He has released more albums and appeared in more films in death than life. In 2012, his image was resurrected as a hologram for a performance at the Coachella Music Festival. And there have been countless “sightings” of the rapper, adding to the mythology that continues to swirl around his too-brief existence. The Guardian called him the “hip hop James Dean.” Tupac Shakur left behind a lyrical legacy that revealed an insight and inner turmoil. Caught between his role as a streetwise prophet and occasionally idealistic poet, the artist is best remembered through his words.
“I am not a gangster and never have been. I’m not the thief who grabs your purse. I’m not the guy who jacks your car. I’m not down with people who steal and hurt others. I’m just a brother who fights back. I’m not some violent closet psycho. I’ve got a job. I’m an artist.”
“If I was white, I would be like John Wayne. I feel like a tragic hero in a Shakespeare play. Somebody who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, from poverty.”
“I think that we deserve a lot of respect, because you know in the ’60s, they changed a lot. And those teenagers were given respect, because they changed a lot, and they did a lot. We’re givin’ no respect and we have to do a lot, I mean the world—no secret but the world is in bad shape. So we have to do a lot of good things. So I think we deserve a little bit more respect.” —Tupac, 17 years old
“Being in Marin City was like a small town so it taught me to be more [straightforward] with my style. Instead of of being so metaphorical with the rhyme, I was encouraged to go straight at it and hit it dead on and not waste time trying to cover things…In Marin City it seemed like things were real country. Everything was straightforward. Poverty was straightforward.”
“When you’re born, usually, you’re born into a dynasty or an empire. You’re born as a junior, or following in your father’s footsteps. They always tell you, ‘Your father, he did this,’ or ‘We got this,’ or ‘The family heirlooms.’ It’s none of that in the outer city—I call it the outer city, ‘cause we’re left out. There’s no nothing. We don’t get any family heirlooms, the family crest. All that stuff that you would think is so important is meaningless ‘cause our family crest was cotton. It’s like the only thing we can really leave behind is culture and dignity and determination. That’s what we had. I feel as though I’m cheated because instead of me fulfilling my prophecy, I have to start one. Instead of me doing a good job and carrying on the empire, I have to build one. And that’s a hell of a job for a 21-year-old. That’s a hell of a job for any youngster, male or female, to have to build an empire for your family. Especially when the odds is that you know there’s somebody else who lives in the inner city, the real inner city—suburbia—who, when he’s 16 he gets a car automatically. There’s money in the bank for college. It’s Christmas, you go vacation somewhere. Our vacation was down the street, across town—Grandma’s house. That was the vacation. Or jail, to be more real. I hate to make this a sad story, but it’s real.”