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Today marks what would've been the 45th birthday of Tupac Shakur.
Almost twenty years ago, on 13 September 1996 the rapper and actor passed away in a Las Vegas hospital - the victim of a drive-by shooting just six days prior.
It always surprising to found out that Shakur was only 25 at the time of his death, and yet achieved more than some people twice his age.
I'm a 22-year-old whose achievements really peak at a few flawless, half-volleys. I've yet to become a worldwide hip-hop star, poet, actor and activist.
It begs the question: what could Shakur have achieved had he lived, if not just to middle age, but old age? For context, as American record producing legend Quincy Jones once said, "If we had lost Oprah Winfrey at 25, we would have lost a relatively unknown, local market TV anchor-woman. If we had lost Malcolm X at 25, we would have lost a hustler named Detroit Red."
Shakur was the son of Billy Garland and Afeni Shakur, both members of the Black Panther Party. Afeni, who died earlier this year, was in jail on bombing charges while pregnant with him. Shortly after his birth, he was named Tupac Amaru, after the Peruvian revolutionary and Incan chief whose name translates as "shining serpent."
He spent his childhood in the Bronx and Harlem. Aged 13, he made his first foray into acting in a production of A Raisin in the Sun at a benefit for Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign. He spent the rest of his youth in a peripatetic fashion, moving across the country. He attended the Baltimore School of the Arts before dropping out and settling down in Marin County, California - the state he'd music and persona would become synonymous with.
From there, Shakur landed a spot in rap group Digital Underground, appearing on two of their EP's, all the while working on personal material.
In 1991 he signed with Interscope and released the album 2pacalypse Now. The following year he appeared in Ernest Dickerson's Juice. His most famous acting role arguably came in 1994, when he gave a critically acclaimed performance opposite Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice (1993). His last film appearance was as James Belushi's sidekick in the posthumous Gang Related.
Although prolific politiciser of hip hop, Tupac was also a man embroiled in, from all accounts, constant controversy. 1992 saw him the arrested for the freak death of a six-year-old California boy who was killed by a stray bullet shot during a fight between Shakur and two others. The October 1993, he was charged in Atlanta with shooting two off-duty police officers. Charges in both cases were dismissed, then the following month was charged with sexual abuse following an incident in a New York luxury hotel along with two others.
In 1994 he served 15 days in jail after he was found guilty of assault on Menace II Society co-director Allen Hughe. At the end of that year, he was found guilty of the sexual assault just a day after being shot by some hoods in the lobby of a New York recording studio. He was eventually sentenced to one and half to four and a half years in prison.
By the mid 90s, having been released form prison after only serving eight months of his sentence due to a parole arrangement and a $1.4 million bond paid by Death Row CEO Suge Knight. As if things couldn't get better, Shakur signed with Death Row and released the Number 1 album All Eyez on Me, which featured a whole froth of songs centered around and glorifying the East Coast/West Coast beef. The highlight of which probably came in "Hit 'Em Up", a song where Shakur boasts of fucking Biggie Small's wife, Faith Evans, and how essentially him and his boys are going to murder every single New York rapper ballsy enough to come at him.
It was released months before September 7, 1996, when Shakur was gunned down in the passenger seat of Suge Knight's BMW, two hours after jumping someone in the lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel, admittedly reared up by the Mike Tyson fight he'd just watched.
Shakur eventually died of his injuries. No arrests were ever made. His rival, Biggie Smalls, was also killed in a drive-by shooting in March 1997. Again, no murder charges were filed.
But their unreleased recordings would go on to sell in the millions. Now Tupac, along with Elvis, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, has gone to become one of the biggest selling deceased artists of all time.
It's a powerful legacy of a man who managed to cement himself in hip-hop history against all the odds.
All image credit: Getty
Topics: Tupac Shakur
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