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Style & Culture

Trip Down Memory Lane: Tupac, from background dancer to hip-hop megastar

Tupac Shakur got his start in the hip-hop industry from the most unlikely of places. He began his career as a backup dancer for hip-hop group Digital Underground in 1990. After appearing as a guest performer on the group’s track “Same Song,” Tupac branched out into a solo career. Although he is famed for his “gangsta” persona found in his later career with Death Row Records, Tupac started out as a conscious rapper.

Tupac released his debut solo effort, “2pacalypse Now,” in 1991. The album touched on heavy topics and included the hit song “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” The track tells the story of a girl named Brenda who had a child at a very young age and abandoned it in the trash. The lyrics describe a life in turmoil that escalates until Brenda is murdered. The emotion heard in Tupac’s voice as he tells Brenda’s story hits hard and shows how important the subject matter was to him. That album produced two more singles: “If My Homie Calls” and “Trapped.”

Tupac’s next record was released two years later under the title “Strictly 4 My N—–.” The album spawned four singles, three of which are some of his more well-known songs. Following a similar trend from his first record, Tupac’s third single, “Keep Ya Head Up,” tackles heavy issues. The song is about respecting women and Tupac hits hard with his lyrics: “I know they like to beat ya down a lot / When you come around the block brothas clown a lot / But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up / Forgive but don’t forget, girl, keep your head up.”

In 1994, Tupac formed the hip-hop group Thug Life released their first and only record, titled “Thug Life: Volume 1.” Also in 1994, Tupac was involved in a shooting. In the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan, Tupac was shot five times by two men. Tupac survived, only to be sentenced to serve time in prison later for sexual assault. While serving his time in prison, Tupac released his third record, “Me Against the World,” in March of 1995. Tupac served a month short of his year-long sentence because his bail was posted; the CEO of Death Row Records, Suge Knight posted bail in exchange for Tupac to record albums for Death Row — a strange beginning to a strange friendship.

In February of 1996, Tupac released his first record for Death Row and quite possibly his most famous record, titled “All Eyez on Me.” Five singles were released from the album, including “California Love.” The album was a huge success and featured Tupac’s “gangsta” side. His former conscious-rap sound was abandoned. “All Eyez on Me” was a double album and was certified platinum nine times by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Tupac’s final album was released that same year, though he unfortunately did not live to see its November premiere. The album was titled “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.”

Tupac’s death has been met with much mystery. On Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac was shot after leaving a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. Many have suggested that Suge Knight or fellow rapper The Notorious B.I.G. had Tupac killed, but the real murderer and his or her motives were never discovered. Tupac lived for another six days in the hospital before passing away. Since his death, six records have been released, showcasing numerous songs Tupac had recorded in his career that remained unpublished during his lifetime.