September 13, 2018 Beyond The Dash

On This Day: The Mysterious Death of Tupac Shakur

September 13, 1996

On This Day: The Mysterious Death of Tupac Shakur
Graffiti of Tupac Shakur, December 16, 2014. (Wikimedia Commons/Чигот)

Tupac Shakur's death is shrouded in mystery. Like fellow musician Kurt Cobain, the story of his demise does not satisfy fans, who believe there is more to the story. In both cases, diehard fans don't buy the official version of events. Today, on the 22nd anniversary of his death, is a time to remember the legendary story of Tupac—the man, the music and the mystery.

"Don't believe everything you hear. Real eyes, Realize, Real lies."

Harlem to LA

Tupac was born Lesane Parish Crooks on June 16, 1971, in Harlem. His parents changed his name a year later to Tupac Amaru Shakur. 

"Just cause you live in the ghetto doesn't mean you can't grow."

Theirs was a political family. Both parents were both active members of the Black Panther Party, and faced many legal challenges and charges in relation to their political work. Tupac was born into a charged racial atmosphere, to parents who were able to share ideology and socially conscious messages with their son. As a result, his music explored themes of social injustice and inequality in a new way—through rap.

"I believe that everything that you do bad comes back to you. So everything that I do that's bad, I'm going to suffer from it. But in my mind, I believe what I'm doing is right. So I feel like I'm going to heaven."

He was a highly creative child. He appeared in plays, wrote poetry and studied dance while attending an arts high school in Baltimore as a teenager. It was in Baltimore that Tupac developed a lifelong friendship with Jada Pinkett (later Jada Pinkett-Smith). The two had the kind of soul connection that "you only get once in a lifetime," according to Jada. He wrote poetry for her, and the two were close friends until his death in 1996, although the relationship was a platonic one.

Tupac and his family moved to California in 1988. The west coast became Tupac's home, and there he was to become a rap legend. 

Graffiti of Tupac in East Harlem, New York City. (Wikimedia Commons/JJ & Special K)

Rise to fame

He experimented with songs and rhythm through the late 80s, but it wasn't until the early 90s that Tupac began to record and release music in earnest. It was around this time that Tupac shed his former stage name, MC New York and adopted the homophonous name of 2Pac. In 1991, he dropped 2Pacalypse Now, his debut studio album that featured strong criticism of issues like police brutality and poverty. The album was criticized by Vice President Dan Quayle after murderer Ronald Ray Howard claimed songs from 2Pacalypse Now inspired him to murder a state trooper.

His next album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… (acronym stands for "Never Ign'ant Getting Goals Accomplished") was more of a critical success, with hot tracks like "Keep Ya Head Up" and "I Get Around." These songs signalled Tupac's breakout into the rap scene, but his subsequent albums eclipsed this early success. 

"I want to grow. I want to be better. You Grow. We all grow. We're made to grow. You either evolve or you disappear."

Legal troubles, violence and feuds

Tupac and his entourage sexually assaulted a woman in their hotel room in November of 1993. Though he maintained his innocence, he was convicted of this crime, and served nine months in prison. The day he was to receive his sentence, he was shot five times in a robbery. He survived this attack, and appeared for his scheduled court appearance in a wheelchair against his doctor's orders. 

"I'd rather die like a man, than live like a coward."

During the court process, he wrote his 1995 album, Me Against the World. Many consider this to be Tupac's greatest masterpiece. This album was more confessional, with his impending prison sentence influencing his sound. 

"That which does not kill me can only make me stronger. I don't see why everybody feel as though that they gotta tell me how to live my life."

Tupac notoriously feuded with fellow rapper and friend-turned-enemy Biggie Smalls. Biggie was a Brooklyn rapper, and although Tupac was raised in Harlem, his rap style represented the emerging flavor of the LA rap scene. With the breaking of their friendship, Biggie and Tupac ignited an East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry. Tupac's 1996 "Hit 'Em Up" was a diss track directed at Biggie. Despite their hatred for each other, these two rappers are inextricably linked in rap history for their passion, unique sounds and untimely violent deaths. Biggie was shot and killed just a year after Tupac.

"What I learned in jail is that I can't change. I can't live a different lifestyle – this is it. This is the life that they gave and this is the life that I made."

Drive-by shooting 

On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight left a boxing match between Bruce Seldon and Mike Tyson in Las Vegas. A Crips gang member was spotted in the lobby of the MGM Grand, and a brawl ensued between Tupac and Knight's entourage and the gang member. Later that evening, Suge and Tupac were pulled over by a police officer but released with no ticket. 

"Don't live to fight, fight to live."

Ten minutes later, a white Cadillac pulled up next to the pair and fired shots into Suge Knight's BMW, striking Tupac four times. There were rumors that attackers would target Tupac again while in intensive care, but no one came to finish the deed. He succumbed to his wounds on September 13. 

NEW YORK - Dec 6: A wax figure of Tupac Shakur is seen on display at Madame Tussauds on December 6, 2013 in New York City. (Shutterstock)

Outlawz tribute 

There are many rumors and mysteries surrounding Tupac's death and the treatment of his remains. He was cremated the next day, and there are several famous (but conflicting) reports that his hip hop group, the Outlawz, smoked his cremains in a marijuana joint as a fitting tribute to the rapper who recorded tracks "High Till I Die" and "Smoke Weed All Day."

"My mama always used to tell me: ‘If you can't find somethin' to live for, you best find somethin' to die for."

Is Tupac still alive?

Many believe that Tupac Shakur survived the shooting of September 7, 1996. This rumor is partially due to the extensive and prolific posthumous albums that were released in the years that followed. 

"Whatever you see you gotta keep a sense of humor; you gotta be able to smile through all the bullshit."

Drawing Tupac by Gringolivier (Wikimedia Commons)

There are also many reports of Tupac sightings in the time since his death. Though we may never know the exact reasons or circumstances of Tupac Shakur's early death, today we honor the rap legend on the anniversary of his death. For many fans, neither the rapper nor this conspiracy theory will never die. 

"Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real."

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