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Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16, 1971 - September 13, 1996), also known by his stage names: 2Pac, Makaveli, or simply Pac, was an American artist renowned for his rap music, movie roles, poetry, and his social activism. He is recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling hip-hop artist, with over seventy-five million albums sold worldwide including over fifty million in the United States alone. Most of Shakur's songs are about growing up around violence and hardship in ghettos, racism, problems in society, and sometimes qualms with other fellow rappers. Shakur's work is known for advocating political, economic, social, and racial equality as well as his raw descriptions of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and conflicts with the law. Many fans, critics, and industry insiders rank him as the greatest rapper ever.
In 1990, Shakur was a roadie and backup dancer for the alternative rap group Digital Underground. Shakur's debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, gained critical recognition and backlash for its controversial lyrics. Shakur became the target of lawsuits and experienced other legal problems. Later, Shakur was shot five times in a recording studio lobby in Manhattan and was robbed. Following the incident, Shakur grew suspicious that other figures in the rap industry had prior knowledge of the shooting and did not warn him; the controversy would help spark the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry. After serving eleven months of his sentence, Shakur was released from prison on an appeal financed by Marion "Suge" Knight, the CEO of Death Row Records. In exchange for Suge's assistance, Shakur agreed to release three records under the Death Row label. Shakur's fifth album, the first double-disc release in hip hop history All Eyez on Me, counted as two albums. On September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, and died six days later of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest at University Medical Center, Las Vegas.
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in the East Harlem section of Manhattan in New York City. He was named after Túpac Amaru II, an Incan revolutionary who led a Peruvian uprising against Spain and was subsequently sentenced to death. "Shakur" comes from the Arabic word thankful (to God). His mother, Afeni Shakur, was an active member of the Black Panther Party in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s; Shakur was born just one month after her acquittal on more than 100 charges of "Conspiracy against the United States government and New York landmarks" in the New York Panther 21 court case. Although officially unconfirmed by the Shakur family, several sources list his birth name as either "Parish Lesane Crooks" or "Lesane Parish Crooks". Afeni supposedly feared her enemies would attack her son, and disguised their relation using a different last name, only to change it three months or a year later, following her marriage to Mutulu Shakur.
Struggle and incarceration surrounded Tupac from an early age. Shakur's godfather, Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a high ranking Black Panther, was convicted of murdering a school teacher during a 1968 robbery, although his sentence was later overturned. His stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, spent four years at large on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list beginning in 1982, when Tupac was a pre-teen. Mutulu was wanted in part for having helped his sister Assata Shakur, Tupac's godmother, to escape from prison in New Jersey, where she had been incarcerated for allegedly shooting a state trooper to death in 1973. Mutulu was caught in 1986 and imprisoned for an attempted robbery of a Brinks armored car in which two police officers and a guard were killed. Tupac had a half-sister, Sekyiwa, two years his junior, and an older step-brother, Mopreme "Komani" Shakur, who appeared on many of his recordings.
At the age of twelve, Shakur enrolled in Harlem's famous "127th Street Ensemble." His first major role with this acting troupe was as Travis in A Raisin in the Sun. In 1984, his family relocated to Baltimore, After completing his sophomore year at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School he transferred to the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he studied acting, poetry, and jazz. He performed in Shakespeare plays and in the role of the Mouse King in The Nutcracker. Tupac, accompanied by one of his friends, Dana "Mouse" Smith, as his beatbox, won most of the many rap competitions that he participated in and was considered to be the best rapper in his school. Although he lacked trendy clothing, he was one of the most popular kids in his school because of his sense of humor, superior rapping skills, and ability to mix in with all crowds. He developed a close friendship with a young Jada Pinkett (later Jada Pinkett Smith) that lasted until Shakur's death. In the documentary Tupac: Resurrection, Shakur says, "Jada is my heart. She will be my friend for my whole life," and Smith calls Shakur "one of my best friends. He was like a brother. It was beyond friendship for us. The type of relationship we had, you only get that once in a lifetime." A poem written by Shakur titled "Jada" appears in his book, The Rose That Grew From Concrete, which also includes a poem dedicated to Smith called "The Tears in Cupid's Eyes".
In June 1988, Shakur and his family moved once again, this time to Marin City, California, where he attended Tamalpais High School. He joined the Ensemble Theater Company (ETC) to pursue his career in entertainment. His mother's crack addiction led him to move into Leila Steinberg's home with his friend Ray Luv at the age of seventeen. Leila Steinberg acted as a literary mentor to Shakur, an avid reader. Steinberg has kept copies of the books that Tupac read, which include J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, Jamaica Kincaid's At the Bottom of the River, Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Eileen Southern's Music of Black Americans, and the feminist writings of Alice Walker and Robin Morgan. Most of these books were read before the age of twenty. It has been claimed that Shakur was in fact more well-read and intellectually well-rounded at that age than the average student in the first year class of most Ivy League institutions. In 1989, Leila Steinberg organized a concert with Shakur's group, Strictly Dope. The concert lead to him being signed with Atron Gregory who set him up with Digital Underground. In 1990, he was hired as a back-up dancer and roadie for up-and-coming rap group Digital Underground.
Shakur's professional entertainment career began in early 1991, when he debuted his rap skills on the single "Same Song" from the Digital Underground album This is an EP Release. Also in 1991, he appeared in the music video for "Same Song". In late 1991, after his rap debut, Tupac Shakur performed with Digital Underground again on the album Sons Of The P. Later that year, he released his first solo album, 2Pacalypse Now. Initially he had trouble marketing his solo debut, but Interscope Records executives Ted Field and Tom Whalley eventually agreed to distribute the record.
Shakur claimed his first album was aimed at the problems facing young black males, but it was publicly criticized for its graphic language and images of violence by and against police. In one incident, a young man claimed his killing of a Texas trooper was inspired by the album. Former Vice President Dan Quayle publicly denounced the album as having "no place in our society". 2Pacalypse Now did not do as well on the charts as future albums, spawning no top ten hits. His second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., was released in 1993. Heavily produced by Stretch and the Live Squad, the album generated two hits, "Keep Ya Head Up" and "I Get Around", the latter featuring guest appearances by members of the Digital Underground.
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