Hip hop tends to have a bad reputation associated with violence and crime, but its roots lie deep in poetry and a celebration and discussion of life experiences. Tupac Shakur was recently resurrected as a hologram in a mind-bending performance at Coachella. While the performance displayed advanced 3D rendering and projection technology, it also reminded us of the man who had become a pioneer and forerunner of modern rap, making himself more legend than man.
Before audio-visual services turned him into a hologram, Tupac Amaru Shakur was born on June 16, 1971 to Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland, both of whom were active members of the Black Panther Party in its New York chapter in the late 60s and early 70s. From his early life, Shakur would be surrounded by people who were imprisoned or struggling against the social injustices of the time, all of which would go on to shape his life and his music.
Shakur showed a predilection for art and performance early in his life. He enrolled in Harlem’s 127th Street Repertory Ensemble through which he was cast in the play A Raisin in the Sun as the character Travis Younger. In 1986, the family relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, and after his second year at Paul Laurence Dunbar High, Shakur transferred to the Baltimore School for the Arts. Here he studied acting, ballet, poetry, and jazz. He also took part in and won many rap competitions, gaining a reputation as the best rapper in his school.
In June 1988, Shakur and his family moved one last time to Marin City, a community just five miles north of San Francisco.
Debut and Early Success
Shakur made his debut providing vocals for Digital Underground’s “Same Song”. He appeared in the music video and performed with the group again on their Sons of P album.
Shakur made his first solo debut with the release of 2Pacalypse Now in November of 1991. While the album didn’t generate any hits, it would gain critical acclaim and a strong fan base. The album would also become an inspiration for many modern rappers.
In 1993, Shakur released his second studio album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., which proved to be a wider commercial success than his first outing, debuting at 24 on the Billboard 200 and reaching platinum status. The album displayed higher production value and emphasized Shakur’s social and political views.
In 1994, Shakur formed Thug Life, a rap group consisting of himself and several of his friends. Their only album Thug Life: Volume 1 was released in September and went gold.
In early 1995, Shakur released Me Against the World, which reached multi-platinum. Shakur became the first artist to have an album hit the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200 while serving a prison sentence. Me Against the World was considered the best album of his career and one of the most influential albums of all time.
A year later, Shakur released his fourth studio album. While All Eyez on Me wouldn’t have the same thematic impact as its predecessor, it is still considered one of the greatest achievements of 90s rap music, offering some of the best production in Tupac’s career.
Shakur’s final studio album The 7 Day Theory was completed in a matter of seven days in August of 1996. The album depicted rawer vocals that showcased Shakur’s anger and emotion of the time. This would be the last album before Shakur’s death.