It’s not every day that martyrs go on to fulfill their legacy. Which makes the grim date of September 13, 1996, a date worth revering for anyone who calls themselves a real music fan.
It was the day Tupac Amaru Shakur gave up the ghost after enduring a lethal shooting a week earlier in Las Vegas. He was 25 years old.
“I heard a rumor I died, murdered in cold blood dramatized/Pictures of me in my final stage you know Mama cried/But that was fiction, some coward got the story twisted/Like I no longer existed, mysteriously missing” — “Ain’t Hard 2 Find”
His death would go on to not only be an intense blow to the culture of Hip Hop but a tragic apex to the so-called East Coast/West Coast beef that festered as a direct result of the outspoken rap star’s very public beef with his former friend, The Notorious B.I.G.
2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted: Pac and Suge Knight before the drama unfolded.
On the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur was accompanied by his Death Row CEO Suge Knight at the Mike Tyson vs. Bruce Seldon fight a.k.a. “The Championship: Part II” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Following the conclusion of the match where Tyson won one of the shortest heavyweight championship fights in boxing history — knocking out Seldon in the first round in just 1:49 — Shakur, Knight and several members of their entourage proceeded to jump Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, an alleged member of a Compton, California Crips gang. Anderson had reportedly had a hand in robbing a Death Row associate earlier that year and upon identification, a beatdown was imminent. The entire fight was captured on the MGM’s surveillance camera.
When We Ride: Tupac and Suge Knight were spotted assaulting Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson on the night of September 7, 1996. The incident landed Knight in jail for nearly five years from 1997-2001, as it violated the terms of his existing parole.
Following the altercation, Shakur heading to the Death Row-owned Club 662 in Knight’s 1996 black BMW 750iL sedan. The image would be one of the last photos of Tupac.
Around 11:15, before they could make it to the club, shots rang out from within a white Cadillac, hitting Shakur four times — twice in the chest, once in the arm and once in the thigh — as he hung out the sunroof and interacted with some female fans. The most severe injury came as a result of one of the bullets piercing his right lung.
Immediately after the shooting, Shakur was rushed to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada where he would undergo heavy sedation and life support treatment for the next week. Friends, family and fans collectively prayed for his safe recovery but admittedly for some, there wasn’t an overall worry that the rapper who had shed “So Many Tears” was on the brink of death. Just have a look at what friend-turned-rival, Notorious B.I.G. had to say about the incident in 1997 for what would be one of his last interviews before his own murder.
“I was more shocked than anything,” the platinum-selling Bad Boy recording artist born Christoper Wallace told then-BET Rap City host Joe Clair when asked about his reaction to Pac’s demise. “Pac is a strong dude yo — I know duke. So when they was like, ‘He got shot,’ I was like ‘again?’ He’s always getting shot or shot at. He’s gonna pull through this one again, make a few records about it and it’s going to be over. But when he died, I was just like ‘Whoa!'”
Legends x 3: Biggie, Tupac and Redman backstage at Tupac’s show at the Palladium on July 23, 1993 in New York, New York.
“Even though we was going through our drama, I would never wish death on nobody because there ain’t no coming back from that. So it kind of turned me down a little bit but at the same time, you gotta move on. I felt for his moms … for his family or whatever but things gotta move on.”
A few years prior, Pac had survived what he called “a hit on his life” at the Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan the night of November 30, 1994. It was an attack he would eventually blame on Biggie, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, and The Game’s former manager Jimmy Henchman, until his death.
“Dear Lord can ya hear me, when I die/Let a nigga be strapped, fucked up, and high/with my hands on the trigger, Thug nigga/Stressing like a muthafuckin’ drug dealer/And even in the darkest nights, I’m a thug for life…” — “Hellrazor”
On the afternoon of Friday, September 13, 1996, Shakur was pronounced dead in the hospital’s ICU unit at 4:03 P.M. after internal bleeding took its toll on the already rap legend’s body.
The official cause of death was said to be respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest in connection with multiple gunshot wounds.
A look at the New York Times article immediately following his death outlines the severity of the situation in real time.
Mr. Shakur was a complex and sometimes contradictory figure, with a career featuring million-selling albums, gunshot wounds and run-ins with the police. He was an intelligent, vivid writer who had studied acting at the High School of Performing Arts in Baltimore; he was an accomplished rapper with a husky baritone and crisp enunciation. He was also a convicted sex offender, and the words “Thug Life” and “Outlaw” were tattooed on his body.
“It’s really unfortunate that the violent perception that the world has of that young man may be exacerbated by the way he died: art is being confused with real life,” Mr. Shakur’s lawyer, Shawn S. Chapman, said yesterday in Los Angeles. “There was this wonderful, charming, bright, talented, funny person that no one is going to get to know; they are just going to know this other side. Hopefully, this will have some positive effect on people — the gang members — who are shooting each other.”
In some raps, Mr. Shakur glamorized the life of the ”player,” a high-living, macho gangster flaunting ill-gotten gains. But in many others, sometimes on the same albums, he portrayed the gangster life as a desperate, self-destructive existence of fear and sudden death. He described gangsterism as a vicious cycle, a grimly inevitable response to racism, ghetto poverty and police brutality.
”Although some may say that Tupac laid down in the bed he made, it is always unfortunate when someone with talent dies at such a young age, regardless of circumstances,” said Geoff Mayfield, director for charts at Billboard, the music’s industry trade magazine. ”Hopefully, the reaction to what has happened will dampen enthusiasm for violence among those who looked up to him, rather than promote it.”
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in New York City, the son of Afeni Shakur, a member of the Black Panthers who was in jail on bombing charges while she was pregnant with him; she was acquitted. He grew up in the Bronx, then moved with his mother to Baltimore, where he studied acting at the High School of the Performing Arts. There, after a friend was shot while playing with guns, he wrote his first rap, about gun control, and began performing it. He dropped out of high school (although he later earned a general equivalency diploma) and moved to northern California.
”His latest album was his best-selling album, and one expects that he would have built on it from there,” said Mr. Mayfield of Billboard.
Mr. Shakur had planned a tour this fall with other Death Row performers, including Snoop Doggy Dogg.
He is survived by his mother and a half-sister, Sekyiwah Shakur, who live in Decatur, Ga., and a half-brother, Maurice Harding.
Although he predicted his greatness in the afterlife (and murder) in numerous records, the culmination of his legacy can almost not be measured in words. Tupac remains one of the best-selling artists of all-time, possessing two Diamond-certified albums by the RIAA and having said to be nearing the 100 million mark in overall sales.
His influence also transcended human and pop culture alike, with his lyrics, persona, tattoos and ideology still being heavily cited after two full decades.
To this day, his murder remains unsolved.