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Deep deep trouble

01:00 Mon 25th Mar 2002 |

Q.� I keep hearing reference to a rapper named Tupac. Who is he < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A.� It's actually who was he. Tupac died after a drive-by shooting in 1996, at the height of his fame, and in his mid-twenties.

Q.� Have you got more background information

A.� Certainly. Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in New York in 1971, with ideal credentials for his chosen lifestyle as a gangsta rapper�- his parents were members of the Black Panther political movement, although they split up before his birth.

As a teenager, Tupac showed promise as an actor and dancer, and he joined the prestigious Baltimore School Of The Arts where he began experimenting with writing raps. Tupac's mother had moved her children around the country several times in their lives, and she moved them again, to California,�before Tupac could graduate at Baltimore. Now living in California, Tupac took the first steps to fame by joining influential hip-hop outfit Digital Underground, working as an on-stage dancer and also as part of the road crew. It was during this time that Tupac released his rap debut album 2 Pacalypse Now which hit the stores in 1992, and achieved gold status through word-of-mouth sales. Vice President Dan Quayle was moved to make reference to Tupac during his election campaign, which did Tupac's reputation as a rapper to be reckoned with no harm at all.

Q.� So Tupac, or is he 2Pac now, went on to be a famous rapper

A.� He was known by both tags, but Tupac didn't head straight for a strictly rap career, he continued to act, playing in two films, Juice, and the lead role in Poetic Justice, before releasing his second album with the uncompromising title Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. which went platinum, hitting a high of Number Four, with singles I Get Around and Keep Ya Head Up charting in r 'n' b and pop charts.

Q.� Where did the trouble start

A.� More or less with the recording contract, and the fame and fortune that it brought�- prior to becoming a rap star, Tupac had no criminal record, but with fame and fortune came trouble,�deep trouble.

In 1992 Tupac was involved in a gunfight in which a six-year-old bystander was killed�- charges against him were dropped. While filming Menace To Society, Tupac was arrested for an assault on film director Allen Hughes, and served 25 days in jail. From then on, violent incidents escalated in frequency and seriousness.�In October 1993, Tupac was accused of shooting two off-duty policemen in Atlanta, although again charges were dropped. A month later, Tupac and two members of his entourage were accused of sexually abusing a fan of the rap star, and on the day the verdict was announced, Tupac was shot and wounded by two muggers in the lobby of a local recording studio. In 1995, found guilty of the sexual abuse charge, Tupac was sentenced to four and a half years in jail.

Q.� It sounds like fame wasn't doing Tupac much good!

A.� Tupac's problems appear to stem from his status as an iconic figure in black culture, and in gangsta rap circles in particular. Although rap and hip-hop are no strangers to some of the violence that accompanied street gangs, the increasing tension between East and West Coast rappers, and their entourages and fans, was beginning to cause serious concerns, with some commentators predicting all-out gang warfare.

Tupac was not backward at advising his fans, and the world at large, who he thought responsible for his wounding�- rap legends Puff Daddy and Notorious B.I.G. together with Andre Harrell, and Tupac's own close friend Randy 'Stretch' Walker were all named as being connected with the shooting to a greater or lesser degree. While in prison, Tupac's latest release, the appropriately titled Me Against The World was released, and shot straight to Number One, giving Tupac the dubious honour of being the first, and to date only artist to achieve a Number One album while serving a prison sentence.

Q.� So did Tupac serve his entire sentence

A.� No, record label boss Suge Knight, soon to do his own spell of prison time, wanted Tupac for his Death Row Records label, a business arrangement that would see the biggest gangsta rapper with the biggest gangsta label. Although Knight was enmeshed in a variety of illegal activity, he was rich enough to front the $1.4 million bond required to obtain the release of his newest star signing. On the anniversary of the studio foyer shooting, Randy Walker was himself shot dead in a gangland shooting. No direct connection was ever made to Tupac, at least not publicly.

Q.� So everything was OK from then on

A.� Career wise, Tupac was entering his phase as the number one gangsta rapper, a position that has only grown and solidified since his death. His debut album for Death Row, the first double album of original hip hop material ever released went quintuple platinum within a matter of months, spearheaded by his duet with house producer Dr Dre who was to go on to even greater fame through his connection with Eminem.

Rumours are that Tupac was tiring of rap as his main career, and planned to move back into acting, where he had already enjoyed some success. He appeared in two more films, Bullet and Gridlcok'd. Meanwhile, all was not well over at Death Row records, Dr Dre had left, and Knight's increasing illegal activities were beginning to close in on him. Further rumours suggested that Death Row was close to disintegration, although events were to eclipse any such concerns.

Q.� What happened

A.� Having witnessed the Mike Tyson v Bruce Seldon boxing match, Knight and Tupac were leaving the venue, when Tupac became involved in a fight with an unknown black man. Later that evening, while he was�sitting as a passenger in Knight's car, unknown assailants shot Tupac several times at close range. He died six days later.

Q.� Who was responsible

A.� That's the big question. Rumours that Tupac was implicated in the nebulous East Coast / West Coast 'rap wars' remain unsubstantiated, although that theory was given credence by the shooting dead of Notorious B.I.G. some months later. The media speculated that Suge Knight was behind the shooting of Biggie Smalls (B.I.G.), as revenge for Tupac. Other suggest that Tupac had boasted of sleeping with Faith Evans, Smalls' wife, which some believe to more than enough provocation for a death warrant in the volatile and dangerous world occupied by both stars. Knight was himself in prison at the time of Smalls' death, which would not have prevented him arranging the shooting, but it must be made clear that no evidence has been forthcoming, and no charges have been brought in either case.

Q.� So where does that leave Tupac now

A.� An even bigger star than when he was alive. Tupac's photogenic image, and his vastly successful and popular recorded output, together with the tragic and violent circumstances of his death have assured him a high place in the superstar status of rap artists. Thanks to a considerable backlog of unreleased material, regular new releases keep his name, and his music, at the forefront of black music, and his status as a role model and icon continues to grow some six years after his death.

Using Tupac as an example of a man who succeeded by virtue of his good looks and undeniable talents as an actor and musician are one thing, holding him up as a martyr to young black men who may be tempted to follow his path of violence, drugs and death, is another. Let's hope Tupac's fans can enjoy his talent, and more importantly, learn from his mistakes.

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Andy Hughes

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