It's been over 20 years since rapper Tupac Shakur was fatally gunned down by an unknown assailant, but his influence on both the world of hip hop and the African American community continue to have a lasting impact. He was arguably one of the most fascinating, talented and infamous musicians of his generation, delivering a unique style of street wisdom that immortalized his music.
Given his legendary status amongst fans to this day, the release of a Tupac Shakur biopic has been met with as much hesitation as excitement. All Eyez On Me chronicles the life of Shakur from childhood to his untimely death. Shakur's career was briefly touched upon in Notorious, the Notorious B.I.G. biopic; But All Eyez On Me boldly claims to be the untold story of Shakur's life.
Granted, #AllEyezOnMe is amazingly cast — the resemblance is uncanny between lead actor Demetrius Shipp Jr and Shakur, and his father even produced some of Shakur's music back in the day. Not to mention the film's producer, L.T. Hutton, has worked with both Interscope and Death Row Records in the past. But the question still remains: How accurately does All Eyez On Me portray Shakur's life and legacy? Let's take a look at the true story behind the Tupac movie and see if the film really delivers.
Ballet & Black Panthers
Tupac Shakur was destined to be a revolutionary. Born to Black Panther parents as Lesane Parish Crooks in 1971, his mother Afeni Shakur (played by The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira in All Eyez On Me) renamed him Túpac Amaru II a year after his birth — a tribute to a great Incan leader who defended his people against Spanish invaders.
It's no secret that Shakur got his fighting spirit from his mother. He experienced life in a jail cell before he was even born, with his pregnant mother incarcerated and facing 150 charges due to her Black Panther affiliations. She was acquitted, but was dedicated to instilling a passion for justice in her son, encouraging him to delve into the arts as a way to effect serious change. She wanted only the best for Shakur, and he knew it. Later in his career, he would dedicate a song to her: "Dear Mama", with lyrics proclaiming, "There's no one above you."
Shakur spent his youth immersing himself in any creative outlet he could find, showing an exceptional penchant for poetry. The family left Harlem and settled in Baltimore, Maryland, where Shakur later enrolled in the Baltimore School for the Arts. It was the kind of creative environment he'd been craving, and his days were soon filled with Shakespeare, ballet and acting. It was here that he met Jada Pinkett. The classmates quickly became close, and would remain lifelong friends — some would even say soulmates.
Things at home were tough for Shakur, but his talent hinted at a promising future. Little did he know just how much things were about to change— for both better and worse.
Shakur's mother relocated her family and 17-year-old son to California before he'd had a chance to graduate. While he re-enrolled in high school, his home life turned toxic. His mother became hooked on crack, and Shakur moved out, only to begin dealing the drug himself.
He was still deeply immersed in writing rap, with his lyrics focusing on the social issues of life as an African American. His songs traversed everything from young mothers on welfare to the war on drugs. The way he spoke about these issues was unlike any other rapper out there, exploring hard subjects with insightful prose.
It was then that he met someone who would change his life forever: Leila Steinberg, his first manager (played by yet another Walking Dead star in All Eyez On Me, Lauren Cohan). They shared the same love of poetry, and it was then that Shakur became determined to inspire his own community with his music. 2Pac was born.
Shakur had Steinberg to thank for hooking him up with Digital Underground in 1990, and he soon began touring and recording with the hip hop group. He got his first taste of Hollywood with an appearance in Nothing But Trouble, his first of many acting roles. It was clear that LA had more to offer him than San Francisco ever could. He bid farewell to Steinberg and relocated, and was soon signed to Interscope Records.
Just as Shakur's career began to escalate, so too did his notorious reputation. In 1991, the rapper found himself the victim of police brutality after being stopped for jaywalking and beaten. Shakur successfully sued Oakland Police Department for $43,000.
The following year, an altercation at one of Shakur's shows resulted in the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old boy. Qa'id Walker-Teal was hit by a stray bullet from Shakur's own gun. He may not have pulled the trigger, but many — including Walker-Teal's family — felt the child's death was on him.
Just weeks later, Shakur was condemned by none other than Vice President Dan Quayle, who blamed the inflammatory lyrics of his songs for encouraging the murder of a police officer. Despite being lauded as an intellectual and a poet, Shakur's fast-growing, thuggish reputation (combined with his often violent temperament) both boosted his image amongst rap fans and introduced endless drama into his life.
Shakur found himself constantly in and out of the court room, often facing assault charges. He served small stints in jail here and there, but things got serious when he shot two off-duty police officers. He was acquitted after it was revealed that the officers were in possession of stolen guns they used to fire back at Shakur.
Shakur's run-in with the law was far from over. Just a month later, he and his crew were accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his hotel room. According to Vanity Fair, Shakur later admitted that he wasn't in the room at the time of the gang rape, but knew he was responsible for not intervening, saying, "I had a job, and I never showed up."
The accusations came as a shock to many considering Shakur's lyrics condemned mistreatment of women, especially in the track, "Keep Ya Head Up":
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it's time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
In the lead-up to the trial, Shakur was asked to record a song at Manhattan's Quad Recording Studio. An interview with Kevin Powell revealed Shakur suspected it might have been a set-up at the time, but he was nevertheless keen on the opportunity. However, his suspicions turned out to be correct, and he was mugged in the building's lobby. Shakur was shot five times.
He survived, but was brought into court the very next day in a wheelchair to hear the verdict for his sexual assault case. Despite denying any involvement, he was found guilty of three out of six charges, and sentenced to up to four and a half years in prison.
Death Row Records & Beef With Biggie
He may have been behind bars, but Shakur's life in prison was far from uneventful. He became a multi-platinum artist, and even married his then-girlfriend Keisha Morris.
He also received a visit from Death Row Records' Suge Knight. The CEO had courted Shakur in the past, giving him $200,000 in exchange for a single song. However, he hadn't been successful in signing the young talent to his label. But with Shakur's prospects now looking far less optimistic, Knight easily persuaded him to join Death Row.
Shakur was released from prison after serving only eight months of his sentence and went on to perform one of the greatest shows of his career at the House of Blues. He also divorced Morris and began dating Kidada Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones and sister to Rashida Jones. Even though Shakur had publicly criticized Quincy Jones in the past for his relationships with white women (a statement he later retracted), he and Kidada became engaged. Kidada said Shakur was "the love of her life" in her father's autobiography.
Despite his success, his life was filled with more drama than ever. He was in the midst of a vicious feud with fellow rap superstar, The Notorious B.I.G. — also known as Biggie Smalls. Shakur and Biggie had once been close, but Shakur suspected Biggie and his producer, Sean "Puffy" Combs, were behind the Quad Studio shooting. While Biggie denied any involvement, he certainly didn't make matters any better when he released the controversial track, "Who Shot Ya":
Who shot ya?
Separate the weak from the obsolete,
Hard to creep them Brooklyn streets
It's on nigga, fuck all that bickering beef
Biggie claimed the track wasn't about Shakur, but it nevertheless propelled the East Coast/West Coast rivalry that had already been brewing. Shakur responding in turn with his own diss track, "Hit 'Em Up" — except this time, there was absolutely no mistaking who it was directed at:
Who shot me, but your punks didn't finish
Now you about to feel the wrath of a menace
The song explicitly mentions Biggie's name multiple times, threats to murder him and his entire crew, and claims Shakur slept with Biggie's wife, Faith Evans. Evans denied any sexual involvement with Shakur in an interview with MTV, apart from one unsuccessful request for oral sex from Shakur after recording a track with him— which Evans was definitely not impressed about.
The entire dispute was a marker of the changes in Shakur's personal politics outlined in (ironically) his 1992 track, "Changes":
We gotta start making changes
Learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers
And the only time we chill is when we kill each other
It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other
Four months after the release of "Hit 'Em Up", Shakur was targeted in a drive-by shooting whilst stopped at a red light in Las Vegas. He was shot four times, with one bullet puncturing his lung. The police officer who arrived on the scene after the shooting claims the rapper's last words were "fuck you."
Leonard Jefferson took the following photo just moments before the shooting— the last photo ever taken of Shakur before his death:
Shakur was hospitalized and put into an induced coma, but doctors were unable to stop the internal bleeding from his injuries. He died six days later on Friday 13th. He was 25 years old.
Shakur's murder has never been solved. Some believe the Southside Crips were behind the shooting due to an altercation between Shakur and a Crips member earlier that night. Others believe Biggie was to blame. Biggie was also murdered in a drive-by shooting six months later.
Tupac Shakur wanted to change the world. He wanted nothing more than to inspire the black community and create a revolution. But ultimately, he lost sight of himself and got caught up in the very world he was so determined to change. The world of hip hop may be incredibly different to what it was in the nineties, but there's no doubt 2Pac's music continues to have a massive influence on the scene to this day.
What are your thoughts on the Tupac Shakur biopic, All Eyez On Me?