Tupac has always been and always will be an iconic character, a legend who marked, inspired and guided many generations. On top of being one of the best rappers in history, he was an artist of many talents and a committed man. Besides being an MC, he was also an actor, a poet, a philosopher, a lyricist and a political activist. All of this before leaving us prematurely at the age of 25, on the 13th of September 1996 in Las Vegas.
He was born under the name of Lesane Parish Crooks on the June 16 of 1971, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Afeni Shakur, was a member of the Black Panthers, an African-American revolutionary movement. Some time after the birth of her child, she renamed him Tupac Amaru Shakur, after the South American leader Tupac Amaru.
Tupac spent his childhood with his mother and his two half-siblings, always seeking shelter, in extreme poverty, as he tells in the following video. As he puts it:
"I had the feeling that I was handicapped. If I wanted to have any success in the future, I had to get myself one."
He goes on to say:
"And if you only got two kids, can you just keep it to two rooms? I mean, why have 52 rooms when you know there's somebody with no room? It just don't make sense to me. And then these people celebrate Christmas — they got big trees, huge trees, all the little trimmings. Everybody got gifts, and there's somebody starving. And they're having a white Christmas. They're having a great Christmas, eggnog and the whole nine. That's not fair to me.
I had the feeling that I was handicapped. Instead of surviving to my future, I had to get a future. And it's an ordeal when you 21 and have no references. It's an ordeal to build an empire for your family, mostly when you know that some many others have it all from the moment they are born, they have a car by the time they're 16, they have money to go to college..."
And Pac got himself a future by fighting hard to become the bestselling artist in hip-hop history, with 75 million albums sold (of which dozens of millions of copies were sold after his death in the form of posthumous albums). A solid empire built from the West Coast, after leaving New York with his mother.
Tupac is an institution where music was only one of the features. He spoke on behalf of a whole community, becoming an activist for social equality. Tupac was also committed to women's rights, and the rights of mothers, disabled people, and the ill.
There's no need for words to understand this legend; his work says it all.
Tupac, the poet
Tupac wrote numerous poems, alongside his lyrics. Amongst the most popular ones we find In The Depths Of Solitude :
Tupac and his mother
Tupac paid the most beautiful homage ever to a mother with the amazing track "Dear Mama", addressed to Afeni Shakur. He had a special relationship with Shakur: she protected him throughout his life, despite being surrounded by poverty, drugs and in the absence of a father figure. A mother who brought him up with morals and manners, a mother to whom he said he owed everything to.
Beyond this song, Tupac always showed an enormous respect towards the mother figures in general.
Tupac and women
Tupac and women? A great love story, based and most of all, deep respect. This short video illustrates it. We see a Tupac with a very mature perspective on women, given he's all of 19 years old:
Tupac, the actor
Besides his primary artistic occupation, music, Tupac was also involved in cinema. After attending drama classes in his early youth, Tupac appeared in about ten films, such as Poetic Justice and the famous Juice:
Tupac, the committed activist
He said it himself: if he'd lived longer, he would have become a politician. But in any case, he wrote very meaningful texts which bring up the issue of poverty, racism, gang wars... Issues that he condemned until his death.
In "Changes" he talks about a society that never changes, and which is not ready to change, with so much poverty, murders and racism. The song shows that Tupac was some sort of a visionary, since the situation he described remains pretty much the same two decades later.
Tupac, the spiritual guide
My spirit guide; yours, maybe. And the guide of so many people, plenty of artists who found inspiration in his work, who found their motivation in him and who were moved by his values.
That is the case for R&B princess Jhené Aiko who paid homage to him on what would have been his 44th birthday. A beautiful deference to the man she has admired since she was young. With the help of photographer Danny Williams, she's recreated three cult pictures of the rapper for MTV. The one below evokes Tupac's album All Eyes On Me cover:
Jhené used the occasion to share her own version of "Keep Ya Head Up", one of Tupac's classics. Here's the favorite bit of the singer:
Kendrick Lamar versus Tupac
He's probably one of closest modern artists that compares to Tupac. He describes him as his "spiritual father". He also represents the West Coast, shares the same principles and approaches the same issues. On a deeper level, he has a strong relationship with Tupac, to the point where he saw the rapper in his dreams when he was 21, telling him to do music. He renamed the initial title of his album To Pimp A Butterfly, to make the initials coincide with Tupac's, and as a result he got "Tu Pimp A Caterpillar".
K-Dot has grown up and matured within his music thanks to Tupac, and now he talks about the same issues as his mentor. I thought I should immortalize their bond by putting them face to face.
For the first time, we can see both men together, sharing their views on issues such as respect, diversity within ghettos, women, the responsibility that comes along with the lyrics they write, or even the change. In this scenario, 2Pac asks Lamar about all those things that are still so important today, 19 years after his death: