Tupac Shakur grew up around nothing but self-delusion. His mother, Alice Faye
Williams, thought she was a "revolutionary." She called herself "Afeni
Shakur" and associated with members of the ill-fated Black Panther Party, a
movement that wanted to feed school kids breakfast and earn civil rights for
During her youth she dropped out of high school, partied with North Carolina
gang members, then moved to Brooklyn: After an affair with one of Malcolm X's
bodyguards, she became political. When the mostly white United Federation of
Teachers went on strike in 1968, she crossed the picket line and taught the
children herself. After this she joined a New York chapter of the Black Panther
Party and fell in with an organizer named Lumumba. She took to ranting about
killing "the pigs" and overthrowing the government, which eventually
led to her arrest and that of twenty comrades for conspiring to set off a race
war. Pregnant, she made bail and told her husband, Lummuba, it wasn't his child.
Behind his back she had been carrying on with Legs (a small-time associate of
Harlem drug baron Nicky Barnes) and Billy Garland (a member of the Party).
Lumumba immediately divorced fer.
Things went downhill for Afeni: Bail revoked, she was imprisoned in the
Women's House of Detention in Greenwich Village. In her cell she patted her
belly and said, "This is my prince. He is going to save the black
By the time Tupac was born on June 16, 1971, Afeni had already defended
herself in court and been acquitted on 156 counts. Living in the Bronx, she
found steady work as a paralegal and tried to raise her son to respect the value
of an education.
From childhood, everyone called him the "Black Prince." For
misbehaving, he had to read an entire edition of The New York Times. But she had
no answer when he asked about his daddy. "She just told me, 'I don't know
who your daddy is.' It wasn't like she was a slut or nothin'. It was just some
rough times."When he was two, his sister, Sekyiwa, was born. This child's
father, Mutulu, was a Black Panther who, a few months before her birth, had been
sentenced to sixty years for a fatal armored car robbery.
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As time passed, the issue of his father tormented him. He felt
"unmanly," he said. Then his cousins started saying he had an
effeminate face. "I don't know. I just didn't feel hard. I could do all the
things my mother could give me, but she couldn't give me nothing else."
The loneliness began to wear on him. He retreated into writing love songs and
poetry. "I remember I had a book like a diary. And in that book I said I
was going to be famous." He wanted to be an actor. Acting was an escape
from his dismal life. He was good at it, eager to leave his crummy family
behind. "The reason why I could get into acting was because it takes nothin'
to get out of who I am and go into somebody else."
His mother enrolled him in the 127th Street Ensemble, a theater group in the
impoverished Harlem section of Manhattan, where he landed his first role at age
twelve, that of Travis in A Raisin in the Sun. "I lay on a couch and played
sleep for the first scene. Then I woke up and I was the only person onstage. I
can remeber thinking, "This is the best shit in the world!" That got
me real high. I was gettin' a secret: This is what my cousins can't do."
In Baltimore, at age fifteen, he fell into rap; he started writing lyrics,
walking with a swagger, and milking his background in New York for all it was
worth. People in small towns feared the Big Apple's reputation; he called
himself MC New York and made people think he was a tough guy.
He enrolled in the illustrious Balitomore School for the Arts, where he
studied acting and ballet with white kids and finally felt "in touch"
with himself. "Them white kids had things we never seen," he said.
"That was the first time I saw there was white people who you could get
along with. Before that, I just believed what everyone else said: They was
devils. But I loved it. I loved going to school. It taught me a lot. I was
starting to feel like I really wanted to be an artist.
By the time he was twenty, Shakur had been arrested eight times, even serving
eight months in prison after being convicted of sexual abuse. In addition, he
was the subject of two wrongful-
death lawsuits, one involving a six-
old boy who was killed after getting caught in gang-
war crossfire between Shakur's gang and a rival group.
In 1992, Shakur entered a most fruitful five-
year period. He broke free of D.U. and made his solo debut, 2Pacalypse Now,
a gangsta rap document that put him in the notorious, high-
speed lane to stardom. That same year he starred in Juice, an acclaimed
budget film about gangs which saw some Hollywood success. In 1993, he recorded
and released Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., an album that found Shakur
crossing over to the pop charts. Unfortunately, he also found himself on police
blotters, when allegations of a violent attack on an off-
duty police officer and sexual misconduct arose. The same year, Shakur played a
single father and Janet Jackson's love interest in the John Singleton film Poetic
In November of 1994, he was shot five times during a robbery in which thieves
made off with $40,000 worth of his jewelry. Shakur miraculously recovered from
his injuries to produce his most impressive artistic accomplishments, including
1995's Me Against the World, which sold two million copies, and the
CD All Eyez on Me, which sold nearly three million. As his career arc
began a steep rise toward fame and fortune, Shakur was shot (most say
suspiciously) and killed after watching a Mike Tyson fight with Death Row
Records president Marion "Suge" Knight. Though his death was a jolt to
his fans and the music community, Shakur himself often said that he expected
he'd die by the sword before he reached thirty.