Tupac ("2Pac") Amaru Shakur was born in the Bronx on June 16, 1971 to parents who were active in the Black Panther movement. Tupac's fiery, independent persona was a likely bi-product of his childhood years; his mother, Afeni, a member of the Black Panther offshoot group New York 21, was arrested for conspiring to blow up New York landmarks, his stepfather was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.
Tupac grew up in both New York and Baltimore, and as a teenager attended the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts. Tupac's family later relocated to Oakland, Calif., where he spent much of his time on the street. In the early '90s he hooked up with the rap group Digital Underground performing as a dancer and later as a guest rapper.
After his Digital Underground debut, This Is an EP Release, Tupac signed to Interscope Records and released his first solo album, 1991's 2Pacalypse Now. The album quickly went gold thanks to the hit singles "Trapped" and "Brenda's Got a Baby," as well as a high-profile, seemingly self-portraying appearance in the hit movie Juice.
Tupac's 1993 follow-up, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., reached No. 4 and went platinum, spawning the Top 10 hits "I Get Around" and "Keep Ya Head Up." That same year Tupac co-starred with Janet Jackson in the popular movie Poetic Justice, further increasing his celebrity.
Throughout much of 1993 and 1994 Shakur was in and out of jail on various charges. He was arrested in Los Angeles for carrying a concealed weapon, was implicated in the shooting deaths of two undercover policemen and was convicted of sexual assault. In November 1994, in a much-publicized incident, Shakur was shot four times while entering a New York recording studio and robbed of $40,000 in jewelry. The following month he was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault conviction. In the midst of all this, Tupac was able to put out 1995's Me Against the World, which debuted at No. 1, went platinum and established Shakur as one of the most popular and commercially successful rappers to emerge in the '90s.
Out on parole, Tupac signed to Death Row Records, where he recorded what was to be his last album, 1996's All Eyez on Me, a double-album that sold more than six million copies. Tupac also began devoting more time to his acting career, starring in the films Bullet and Gridlock'd.
And then, on September 7, 1996, at the pinnacle of his career, Tupac was shot by unknown assailants while riding in a car in Las Vegas. He died six days later in a hospital without ever regaining consciousness.
Though his death brought renewed attention to inner city violence, corruption in the rap music industry, and East Coast/West Coast rap feuds, his shooting remains a mystery, its motive the subject of much speculation by fans and industry insiders.
A posthumous double-CD, R U Still Down? (Remember Me?), was released by Shakur's mother on her new Amaru label.