Everything we know about rap legend Tupac Shakur that you might not know

Tupac Shakur


Latest News: Man Charged with the Murder of Tupac Shakur

Duane “Keffe D” Davis, a former member of the Crips street gang, was arrested and indicted on one count of murder on September 29, 2023, for his role in the 1996 killing of rapper Tupac Shakur. Davis previously claimed in 2018 that he was inside the car from which the fatal shots against Shakur were fired, but that the gun was in the hands of his now-deceased nephew Orlando Anderson. Davis was indicted by a grand jury in Clark County, Nevada, and is in custody, according to prosecutors. The arrest comes after the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department executed a search warrant at a home in Henderson, Nevada, in July 2023, in connection with the rapper’s unsolved murder.

Who Was Tupac Shakur?

One of the top-selling artists of all time, rapper and actor Tupac Shakur embodied the 1990s gangsta-rap aesthetic and, in death, has become an icon symbolizing noble struggle. Tupac began his music career as a rebel with a cause to articulate the still-relevant travails and injustices endured by many Black Americans. The boundaries between his art and life became increasingly blurred, as Shakur faced legal problems and jail time. On his fourth album, All Eyez On Me, Tupac leaned fully into celebrating the thug lifestyle. It was the last album Tupac would live to see released. On September 7, 1996, the 25-year-old was gunned down in Las Vegas and died six days later. Police continue to investigate his murder.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Tupac Amaru Shakur (born Lesane Parish Crooks)
BORN: June 16, 1971
DIED: September 13, 1996
BIRTHPLACE: New York, New York
SPOUSE: Keisha Morris (1995-1996)

Early Life: Mom, Siblings, and More

Tupac Amaru Shakur was born Lesane Parish Crooks on June 16, 1971, in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. His mother, Afeni Shakur, had been a political activist and Black Panther Party member who was arrested in 1969 for allegedly planning coordinated attacks on police stations and offices in New York City. She became pregnant with Tupac while out on bail, and she was acquitted in 1971 after defending herself in court.

afeni shakur looks to her left off camera in this black and white photo, she is holding a film camera and wears glasses on her head and a turtle neck and vest

Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur in 1970, one year before his birth
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When Lesane was 1 year old, Afeni changed his name to Tupac Amaru after a Peruvian revolutionary who was killed by the Spanish. She said of the name: “I wanted him to have the name of revolutionary, indigenous people in the world. I wanted him to know he was part of a world culture and not just from a neighborhood.” Tupac later took his surname from his sister Sekyiwa’s father, another Black Panther named Mutulu Shakur. Tupac also had a stepbrother, Mopreme.

Tupac’s father, Billy Garland, lost contact with Afeni when Tupac was 5, and he didn’t see his dad again until he was 23. “I thought my father was dead all my life,” he told the writer Kevin Powell during an interview with Vibe magazine in 1996. “I felt I needed a daddy to show me the ropes, and I didn’t have one.” Raising Tupac and his half-sister alone, Afeni worked as a paralegal before developing a crack cocaine addiction in the early 1980s. The family had to move often, struggling for money and living off welfare because she couldn’t keep a job.

tupac shakur and two friends post for a photo, tupac is in the middle and holds some cash in one hand

Friends Darrin Keith Bastfield, Tupac Shakur, and Gerard Young
Courtesy Darrin Keith Bastfield

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Friendship with Jada Pinkett-Smith

In 1984, the family moved to Baltimore, where Tupac enrolled at the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts, where he said he was “the freest I ever felt.” This was also where Tupac met the future actor Jada Pinkett-Smith. He wrote poems about her, and she had a cameo in his music video for “Strictly 4 My Niggaz.” Pinkett-Smith later told reporters that she was a drug dealer when she met Tupac, and that she resented the way the movie All Eyez on Me (2017) later “reimagined” their relationship: “It wasn’t just about, oh, you have this cute girl, and this cool guy, they must have been in this—nah, it wasn’t that at all. It was about survival, and it had always been about survival between us.”

Move to California and Rise to Fame

Tupac’s Baltimore neighborhood was riven by crime, so the family moved to Marin City, California. It turned out to be a “mean little ghetto,” according to Vanity Fair. It was in Marin City that Afeni succumbed to her crack addiction—a drug that Tupac sold on the same streets where his mother bought her supply. Her behavior led to a falling out between mother and son.

Tupac’s love for hip-hop steered him away from a life of crime (for a while, at least). At 17, in the spring of 1989, he struck up a friendship with Leila Steinberg, who he met when she was hosting holding poetry lessons in an Oakland park, according to Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur by Michael Eric Dyson. Already, Tupac had been obsessively writing poetry and convinced Steinberg, who had no music industry experience, to become his manager. She was eventually able to get Tupac in front of music manager Atron Gregory, who secured a gig for him in 1990 as a roadie and backup dancer for the hip-hop group Digital Underground.

He soon stepped up to the mic, making his recording debut in 1991 on “Same Song,” which soundtracked the Dan Aykroyd comedy Nothing but Trouble. Tupac also appeared on Digital Underground’s album Sons of the P that October. After Gregory also became Tupac’s manager, he landed the up-and-coming rapper a deal with Interscope Records. A month after Sons of the P hit the stores came 2Pacalypse Now, Tupac’s debut album as a solo artist.

Tupac often complained that he was misunderstood. “Everything in life is not all beautiful,” he told journalist Chuck Phillips. “There is lots of killing and drugs. To me a perfect album talks about the hard stuff and the fun and caring stuff… The thing that bothers me is that it seems like a lot of the sensitive stuff I write just goes unnoticed.”

As Tupac first began to achieve success as a rapper, Afeni was unaware of his career until friends told her. “I didn’t know what was happening to my son,” she said. “I thought, ‘What am I doing?’” Afeni became determined to break out of her drug addiction, which she finally did after moving back to New York City in 1991. Tupac and his mother later reconciled and remained close the rest of his life.


tupac shakur wearing no shirt and jeans, and a bandana on his head, singing into a microphone on a darkened stage

Rapper Tupac Shakur performs at the Regal Theater in Chicago in March 1994.
Getty Images

Tupac, who only released four albums in his lifetime, has 21 albums to his name, 10 of which have earned platinum, multiplatinum, or diamond certification. As of July 2023, the Recording Industry Association of America listed Tupac as the 45th top-selling artist of all-time by album sales and streaming figures. Worldwide, more than 75 million Tupac records have sold to date, according to Forbes.

2Pacalypse Now

Tupac’s first album as a solo artist was 2Pacalypse Now (1991). Although it didn’t yield any hits, it sold a respectable 500,000 copies and established Tupac as an uncompromising social commentator on songs such as “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” which narrates an underaged mother’s fall into destitution, and “Soulja’s Story,” which controversially spoke of “blasting” a police officer and “droppin’ the cop.” The song was cited as a motivation for a real-life cop killing by a teenage car thief called Ronald Ray Howard and was condemned by then–U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, who said, “There is absolutely no reason for a record like this to be published… It has no place in our society.” With those words, Tupac’s notoriety was guaranteed.

In April 2017, Tupac was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, one of music’s highest honors. He was the first solo hip-hop artist to be inducted and was selected in his first year of eligibility.

Legal Problems and Serving Jail Time

In August 1992, Tupac was attacked by jealous kids in Marin City. He drew his pistol but dropped it in the melee. Someone picked it up, the gun fired, and a 6-year-old bystander, Qa’id Walker-Teal, fell dead. Although Tupac wasn’t charged for Walker-Teal’s death, he was reportedly inconsolable. In 1995, Walker-Teal’s family brought a civil case against Tupac but settled out of court after an unnamed record company—thought to have been Death Row—offered compensation of between $300,000 to $500,000.

In October 1993, Tupac shot and wounded two white off-duty cops in Atlanta, one in the abdomen and one in the buttocks, after an altercation. However, the charges were dropped after it emerged in court that the policemen had been drinking, had initiated the incident, and that one of the officers had threatened Tupac with a stolen gun.

Tupac noted the case illustrated the misrepresentation of Black men in America and the attitude of some police toward them, which he had been talking about in his music. What was portrayed as gun-toting “gangster” behavior by a lawless individual turned out to be an act of self-defense by a young man in fear of his life. All the while, Tupac’s star continued to rise.

Unable to escape punishment entirely, Tupac went to jail for 15 days in 1994 for assaulting movie director Allen Hughes, who had fired him from the set of Menace II Society for being disruptive.

He faced much more serious charges in February 1995, when Tupac was sentenced to between 1.5 and 4.5 years of jail time for sexually abusing a woman. The case related to an incident that had taken place in Tupac’s suite in the New York Parker Meridien hotel in November 1993. Tupac maintained that he hadn’t raped the fan, though he confessed to the Vibe magazine journalist Kevin Powell that he could have prevented others who were present in the suite at the time from doing so. “I had a job [to protect her], and I never showed up,” he said.

Joining Death Row Records and ‘All Eyez on Me’

While Tupac was in prison on rape charges, he was visited by Suge Knight, the notorious head of Death Row records. Knight offered to post the $1.3 million dollar bail Tupac needed to be released pending his appeal. The condition was that Tupac sign on to Death Row, which Tupac did. He was released from the high-security Dannemora facility in New York in October 1995. Even as he was glorifying an outlaw lifestyle for Death Row, Tupac was financing an at-risk youth center, bankrolling South Central sports teams, and setting up a telephone helpline for young people with problems, according to Vanity Fair.

Tupac’s debut for Death Row, the double-length album All Eyez on Me, came out in February 1996. With his new hip-hop group Outlawz debuting on the album, All Eyez on Me was an unapologetic celebration of the thug lifestyle, eschewing socially conscious lyrics in favor of gangsta-funk hedonism and menace. Dr. Dre, who had pioneered G-funk with NWA, produced the album’s first single, “California Love,” which went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains Tupac’s best-known song. The third single from the album, “How Do You Want It,” also topped the chart. Within two months of its release, All Eyez on Me had been certified five-times double-platinum. It would eventually become diamond-certified, reaching more than 10 million combined sales and streams.

Tupac and Biggie Smalls: The Story of “Hit ’Em Up”

a black and white photo of the notorious big standing next to a car parked on a city street, rolling a cigar, with several people in the background looking at the camera

The Notorious B.I.G. rolls a cigar outside his mother’s house in Brooklyn in January 1995.
Getty Images

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Before Tupac released his third album, he became a target. In November 1994, he was shot multiple times in the lobby of the Manhattan recording studio Quad by two young Black men. Tupac believed his rap rival Biggie Smalls was behind the shooting, for which nobody has ever been charged. Smalls always denied he knew anything about the incident. In 2011, Dexter Isaac, a New York prisoner serving a life sentence for an unrelated crime, claimed music executive James “Henchman” Rosemond paid him to steal from Tupac and that he shot the rapper during the robbery.

In June 1996, Tupac released a diss track, “Hit ’Em Up,” aimed at Biggie Smalls and his label boss at Bad Boy Records, Sean “Diddy” Combs. The song ratcheted up the tension between East and West Coast rap. In the inflammatory song, Tupac also spat venom at artists Lil Kim, Junior M.A.F.I.A., and Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Tupac and Biggie’s rivalry was fast becoming hip-hop’s most famous—and ugliest—beef.

“Hit ’Em Up” seemed to chillingly presage Tupac’s death and the ensuing conspiracy theories: “Grab ya Glocks, when you see Tupac; Call the cops, when you see Tupac, uh; Who shot me, but ya punks didn’t finish; Now ya bout to feel the wrath of a menace.”

Within three months, Tupac was murdered. Six months after that, Biggie was, too. Neither murder has been solved.

Movies and Other Work

Along with his music, Tupac pursued an acting career. He appeared in several movies, among them starring roles alongside Janet Jackson in 1993’s Poetic Justice and Mickey Rourke in 1996’s Bullet.

After Tupac died, a collection of poems he wrote before becoming a rapper was also compiled and released in a 2000 book called The Rose that Grew from Concrete. “The world moves fast and it would rather pass u by / than 2 stop and c what makes you cry,” reads one verse he wrote as a teenager.

Romantic Relationships: Madonna, Ex-Wife, and More

tupac shakur, wearing a white sweater and blue bandana, and madonna, wearing a pink see through shirt, sit at a table with several bottles of alcohol and glasses of water, speaking with raquel welch, who wears a black sleeveless shirt

Raquel Welch speaks to Madonna and Tupac Shakur at a March 1994 event in New York City.

Tupac briefly dated pop star Madonna. However, while serving time in prison in January 1995, Tupac wrote a letter to Madonna ending their relationship because of her race. “For you to be seen with a Black man wouldn’t in any way jeopardize your career—if anything it would make you seem that much more open and exciting,” he wrote. “But for me, at least in my previous perception, I felt due to my ‘image,’ I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was.”

Tupac married Keisha Morris in April 1995 while he was still in prison. The couple had met several months earlier at a nightclub when Morris was 20 and Tupac was 21. Their marriage was annulled 10 months later after Tupac was released from jail. The pair remained friends until his death.

Soon after his marriage to Morris ended, Tupac began dating Kidada Jones. They had met at a club when Tupac apologized for insulting her father, Quincy Jones, for only dating white women. Jones was in Las Vegas with Tupac the night he was shot.


black car in which rapper tupac shakur was fatally shot by unknown driveby assassins as he was riding w friend death row records pres marion suge knight, who survived shooting, behind police tape at crime scene

Tupac Shakur was riding in this black car when he was shot on September 7, 1996. He died from his injuries six days later.
Getty Images

Tupac died in Las Vegas on September 13, 1996, from gunshot wounds inflicted six days prior. He was 25. His murder remains unsolved.

On September 7, Tupac was in Las Vegas with Suge Knight to watch a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand hotel. There was a scuffle after the bout between a member of the Crips gang and Tupac. Knight, who was involved with the rival Bloods gang, and members of his entourage piled in. Later, as a car that Tupac was sharing with Knight stopped at a red light, a man emerged from another car and fired 13 shots, hitting Tupac in the hand, pelvis, and chest. Tupac later died at the hospital. His girlfriend Kidada and his mother Afeni were both with him in his final days.

Tupac’s body was cremated. Members of his old band, Outlawz, made the controversial claim that they had smoked some of his ashes in honor of him. His mother announced she would scatter her son’s ashes in Soweto, South Africa, the “birthplace of his ancestors,” on the 10th anniversary of his murder. She later changed the date to June 16, 1997—Tupac’s 26th birthday as well as the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising.

Murder Investigation

Police have yet to determine who killed Tupac, and his death remains an open homicide case.

In early 2018, BET aired an episode of Death Row Chronicles in which former Crips member Duane “Keffe D” Keith Davis admitted that he was riding in the car with the man who killed Tupac; he declined to identify the shooter in the interview, revealing only that the shots “came from the back seat,” though he had earlier told federal investigators that the gun was in the hands of his now-deceased nephew Orlando Anderson.

The revelation fueled the launch of a change.org petition that called for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to declare the case “cleared.” It also led to rumors that new arrest warrants were pending, but the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department denied those rumors.

In July 2023, news broke about a possible breakthrough in the investigation. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department executed a search warrant at a home in Henderson, Nevada, on July 17 in connection with the rapper’s unsolved murder. Authorities haven’t shared many details, such as what they were looking for and whether there’s a suspect, citing the ongoing investigation.

On September 29, Davis was arrested and charged with murder for his role in Tupac’s death. He was was indicted by a grand jury in Clark County, Nevada, and is in custody, according to prosecutors.

Tupac Conspiracies: Is Tupac Alive?

a mural of tupac shakur on a brick wall, with the words live by the gun die by the gun around it, along with stop the violence, and rip tupac shakur

Artist Andre Charles created this memorial mural for Tupac Shakur on Houston Street in New York City.
Getty Images

Tupac died of gunshot wounds in 1996. However, conspiracy theories have raged ever since he was shot, because his murder has never been solved. Fans have speculated that Tupac faked his death. On his song “Life Goes On,” Tupac rapped about his funeral. His song “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” was released two days after he died. There have been several reported potential Tupac “sightings” since his death, including in 2012 by Kim Kardashian.

In September 2017, music executive Suge Knight hinted that Tupac might be alive in an interview. “When I left that hospital me and ’Pac was laughing and joking. I don’t see how someone can go from doing well to doing bad,” he said, adding that “with Pac you never know” if he could be alive and living in secret somewhere.

In November 2017, A&E aired the six-part Biography Presents: Who Killed Tupac?, which followed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump on his investigation into key theories behind Tupac’s 1996 killing.

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