Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The former ballet dancer and original rock hard rapper was fast becoming a legend in his own lifetime when his drive-by-shooting death launched him into a new category of music idols. Previous casualties from rock n’roll had largely induced their own deaths from excessive alcohol and drug abuse. 2Pac was one of the first fatalities of a music rivalry that bled out of the recording studio and onto the streets. Tupac Shakur’s mother was a Black Panther activist and she was in prison during her pregnancy. Her militancy influenced both his upbringing and later, his music. But it was acting that first attracted the young Tupac, who became a member of the 127th Street Ensemble, a Harlem-based theatre company. As a teenager, Shakur attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he took acting and dance classes, including ballet. He later said that he would have been a completely different person if it was not for these experiences, and from that, we can take it, he would have lived the violent life, but without the music. And it was while living in Baltimore, he discovered rap and began performing as MC New York. In the late 1980s, Shakur and his family moved to the West Coast. He joined the Oakland, California-based hip-hop group ‘Digital Underground’, which earlier had scored a hit with the song "The Humpty Dance." In 1991, Shakur emerged as a solo artist — using the name 2Pac — with his debut album ‘2Pacalypse Now’. The track "Brenda's Got a Baby" reached as high as number three on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart. His second album ‘Strictly 4 My N. I. G. G. A. Z.’ crossed over to the pop charts, with singles "I Get Around" and "Keep Ya Head Up." The album went platinum, selling more than a million copies. Around this time, Shakur also appeared in several films, including ‘Poetic Justice’ (1993) opposite Janet Jackson. 2Pac became a sensation, earning equal praise for his musical and acting talent as well as condemnation for his explicit, violent lyrics. Many of his songs told of fights, gangs, and sex. He appeared to be living up to his aggressive gangster rap persona with several arrests for violent offenses in the 1990s. In 1994, he spent several days in jail for assaulting director Allen Hughes and was later convicted of sexual assault in another case. Shakur himself fell victim to violence, getting shot five times in the lobby of a recording studio during a mugging. The next year, after recovering from his injuries, Shakur was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in the sexual assault case. His third solo album, ‘Me Against the World’ (1995), started out in the number one spot on the album charts. Many critics praised the work, noting that tracks like "Dear Mama" showed a more genuine, reflective side to the rapper. The possibility of an early death runs through several songs on this recordings — something that many have seen as a chilling moment of foretelling. After serving eight months in prison, Shakur returned to music with the album ‘All Eyez on Me’ (1996). He was reportedly released after Death Row Records CEO Marion "Suge" Knight paid a bond of more than $1 million as part of Shakur's parole. In his latest project, Shakur as the defiant street thug was back in full force on this recording. The song "California Love" featured a guest appearance by famed rapper-producer Dr. Dre and made a strong showing on the pop charts. "How Do You Want It" also was another smash success for Shakur. It appeared to be a golden time for Shakur. Besides his hit album, he tackled several film roles. During his career, Shakur had become embroiled in a feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers and was known to insult his enemies on his tracks. On a trip to Las Vegas to attend a Mike Tyson boxing match, Shakur, on September 7, 1996, spotted and attacked a member of the Southside Crips (an LA gang) Shakur and his entourage then set off for a night-club with Knight driving but he was shot en route. He died six days later on September 13 from his injuries. His killer has never been caught. (One of the chief suspects said to be behind the killing, the rapper Biggie, was shot dead himself less than two years later.) Since his death, a vast reserve of previously unpublished Tupac work has been found and regardless of quality, has been released. His status is such that in death, he sells as much as he did in life. A more fitting legacy has been ensured by his mother who has set up a Foundation to ensure that other African-Americans are exposed to the same artistic influences that helped propell her son out of the ghetto mindset.

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