The Source has been profiling Black History Icons for the entire month of February, ranging from heavy-hitters in sports like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali, to the beautiful and wise Maya Angelou who blessed us with her activism as much as she did with her poetry. Today, we look at one that holds a special place for us as a Hip-Hop publication: rapper, actor and all-around visionary Tupac Amaru Shakur.
“It seems the rain’ll never let up /
I try to keep my head up…and still keep from gettin’ wet up /
You know it’s funny when it rains it pours /
They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor /
Said it ain’t no hope for the youth and the truth is…
…It ain’t no hope for the future.”
— 2Pac, “Keep Ya Head Up” (1993)
Known simply by his stage name 2Pac — a moniker that lead to others such as “Pac,” “Makaveli” and often, yet arguably, “The Greatest Rapper of All Time” — the multifaceted entertainer lived for 25 years on this Earth before being taken down in his prime due to gun violence spearheaded by the “East Coast vs. West Coast” rap war that also claimed the life of his adversary, The Notorious B.I.G. In his lifetime, Tupac would release four critically-acclaimed solo rap albums, including the debut LP 2Pacalypse Now in 1991 that featured a classic cut called “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” 1993’s Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… that included his signature song “Keep Ya Head Up” that gave us the featured quote seen above, Me Against the World in 1995 that gave him his first Billboard 200 chart-topper and is considered the best work of his life and finally All Eyez on Me, the first double-disc album in the history of Hip-Hop which was released exactly seven months prior to his murder in 1996. Each of these projects individually helped mold Pac into the revered legend that we recognize him as today, and his memory has only grown in the 23 years since he died by continuing to influence a countless number of rappers after him and individuals from all walks of life.
He wasn’t just an ill MC, either; Tupac starred in hit ’90s films like Juice in 1992 with Omar Epps (seen above), Poetic Justice a year later in 1993 alongside pop queen Janet Jackson, Above the Rim in 1994 with Duane Martin and even on television in 1993 alongside lifelong friend Jada Pinkett Smith in her co-starring series A Different World. After his death, three posthumously-released films arrived in theaters, starting with Bullet just one month after his demise in 1996, plus the 1997 releases of both Gridlock’d and Gang Related, respectively. It’s also widely-known that John Singleton wrote the 2001 film Baby Boy with Tupac as the first choice to play the main character Jody (later replaced by Tyrese), and it’s been said that he even read for Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Master Mace Windu in the 1999 sci-fi hit film Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. In addition to his strong stance on politics, both in the lyrics of his biggest songs and in reaction to his many real-life run-ins with the law, there’s really no telling what the future could’ve held for such an astounding figure in Black History. Dare we say, President Pac?
His full life was immortalized in the 2017 biopic All Eyez on Me, with budding actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. playing the title role, and most recently in last year’s 10-episode anthology series Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. that aired on USA Network and starred Marcc Rose as the bandana-bearing rap legend. With as many as three unreleased albums currently in the works from his official estate, we have yet to see or hear the last from our dearly-missed brother. While his memory is eternal, we’ll always miss the even greater man that he would’ve become in the physical.
R.I.P always, Pac.