50 Years of Hip Hop: 2Pac

Graphics by Sarah Tarlin
Graphics by Sarah Tarlin

We're celebrating 50 years of Hip-Hop by taking you inside the life and work of legendary MC's. This week: 2Pac. Make sure to listen to ERS+ where history continues to unfold.

By Ian Chang, Staff Writer



Tupac Shakur was born Lesane Parish Crooks on June 16, 1971, in Harlem, New York to Afeni Faye Williams, who later changed her name to Afeni Shakur when she became a member of the Black Panther Party. Lesane became Tupac Amaru Shakur when he was one year old. He was named after the Peruvian revolutionary Túpac Amaru II. Afeni raised Tupac without a father, as they had split from each other before Tupac was born. 

As a child, Tupac’s family moved often, but he still managed to get into the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts in 1986. He explored the arts in Baltimore until his family moved to Marin City, California. There, Tupac became involved in the gang culture while maintaining an intellectual edge from his revolutionary roots.



During the late 1980s and early 1990s, New York City, previously the epicenter for hip-hop, was experiencing a change. Hip-Hop vibes from the West Coast and the South were gaining popularity. In 1990, 2Pac joined the Oakland-based Digital Underground, as a roadie and dancer. His recording debut was the party single “Same Song.” Later that year, 2Pac released his debut solo album 2Pacalypse Now with Interscope Records, which would eventually go gold. 

In 1992, Shukar starred in the film Juice as the antagonist, Bishop. This role showcased his magnetic screen persona. After Juice, he landed a starring role in the 1993 road trip film Poetic Justice, opposite love interest Janet Jackson. The character, Lucky, transformed Tupac into an on-screen sex symbol. 1993 also marked the release of his sophomore album, which went platinum. At this time, Tupac was well and truly paving the way to stardom.



By the time 2Pac was a multi-platinum-selling artist he was introduced to then-up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper, Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G. while at a party. The two struck up an instant friendship. In late 1993, the two rappers stood on stage at the Budweiser Superfest at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and freestyled together. In November of 1994, 2Pac and Biggie were about to record together when 2Pac experienced an ambush in the studio’s lobby. Luckily, he survived. Regrettably, his belief that Biggie had an involvement in his shooting was the source of their falling out as friends.

2Pac's fear accelerated the East Coast and West Coast rap rivalry as he joined the roster for Suge Knight's Death Row Records. This label would compete directly against Biggie's label Bad Boy Records, led by Sean “Puffy” Combs. The rivalry led to public appearances and displays of disrespect: from Suge Knight at the Source Awards, to Biggie's diss track "Who Shot Ya" in 1995, to a reply diss track from 2Pac, "Hit 'Em Up," in 1996. Then, in September of 1996, 2Pac was shot and killed at a boxing match with Death Row label owner Suge Knight.



In the early 2000s, the appetite for consuming and dissecting 2Pac lyrics grew immensely. Colleges began to invest in teaching courses on his unique blend of artistic intersectionality: the street grit optics of Soul legend Curtis Mayfield meshed with the activist tones reminiscent of poets like Nikki Giovanni and Muhammad Ali. His lyrics and presence demonstrated a contradictory figure in pop culture: street savvy, black nationalism, and hood hustling all in one. 

Tupac was an artist who lived very directly and was a trailblazer in the world of rap. Though he only lived for 25 years, he left an indelible mark on the world of music, inspiring countless artists who followed in his footsteps. Both forceful and gentle, he never shied away from conflict but still cared deeply about his community, often visiting children and donating to the impoverished towns they resided in. In 1993, he found out about a dying boy named Joshua whose last wish was to meet him—Tupac flew to Maryland and took him to a basketball game. After Joshua’s death, he renamed his publishing company to Joshua’s Dream.

Modern digital technology has guaranteed the legacy of Tupac will continue to live on. In 2012, audience members were amazed when a Tupac Hologram appeared during a performance by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre at Coachella. The Coachella festival, which got its start three years after Pac's death, almost seemed to bring more than his memory back to life—all eyez were on Tupac once again.



  • Gil Scott Heron
  • Last Poets
  • Public Enemy
  • NWA 
  • Ice Cube
  • Nikki Giovanni



  • Kendrick Lamar
  • Lil Boosie
  • Lil Wayne
  • DMX
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton reminded him of Tupac) 
  • Eminem



  • “Brenda’s Got A Baby”
  • “California Love”
  • “I Get Around”
  • “Keep Ya Head Up”
  • “Dear Mama”
  • “Only God Can Judge Me”
  • “Thug Passion”
  • “Changes”
  • “To Live and Die in LA”
  • “Hail Mary”



After 2Pac's death, several posthumous albums were released:

  • The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
  • R U Still Down? (Remember Me)
  • Still I Rise (with Outlawz)
  • Until the End of Time
  • Better Dayz
  • Loyal to the Game
  • Pac's Life

Several of these albums would go on to sell millions of copies nationwide and worldwide.



  • 1996: First solo rapper to release a double cd (All Eyez On Me)
  • 2002: Inducted into the Hip Hop Hall of Fame
  • 2010: “Dear Mama” added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry
  • 2017: Posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
  • 2023: Hollywood Walk of Fame star dedicated to 2Pac
  • 2023: Will have a stretch of road named after him, where he used to live in Oakland, California
  • 2023: Ranked #4 of the top 50 rappers by Billboard magazine

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