It's actually been over 20 years since legendary hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur’s death. It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been that long to the legions of fans who still follow him to this day and have made him one of those Rock & Roll’s icons who died too soon along with the likes of Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and the “Five J’s” (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Jerry Garcia). Tupac was just 25 years old when he was brutally gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip on September 7, 1996. He held on to life for six days but finally succumbed on September 13.
During his lifetime, Tupac was considered one of the great stars of the music industry. After an extremely active high school career in drama, poetry, and beatboxing (and a brief flirtation with the American Communist Party!), he broke into the big time in 1990 when he was hired to be a backup dancer and very occasional rapper for the supergroup Digital Underground. You should remember those guys, as their “Humpty Dance” was a monster hit back in the day and still gets tons of club play. Tupac appeared on their second album and then went on to greater glory as a solo artist. He is remembered for his seminal albums 2Pacalypse Now, Me Against the World, and All Eyez on Me. That last one is considered one of the most epic hip-hop albums of all time and sold over nine million copies in its first three years. Tupac was the man of the moment in the industry and ready to conquer the world.
But then it all stopped on that fateful night in Vegas. To this day, the shooting remains unsolved and Tupac’s murderers are still at large. Not only has that created a ton of conspiracy theories about his death, but it’s also led to a bunch of details about the whole terrible incident being forgotten. Here, then, are 15 things you probably don’t know or remember about Tupac’s death.
15 Conspiracy Theory, Part I
Tupac was a superstar, and he died under mysterious circumstances. OK, the circumstances themselves weren’t all that mysterious -- everybody knows he was shot six times -- but the aftermath has surely been so. This, of course, has led to dozens of conspiracy theories and attempts to expose a cover up regarding his death. One such theory that was extremely popular a few years after his death is that Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. “The Notorious B.I.G.”) had Tupac killed because Biggie was upset with Tupac dissing him on record. (We all know rap artist feuds can get intense.) This theory was put out by an L.A. Times reporter named Chuck Philips back in 2002 and claimed that the Crips (who had a huge beef with Tupac) murdered him using a gun Biggie had paid for. Unfortunately for Philips, he was using FBI documents that had been falsified as source material to support this theory. Way to go FBI!
14 His Mom Identified The Body
Another fact that came out in the coroner’s report is that Tupac’s mother was actually the one who identified the body immediately after death. Now, it makes sense that the mother of a young man who has been hovering between life and death for six days would be on hand in the hospital and clearly would be the next of kin. What’s more interesting, in a horrible way, though, is that she had to go through the process of identifying him as deceased. Obviously, if there’s a gunshot case like his, where the victim has been lying in a coma for days, the family is going to be in and out of his hospital room for days. To have the grief be so fresh and know it’s your child and then be required to “officially” say so must just suck. I would never want to have to be the parent (or any family member) who would have to go through such a horrible experience.
13 Conspiracy Theory, Part II
As I’ve already stated, a mysterious murder (or death of any kind) of a mega-celebrity is totally cause for the whackos and conspiracy nuts to go crazy. Just look at what happened when Rock God Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, died in a bathtub in Paris in 1970. People immediately wondered if he had been poisoned, had been assassinated, or had even faked his own death. To this day, there are tons of “theorists” out there who believe he fled incognito to Africa to escape the pressures of fame. So another unsurprising theory about Tupac’s death that has never, ever been remotely proven, is that the FBI, as part of their ongoing attempt to discredit “Black activists,” had Tupac assassinated. Most observers are strongly against this theory, finding it both overly-complicated (why would the FBI kill a rapper?) and something that would have been almost impossible to cover up in our current societal setting (the free dissemination of information via the web, etc.).
12 Black Panther Childhood
There’s a huge “But” to that last conspiracy theory, however, that deserves mention. While it seems ludicrous that the government would murder a rapper (I guess I should have said “Ludacris” there, right?!!?), there is some basis in Tupac being a revolutionary of sorts. Both his mother and his father were actually members of the Black Panther party or the Black Liberation Army back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and they were definitely proponents of race-based revolution. Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s aforementioned mother, was actually found innocent of over 150 charges of “Conspiracy against the United States Government” in a trial that ended just months before his birth. She had been accused of conspiring to blow up police stations and kill cops in a 1969 attack, but the trial fell apart, and everyone who was charged went home free. Other members of Tupac’s immediate family, including his godfather and stepfather, were also Panthers. So he did grow up in a revolutionary household. But he also turned to acting and music as his outlet, not overthrowing the existing order.
11 Tupac’s Employer
Another interesting detail on Tupac’s death report from the coroner’s office is that his employer is listed as “Euphanasia.” This is the company that Tupac founded shortly before his death in an attempt to move on from his contract with Death Row Records. What’s fascinating about the whole Euphanasia angle is that Tupac also had a huge gold necklace made which he also called Euphanasia. The necklace showed an angel of death on its knees, head bowed, with wings and a halo. It’s interesting that he would choose such iconography so soon before his death. That, and the fact that Tupac had started performing as “Makaveli,” as I mentioned earlier, has fueled speculation that he actually planned his whole death and is alive and well somewhere. The most common hideout theorists believe him to be in is Cuba. This, to them, makes sense given his family’s revolutionary connections. This doesn’t answer whose body was lying in the hospital for six days, of course.
10 Conspiracy Theory, Part III
Everyone who has ever followed ‘90s hip-hop knows that there was always a huge rivalry between the East Coast crews and the West Coast crews, meaning, primarily and most significantly, New York City and Los Angeles. Sometimes (well, many times) this rivalry would turn deadly, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of conspiracists out there who think Tupac’s death was engineered by some combination of New York hip-hop royalty. The most common of these theories is that good old P-Diddy (who at the time was still “Puff Daddy”) paid a couple of gangbangers $1 million to take out not only Tupac but also Suge Knight. His supposed motive was that Tupac had been dissing him and all other sorts of New York rappers in his recent work. Of course, MCs did each other all the time, both live and on record, so I’m not sure why Diddy would feel the need to go after Shakur for a few cuts. Then again, these guys get more offended than seems humanly possible when anyone badmouths them…
9 The Killer
One thing a lot of these theories have in common -- whether people believe gangbangers, the government, or other rappers were behind Tupac’s murder -- is the involvement of one Orlando Anderson. Anderson was the gang member (of the Crips, who already hated Tupac’s “Bloods” ties) who was badly beaten by Shakur and his associates in the lobby of the MGM right after the fight everyone was attending (Mike Tyson v. Bruce Seldon, for those who care about such things). So Anderson definitely had a motive. Some people, including Anderson’s own uncle, who claims he was paid by Puffy to murder Tupac, say Anderson was definitely the shooter, even if they say it was for different reasons. Unfortunately for truth-seekers everywhere, Anderson himself was killed in a gang shooting in 1998, leaving his story to be told by others. His death has only made the Tupac death conspiracy theories that much harder to ignore.
8 Conspiracy Theory, Part IV (Time To Get Crazy)
So far, every single one of the theories we have discussed has been more than a little nuts, but are just barely reasonable (if that’s the right word) enough to warrant a second look. This one, though, seems pretty damn odd. The theory goes that Tupac wasn’t assassinated by any of the usual suspects but was actually gunned down by the Jewish Defense League. The JDL is a far-right, radically pro-Israel group. They are vehemently anti-Arab in nature but have no history of being anti-Tupac! The theory, which seems spun out of whole cloth, is that the JDL anonymously threatened to kill Tupac, then demanded protection money to keep him alive, then killed him when he didn’t cough up the money. Ah, yup -- I’m pretty sure we can all say a big, fat “whatever” to that one. Nobody has ever come even close to discovering anything of the sort.
7 Last Words
When Tupac was shot back in ’96, everybody thought the police would arrest a suspect, get a conviction, and that would be that. After all, it was well-known that Tupac, his crew, and his buddy, Death Row Records president Suge Knight, had been in a huge altercation with members of the Crips gang earlier that evening. Their fight was so public as it occurred in the lobby of the MGM Grand after a Mike Tyson fight, and there was even plenty of security video of the incident. But time went on, and nobody ever confessed or was convicted. Almost 20 years after his killing, one of the cops who was first on the scene of the shooting revealed that Tupac’s last words, when asked repeatedly if he could identify the shooter, were “F**K you!” That’s right; the last words out of the dying superstar’s mouth were a big old “Eff off” to the police. That probably shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it sure didn’t help Tupac.
6 His Sales Went Through The Roof After His Death
It’s a pretty common story that an artist’s album sales spike when they die. It happens to pretty much any well-known musician who dies unexpectedly; David Bowie and Amy Winehouse are two recent examples of the phenomenon. Tupac was no different, except for the fact that, unlike some artists, he had a brand new album ready to go when he died. The album, which was supposed to be sort of an “underground” one, with Tupac rapping under the pseudonym “Makaveli,” became a monster hit when people realized there would be no more new Tupac albums. It was called The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory and became the number one album on both Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top 200 charts. It was so big that it even hit 4x Platinum within a few years of its release. Some artists have to wait their whole lifetimes just to get a platinum album but not Tupac. Too bad he wasn't able to enjoy this success.
5 He’s Still One Of The Biggest Artists Ever In Hip-Hop
It wasn’t just the immediate weeks and months following his death that created a spike in sales of Tupac’s albums. He's a legitimate legend at this point in time, and his estate and sales continue to roll along at an impressive rate. According to Forbes, who should know, Tupac’s estate took in $3.5 million in album sales in 2011. That’s almost 15 years after his death. Not many artists have that kind of staying power, especially with no new material coming out. But to put 2011’s numbers in perspective, Tupac has sold a whopping 75 million albums, almost all of which were bought in the years following his demise. Of his eleven platinum albums, seven of them were released after his death. He even tends to make more than current rappers who are alive. In 2007, his estate took in over $9 million, easily outpacing icons like Eminem and 50 Cent. That’s some crazy staying power.
4 He Had A Lot Of Tattoos
Tupac, like many of his compatriots in the hip-hop community, was really into tattoos. He had so many, actually, that the official coroner’s report, filled out by one Ed Brown, kind of gave up on listing all of them as “identifying features.” In the report, which was completed on the 13th of September, 1996, less than 15 minutes after Tupac was declared dead (4:03 pm), the coroner lists his tattoos as: “Skull- right shoulder. THUGLIFE- stomach. Numerous other tattoos on body.” I guess once he listed the “Thuglife” one, the coroner didn’t really feel the need to identify Tupac any further. And why should he have? Thug Life was the name of the side-group Tupac founded in 1994 with a bunch of his friends and relatives. They had one album, called Thug Life: Volume 1 which went gold before Tupac’s death. It would have been obvious that Tupac’s tattoo was an homage to his own band.
3 His Mom Believed He Would Die
Afeni Shakur has been many things in her life of revolutionary spirit, so why not label her as a prophetess too? In an interview with Vanity Fair in 1997, she said she always knew Tupac was going to die young. She told the Vanity Fair reporter: “From the moment he was born,” she says, “I measured his life in five-year periods. When he was five, I was so grateful. When he was 10, I thanked God he was 10. Fifteen, 20, 25, I was always amazed he’d survived. He was a gift.” Perhaps her own experiences as a member of a fringe political movement in the ‘60s taught her how precious life was -- after all, she saw many relatives imprisoned or on the run for major crimes. Or perhaps she just had the premonition of a mother who saw her son embracing a “Gangsta” lifestyle and knew it would someday turn on him.
2 His Influence On Popular Culture Was Profound
There’s hardly a hip-hop artist out there who doesn’t give proper respect to Tupac these days. Eminem says he was highly influenced by him. 50 Cent has stated, “Every rapper who grew up in the nineties owes something to him.” But Tupac's influence doesn’t stop where hip-hop ends. Because of his mysterious death, all of the rumors, and his own intimations that he was going to die young, Tupac has become something of a martyr to disenfranchised youth everywhere. In a quote from the book Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, the authors state, "Since his death, Tupac has become an international martyr, a symbol on the level of Bob Marley or Che Guevara, whose life has inspired Tupacistas on the streets of Brazil, memorial murals in the Bronx and Spain, and bandanna-wearing youth gangs in South Africa." With this legacy, it’s doubtful Tupac will ever be forgotten.
1 The Real Truth?
There is one recent theory that has garnered a lot of support in the last few years. It's centered around a Los Angeles detective named Russell Poole, who was heavily involved in exposing a huge LAPD cover-up of police corruption and misconduct in the late ‘90s. Through his many connections in that scandal, Poole supposedly stumbled across a clue that Suge Knight’s own estranged wife (who was separated but not divorced from him at the time of Tupac’s shooting) and his own head of security for Death Row records had conspired to kill Suge in order to take over the business from him. Tupac himself was a secondary target as his death would have kept all of his work (and future earnings) in the Death Row “family.” Given that the Death Row empire was worth millions of dollars and that Tupac’s posthumous sales numbers were in the tens of millions of albums, it doesn’t actually seem that far-fetched that someone might cook up a crazy scheme to take control of it all -- especially when one remembers that Suge Knight was also shot in the head that fateful night but survived.
Sources: biography, CNN, vice, Forbes