Tupac Shakur: Thug Life

Nov 122003
Authors: Gabriel Dance

Tupac Shakur: a biography

“Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the

concrete” – Tupac Shakur, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”

Lesane Parish Crooks was born June 16, 1971, in New York City.

Soon after birth his mother, Afeni Shakur, renamed him Tupac Amaru

Shakur after an Incan revolutionary. Tupac Amaru meaning “Shining

Serpent” and Shakur meaning “Thankful to God.” Afeni Shakur, was a

Black Panther activist who had recently been acquitted after

successfully defending herself against criminal charges including

conspiracy to bomb public areas in New York, according to “Tupac

Shakur 1971-1996: The Strange and Terrible Saga,” an article that

appeared in a 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.

Tupac grew up in the Bronx and Harlem. At the age of 12, his

mother enrolled him in a Harlem theater group where he first

discovered his passion for acting. After moving to Baltimore in the

mid-80s Tupac entered the Baltimore School for The Arts where he

continued acting.

His acting career stalled when Tupac was 17 and again he moved,

this time to Marin City in Northern California. While there he met

Leila Steinberg, a woman who he saw as crucial to his success.

“At 17 he (Tupac) was wide-eyed and really believed he could

change the world,” said Steinberg in the film “Tupac Shakur, Thug

Angel: The Life of an Outlaw.” Through Steinberg, Tupac met Shock G

and became a backup rapper with his group Digital Underground.

Digital Underground had recently become rap stars thanks to their

hit “Humpty Dance.”

After a couple of years working with Digital Underground and

proving himself as a rapper, Tupac released his first solo album

“2Pacalypse Now” with Interscope records in November of 1991. It

was the beginning of an incredible solo career that would see four

more albums released before his death. The next year Tupac made his

acting debut alongside Omar Epps (“The Program,” “Love and

Basketball”) in the movie “Juice” where he played the violent

gangster Bishop.

Along his rising fame came legal problems. Tupac was involved

with multiple lawsuits in the early ’90s including one in which a

6-year-old girl was accidentally shot in an altercation between

Tupac’s crew and others. In 1993 Tupac was arrested and later

released after allegedly shooting two off-duty Atlanta police

officers. Later in 1993 he was accused of rape. He was sentenced to

prison for one count of sexual abuse and served eight months out of

a four-and-a-half-year sentence. However, in a 1995 interview with

MTV’s Tabitha Soren he said that he had done nothing wrong. While

in prison Tupac was married to Keisha Morris but the union was

annulled soon after his release.

In 1994, during an unsolved robbery Tupac was shot five times

while in New York. Although nobody was ever charged with the crime

Tupac insisted that he had been set up. After a remarkable recovery

Tupac would release two more albums before being murdered in Las

Vegas on Sept. 13, 1996.

Tupac Shakur: portrait of an artist as a young man

“It always felt like I was in the studio putting beats down

behind Huey Newton or Malcolm X. I knew it was important.” — Shock

G from Digital Underground on recording with Tupac.

Tupac Shakur produced an amazing amount of artwork through

different mediums in his short career. With a background in the

arts that began when he was 12 years old, performing in the theater

Tupac created music, movies and poetry. He was an artist influenced

by politics, inspired by circumstance and educated not just by

school but also by the street.

“Tupac Shakur was the hardest working man in hip-hop — hands

down,” said Shock G of Digital Underground in “Thug Angel.”

Between the release of “2Pacalypse Now” in 1991 and his death in

1996, Pac released four albums, and since his death has released

six more, according to a Nov. 9 article in the New York Times.

Considered by many to be the best rapper in history, Tupac

gained much of his props for being able to connect with his


Many, like Ryan Zenk, a Denver preschool teacher and CSU alum,

feel a parallel between what Tupac said and their own lives. Zenk

also grew up fatherless like Tupac and felt the artist spoke to


“A lot of people out there say a boy needs a father to teach him

to be a man, but Pac was a person that really took it upon himself

to become an independent man with his own strong beliefs,” said


Tupac had the same effect on fellow artists as well.

“I guess no matter what color you was or where you came from,

you felt like you could relate to him,” said rapper Eminem in

“Eminem: Reconstructing Tupac,” featured on mtv.com. “He made you

feel like you knew him. I think that honestly, Tupac was the

greatest songwriter that ever lived.”

In addition to his music Tupac was also an aspiring star on the

silver screen. Having grown up acting he showed natural ability in

movies such as “Juice,” “Poetic Justice” with Janet Jackson (1993)

and “Above the Rim” (1994). After his death two more movies,

“Bullet” (1997) and “Gridlock’d” (1997), were released with Pac

playing major roles.

Tupac’s artistic nature was also credited on the screen and

noted by New York Times by reviewer Janet Maslin in a 1992 article

where she said, “Mr. Shakur, as Bishop, becomes the film’s most

magnetic character.”

In addition to music and acting Tupac was also a poet. In 1999 a

book of Pac’s poetry titled “The Rose that Grew from Concrete” was

published by Simon & Schuster.

Tupac’s insatiable appetite for creating art led to a vast

library of material which to date continues to be released.

Tupac Shakur: an activist and philosopher

“The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everyone – that’s Thug

Life.” – Tupac Shakur speaking about the acronym T.H.U.G.


Tupac grew up in the hood. His mother was a Black Panther turned

crackhead who wasn’t there for him after moving to Cali. He grew up

believing his father was dead until meeting him for the first time

after being shot in 1994. He did time at Rikers Island for a crime

he claimed not to have committed. All of this contributed to what

he called his “thug life.”

Across his stomach “Thug Life” was tattooed. It was a sign of

the life he lived. Thug life was something that he grew up living

as a black man in the streets. He considered himself a soldier and

as a soldier it was his mission to bring thug life to the forefront

of society and show it as a reality for many like him.

As a thug Tupac had no trust for the government and he saw the

young black man as the most persecuted person in America. In “Thug

Angel” he spoke about his idea that all of society is comprised of

gangs, from real gangs such as the Bloods and Crips all the way to

the cops, CIA and FBI. He saw the government as just a bigger gang

with bigger guns. He felt that because the government had the right

to protect themselves he had the same rights.

“They claim that I’m violent / Just cuz I refuse to be silent /

Envious, because I will rebel against / Any oppressor, and this is

known as self defense,” raps Tupac in his debut album “2Pacalypse


Pac held the firm belief that he had every right to defend

himself. It was a key aspect to the thug life philosophy.

Black activism was also key aspect to the thug life mentality.

He believed that it was time for black people to stand with each

other in a society that would rather look the other way than

acknowledge racial injustices. In an accusation against the famous

composer Quincy Jones Tupac raged about Jones’ interracial

marriage. However, at the time of his death Tupac was engaged to

Jones’ interracial daughter Kidada.

Thug Life and street passion drove Pac but ultimately divided

him as well.

“There’s two ni**as inside me. One wants to live in peace, and

the other won’t die unless he’s free,” he said in a 1992 interview

with Vibe magazine.

He was a gangsta who rapped of love and lived a life embroiled

in violence, a young black man who felt oppressed by the system- a

ticking time bomb that blew up too soon.

Tupac: life after death

“The tragedy of Tupac is that his untimely passing is

representative of too many young black men in this country. If we

had lost Malcolm X at 25, we would have lost a hustler nicknamed

Detroit Red. If Martin Luther King died at 25, he would’ve been a

local Baptist minister who had not yet arrived on the national

scene. And if I had left the world at 25, we would have lost a

big-band trumpet player and aspiring composer — just a sliver of

my eventual life potential.” – Quincy Jones

Tupac Shakur was shot four times on the Las Vegas strip on Sept.

7, 1996, and died from the resulting injuries at 4:03 p.m. six days

later on Sept. 13. Clouded in controversy, there has still been no

arrest for his murder.

Since his murder, rumors have run rampant that Tupac may have

staged his death. Internet Web sites have been at the forefront of

this hysteria promoting the so-called 7 Day Theory, a theory

propagating the idea that Tupac had faked his death to fool his

enemies and return even more powerful than before. HitMeUp.com, a

leading Tupac fan Web site, says that the 7 Day Theory stemmed from

Pac’s first post mortem release “Makaveli: Don Killuminati The 7

Day Theory.”

Tupac had decided to begin recording under the new name Makaveli

after becoming interested in the Italian philosopher Machiavelli

while imprisoned at Rikers Island. Machiavelli wrote a book titled

“The Prince” which discussed different ways to gain and hold power.

In the book he theorized that staging one’s own death would be a

way to become even more powerful and fool one’s enemies. Another

factor that fans insist as proof that Tupac is still alive is the

cover of The 7 Day Theory album which has an image of Pac on the

cross, an image many felt prophesizes an eventual “resurrection” of

the rapper.

Although many fans would like to believe Pac is coming back, his

long absence has raised doubts in even the most loyal


“I would like to believe he was coming back,” said Rob Vaughn, a

22-year-old senior majoring in psychology. “I really loved Pac, but

I know he’s not alive.”

In contrast Tupac’s family and friends are surprised by fans

beliefs that he’s still physically alive.

A lifelong friend of Tupac, Karen Lee, smiled during an

interview for “Thug Angel” when she said, “it’s almost funny to me

because he couldn’t have been quiet this long.”




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