend, who helplessly watches Tupac die. When he dies he ascends to the gates of heaven where he is met by other black legends including Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Marvin Gaye, and Billie Holiday. At the end he returns to earth as an angel draped in white watching over his friends.
This video and other lyrics foreshadowed Tupac Shakur’s unfortunate passing. Despite this fact millions were still shocked to learn of his death. On the night of 7th, 1996, Tupac was attending a Tyson fight. While he was sitting in the passenger seat of Suge Knight’s vehicle, Tupac was tragically shot. He was rushed to the hospital where he was admitted in critical condition. Unfortunately, he was announced dead on September 13th.

To this day Tupac’s murderer is still unknown. There are many interesting and possible conspiracies surrounding his death. One idea suggests that Tupac’s death is related to his ongoing rival with East Coast rapper, the Notorious B.I.G. However, many believe that Tupac is not dead.

When Tupac Shakur released his album Makaveli: Don Killuminati Seven Day Theory, two months after his death, those who knew the artist became a little curious. Tupac adapted the name Makaveli after reading The Prince by Machiavelli. Part of Makaveli’s legend was faking one’s death was a way someone could easily control their enemies. Also many people realize the repeated occurrence of the number seven when discussing Tupac’s death. For example, Tupac was shot seven times, seven months after his album All Eyez on Me was released. He was shot on September 7th and died seven days later. In addition he died at the age of 25; the sum of these two numbers is seven and he died at 4:03 – the sum of those numbers also equals seven. Evidence to Tupac’s “death” is also shown in his music videos. In his video for “I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto”, the clock at the end of the video reads 4:03 the time of Tupac’s death.

Suspicions of Tupac’s death continued to increase when he released 2PAC’s Greatest Hits. However, the album included six new tracks. In some of theses tracks Tupac mentions events occurring after his supposed death. In his lyrics he refers to the film Armageddon and the Broncos Super Bowl victory.
Although he is physically gone from the rap scene, Tupac Shakur is far from forgotten. To this day he is still considered one of the greatest forces in the rap game industry. Sales on Tupac Shakur merchandise and music continue to grow. This young artist possessed a certain charisma and talent that captivated millions across the world. He was the voice for many young African- Americans who were unable to express themselves. Despite his bad boy reputation he proved himself to be an artist and a leader at the same time. Tupac showed the world not only through his music but his poetry that he was educated and had a voice that mattered. The legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur will continue to grow whether he is dead or alive.

© Copyright 2004

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