Tupac Shakur was one of the most prominent rappers of the 1990s, although he only performed for approximately six years before his death due to gunshot wounds suffered at the hands of unknown assailants. The tragic and mysterious nature of his death has contributed to the legend of Tupac, as well as numerous conspiracy theories that he is still alive and recording music to this day.
Many of these conspiracy theories are due to the posthumous albums that have been released under Tupac’s name. A number of the songs on these albums are actually unused tracks from the sixth and final album that Tupac recorded while he was alive, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. Working under a new stage name, Makaveli, Tupac included several themes on the album that stood in stark contrast to his previous album, All Eyes on Me. While the earlier record had been, in Tupac’s own words, “a celebration of life,” his last album was aggressive, intense, and somewhat foreboding. Tupac had been shot at that point. He had also spent time in prison. Not only did he rap about death, but he harshly lashed out against other famous rappers such as Nas, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, Dr. Dre and the Notorious B.I.G. It is notable that some of these artists, particularly Biggie, had been friends with Tupac earlier in his career.
Despite his relatively short career, Tupac recorded a number of memorable songs in his time. One of the most popular early songs was “Cradle to the Grave,” but he also achieved great success with “California Love” (featuring Dr. Dre) and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” (featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg). Some of his most notable songs appeared on his last album, such as “Hail Mary,” “To Live and Die in L.A.” and “Me and My Girlfriend.”
Many associate Tupac with the alleged rivalry between East Coast rappers and West Coast rappers, but some rappers who were working at the time say that the inter-coastal rivalry was more of a myth based on a few personal issues between rappers and producers from each coast. That said, his last album contains numerous references to the feud, and a few of his final recordings were made almost entirely for the purpose of referencing other rappers who were involved.
According to rapper 50 Cent, he once had a conversation with actor Laurence Fishburne during which the actor referred to Tupac as being smarter than just about anyone else in his sphere. As evidenced by some of his interviews (not to mention his lyrics), this is an absolutely true observation. As might seem fitting for an artist who has been referred to by many other rappers and music journalists as a poet, Tupac gave an interview the year before he died in which he talked at length about the works of Shakespeare, comparing the themes of Macbeth to those of a Scarface song (a possible reference to the song “No Tears”) and comparing the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues to that of the Crips and the Bloods. He enjoyed the raw emotion of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and raw emotion is exactly what he brought to his own art.
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