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Featuring Scholarly Research, Writing, and Media at St. Mary’s University

March 30, 2018

Tupac Shakur: “All Eyez on Me”

Tupac Shakur, a rapper in the 1990s, was known as a legend in the hip-hop and R&B industry for creating impactful music that told a story.1 Every single song he wrote was focused on social and cultural issues, such as gang violence, drugs, childhood struggles, and loss of loved ones, which is why he was successful from the beginning of his music career. Although he was successful, he had a lot of challenges that came with his lifestyle, including run-ins with the law for battery and sexual assault. He had a code that he honored so much that he even had it tattooed across his pelvis: “Thug Life.” This code, along with the hard life he lived, didn’t bring much ease to his situation with the law.2 Although Tupac had his troubles, his music was his escape and his motivation to overcome the obstacles that were set for him.

The first album Tupac released on his own was 2 Pacalypse Now in November of 1991.3 It was a hit from the start, reaching the top of the Billboard charts, and it didn’t take long for it to go gold, making this album his first solo debut as a rapper. He knew what he wanted and he was going to get to the top no matter what. In an interview with Vibe, he stated, “I never went to bed. I was working it like a job. That was my number one thing when I first got in the business. Everybody’s gonna know me.”4 However, with the start of his stardom and fame in music began the start of his journey living the “Thug Life.” He was constantly asked why he chose that lifestyle and why he chose to be a “thug.” His response was, “Because if I don’t, I’ll lose everything I have. Who else is going to love me but the thugs?”5

Tupac in the movie Poetic Justice | Courtesy of Daily Post

His music and his lifestyle attracted a lot of attention: good attention as well as bad. The good attention focused on the stories that were told by his music, stories that people could relate to as well as stories that other people couldn’t bring themselves to talk about. The bad attention came from authority figures who thought his music was undermining them and promoting violence among young adults listening to his music. One song that was criticized was “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” which listeners and authority figures thought contained too many explicit lyrics, overshadowing listeners’ judgment and interpretation of the song. In fact, the song was based on a newspaper article about a man who impregnated his cousin Brenda, whose name appears in the title of the song. She was only twelve years old and she tried to get rid of the baby girl by throwing her in a trash can. The song raised objections from the public because of the way it seemed to condone and praise the actions of Brenda.6 Most of Tupac’s songs were inspired by incidents in his life that turned into musical hits. This is how talented he was. He used his own struggles and the struggles of other people, turning them into songs that people could relate to.

Sadly, several days after Tupac released his second album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z in 1993, he was arrested on a sexual assault charge of a teenage girl in New York.7 The young girl was attacked in the Manhattan hotel where Tupac was staying. The girl that he allegedly raped had been previously in a romantic relationship with Tupac. She accused Tupac and three of his friends of abuse, and this was his first major run-in with the law. Most of the charges were dropped, except for the sexual assault charge. He was released on bond and later sentenced to a year and a half to four years in prison. Tupac served his sentence in New York’s Riker’s Island Penitentiary.8

Some people believed that this would be the last they would see or hear of Tupac. Little did they know that this would be his moment to shine. While incarcerated, Tupac decided to put his “Thug Life” behind him by saying, “If Thug Life is real, then let somebody else represent it because I’m tired of it. I represented it too much.”9 This turning point in his life wasn’t the only good thing that happened to Tupac while he was locked up. During this time, his third album, Me Against the World, which was released in 1995, started moving up the charts and ended up at number one. This album wasn’t like the others; it captured a new side of Tupac, portraying his poetic side, and showing the compassion and gratitude he had towards life.10 Not only was the album a hit, but his song “Dear Mama” reached top ten on the singles charts.11 The song was dedicated to his mother, Afeni Shakur. It was a very touching song that told the story of how Tupac grew up, as well as the sacrifices his mother made for him in the absence of his father. He also talked about how he turned to the streets, to drugs, and to violence to fill the void left behind by the absence of his father.12

Tupac statue is said to be built in the middle of Georgia | Courtesy of The Source

After Tupac served eight months of his sentence, Suge Knight from Death Row Records paid a $1.4 million dollar bond to have Tupac released from prison. As soon as he was released, he was flown to Los Angeles to sign a contract with Death Row Records.13 However, signing with Death Row made his vow to change his lifestyle difficult for him. He was caught in the feud between the East Coast and the West Coast. This feud was mainly between the record labels Death Row and Bad Boys. The feud contained a lot of taunting and talking bad about each other through songs. It was their way of proving which record label was better at the time. They used personal vendettas to get to one another through song by exploiting personal facts about each other’s lives. There was a lot of going back and forth, as well as the occasional scuffles they’d get into when they would see each other in person.14

After signing with Death Row Records, Tupac released his first double album, All Eyes on Me, in 1996. It didn’t take long for the album to go platinum. This album came with another big hit song, “California Love.” Another hit from the album was “How Do You Want It,” which also reached number one in pop and R&B charts. This album talked about the time he spent incarcerated, his feud with the East Coast, and his love-hate relationship with women.15

Tupac throwing up his sign to represent the West Coast | Courtesy of Aceshowbiz

Between signing with Death Row Records and the feud going on with the East Coast and West Coast, Tupac started to show his dissatisfaction with the hip-hop and R&B industry. He began to realize that his music career was his downfall, that it was where his troubles all started.16 On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur was shot after leaving the Mike Tyson vs. Bruce Seldon fight at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. He remained alive for a week before his condition worsened, and he passed away on September 13, 1996.17 With his death he became even more famous. Death Row released the album he was currently working on at the time of his death, proving that Tupac’s legacy would still go on through his music even though his life was over.18 To this day, Tupac is still one of the most influential rappers who has ever lived. His music was much more than just rap. It was, and continues to be, the story of his life, which was a life that influenced people around the world and gave people music that they could relate to.19

  1. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990, 2004, s.v. “2pac,” by Shawn Gillen.
  2. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s.v. “Shakur Tupac (1971-1996),” by Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure.
  3. The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, 2001, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac Amaru,” by Louise Continelli.
  4. Contemporary Black Biography, 1997, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac 1971-1996,” by Simon Glickman.
  5. The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, 2001, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac Amaru,” by Louise Continelli.
  6. Encyclopedia of African American History, 2010, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac,” by Aaron D. Sachs.
  7. The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, 2001, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac Amaru,” by Louise Continelli.
  8. Contemporary Black Biography, 1997, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac 1971-1996,” by Simon Glickman.
  9. The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, 2001, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac Amaru,” by Louise Continelli.
  10. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990, 2004, s.v. “2pac,” by Shawn Gillen.
  11. Contemporary Black Biography, 1997, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac 1971-1996,” by Simon Glickman.
  12. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s.v. “Shakur Tupac (1971-1996),” by Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure.
  13. The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, 2001, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac Amaru,” by Louise Continelli.
  14. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s.v. “Shakur Tupac (1971-1996),” by Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure.
  15. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990, 2004, s.v. “2pac,” by Shawn Gillen.
  16. Encyclopedia of African American History, 2010, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac,” by Aaron D. Sachs.
  17. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990, 2004, s.v. “2pac,” by Shawn Gillen.
  18. The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, 2001, s.v. “Shakur, Tupac Amaru,” by Louise Continelli.
  19. Angela Ardis, Inside A Thug’s Heart (Kensington: Kensington Publishing Corporations, 2004), 207-208.

Tags from the story

Hip-Hop Music

Tupac Shakur

Recent Comments

Jose Figueroa

I really liked how the article revolved around the major life change he had. While in jail, he had the realization that being a thug was not what he wanted to do anymore. It is actually kind of upsetting that as much as he wanted to leave that lifestyle, Death Row records would end up pulling him back in. We lost a talented musician and a great person the day Tupac died.

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08/04/2018

7:08 am

Christopher Martinez

This article was great, it gives light to how tupac was able to rise to stardom, many people like me liked his music due to him being one of the first rappers to use his standing to rap about real life situations and hardships. Such as Notorious B.I.G in which both rapped of similar life’s and expressed their love for rap through music. Tupac was able to keep making music and keep his name in the game even serving jail time keeping many of his fans as it seemed with every knew album he mad top 100 with little to no effort.

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15/04/2018

7:08 am

Julio Morales

I’ve always enjoyed listening to old school rap like Tupac, Eazy E, Dr Dre, etc. One thing I can say about Tupac’s music is that, his lyrics are more powerful than the other rappers at the time. Tupac could go from being a straight thug to a mommas boy in each of his songs and that’s what made him so unique. He definitely has a strong influence in the music scene to this day. I was a baby when Tupac died and somehow I found his music and listened to it as do others.

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24/04/2018

7:08 am

Ysenia Rodriguez

I will be the first to admit that although I am a fan of a lot of artist, I have only listened to a few songs from them- including Tupac. I love songs such as, “Keep Ya Head Up” and of course, the instant hit, “Dear Mama,” but the Thug life that most rappers try to portray leads to a disconnect from me to their music. Despite this, Tupac Shakur is a legend and is undeniably a talented lyricist. It’s disappointing to read and learn that Tupac had given up the “Thug life”, only to be put back in and ultimately killed by it- just because of a feud between different labels.

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15/08/2018

7:08 am

Luis Magana

Tupac Shakur was an artist that created songs focusing on problems that people face in different cultures and societies. Sadly, Tupac had a code named “Thug Life” he lived and abided by. The code forced him to have several encounters with the law. I always heard of Tupacs stories and encounters with the law and gang violence. It caught my attention how they auctioned off the car he was shot in, the lifestyle he lived and the stories his songs told. He had a loyal a vast amount of fans supporting him no matter what. He was different to other artists or rappers going against what was normal and following his desire and ambition.

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15/08/2018

7:08 am

Carlos Robles

I have always know who Tupac was because of his classic songs that you mentioned in this article like “California Love” and “How Do You Want It”. I never really knew more about him other than his hit songs. This article helped me understand who Tupac actually is. Before I read this article I never knew that Tupac sexually assaulted a teenage girl. This honestly disappointed me. If I knew this before I would have not support his music at all. I have come to realize by reading this article that people overlook the horrible mistakes people have done after their death. You said it yourself in this article that his death made him become even more famous.

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15/08/2018

7:08 am

Mariana Valadez

Tupac definitely has been one of the most influential rappers in my opinion. Before reading this article, however, I wasn’t aware he had sexually assaulted a girl. He had to live up to the code “Thug Life”, but this was disappointing to hear. Even though I was very young when Tupac passed away his music always has been around. It is sad that after he was trying to become better he was killed shortly after.

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17/08/2018

7:08 am

Nathalie Herrera

Tupac to this day influences so many people, and it’s incredible to see that his music can still have such a huge impact. Although Tupac did run into trouble with the law and had a code of “Thug Life,” I feel he still embraced for others to have a positive change. In general, music is much more valuable when others can relate to it and I believe Tupac did touch the hearts of many individuals. Overall, really great read to see how Tupac and his music evolved in his life before passing away.

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18/08/2018

7:08 am

Jonathan Arreola

It is incredible how Tupac uses music to bring public attention to contentious topics and events. I have always heard Tupac being referred to as the “OG rap legend” but I never quite understood why or how he gained that status. After reading this article, I was curious about Tupac’s musical stories. I decide to listen to some of his top hits, in particular my attention was captured by the song “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” I realized that Tupac took risks for the benefit of the common people. Being an influencer, putting tragic and unacceptable situations, such as the case of 12-year-old Brenda, into music people want to hear , is a certain way to cause change. Tupac stepped into places most people did not, and he encouraged reform in the bad aspects of society. It makes sense why Tupac Shakur is a rap legend, he made music worth listening, music that actually impacted the world.

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18/08/2018

7:08 am

Donte Joseph

Every time you turn on the radio all you hear about how hard rappers had it while growing up. One thing I had not known was that Tupac was one of the creators of this style of rap. I had thought that Tupac just threw together whatever he could to make a hit because some of his songs seemed random but with the help of this article and deeper analysis, I am able to realize that not only did Tupac rap about his hard times, he also rapped about social issues that many rappers even today would not even speak upon. Tupac’s death will always be remembered but I just hope that rappers these days go back to his style of addressing important issues because many people tend to focus on the lives and style of rappers and if important issues were being rapped, there’s a chance for change in the world.

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19/08/2018

7:08 am

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