Remembering Hip-Hop Icon Tupac Shakur, 21 Years Later

On the 21st anniversary of Tupac Shakur's shocking death on September 13th, the still unsolved murder of the 25-year-old rapper continues to resonate.
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Tupac Shakur in 1994

Tupac Shakur at Club USA in New York City in 1994.

Hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur often rapped about themes of death in songs such as “How Long Will They Mourn Me?”, “God Bless the Dead” and “To Live and Die in L.A.” In an eerie example of life imitating art, the music video Shakur did for "I Ain't Mad at Cha," which was completed just weeks before his death, shows him being gunned down and rapping from heaven. 

The Tragedy in Las Vegas

After attending a Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996, Tupac and Suge Knight, the founder of Death Row Records, started driving to a party at Club 662 around 11:15 p.m. While they were stopped at a red light, someone in a white Cadillac pulled up next to their black BMW and fired 14 shots at them. Four bullets hit Shakur, who was in the passenger’s seat. One bullet punctured his right lung; he lost consciousness at the scene and never woke again. 

Six days later, on Friday, September 13, 1996, his mother, Afeni Shakur, made the painful decision to take him off the life support system in the intensive care unit of the University Medical Center in Las Vegas. He was only 25 years old.

His murder has yet to be solved. A recent statement from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reads, "The case is still open and under investigation. At this time, we have no additional updates to provide."

Lack of official facts has only fueled the numerous rumors and rampant speculation surrounding Shakur and deepened his mystique. As popular and controversial a figure he was in life, he has become even more so after his death. In fact, at this point, Shakur has sold more music posthumously than he did when he was alive.

The Lyrical Legacy

An extremely charismatic and precociously talented actor and musician, Shakur was a sensitive but troubled soul who rose to fame by articulating the struggles and injustices endured by many African-Americans—even focusing on women’s experiences in songs such as “Keep Ya Head Up,” "Dear Mama" and “Brenda's Got a Baby.”

His lyrical skill seemed to set him up to be a spokesperson for African-Americans and their struggle for equality. In death he has became an icon symbolizing noble struggle, even though in life his biggest battles were often with himself. His many brushes with the law gave his sometimes harsh lyrics a raw authenticity, but he didn’t quite embody the 1990s gangsta-rap aesthetic until Knight bailed him out of prison in October 1995 and he joined Death Row Records.

Still, in an interview with Chuck Powell of the Los Angeles Times in October 1995, Shakur refuted the notion that he was a gangster. 

“Let me say for the record, I am not a gangster and never have been. I'm not down with people who steal and hurt others. I'm just a brother who fights back.”

When asked why gangbanging and violence were so often the focus of his music, he responded: “Everything in life is not all beautiful, not all fun. There is lots of killing and drugs. To me, a perfect album talks about the hard stuff and the fun and caring stuff.”

The Rumor Mill

Consensus holds that the most likely scenario for Shakur’s murder involves an altercation with the Crips, specifically Orlando Anderson, who Shakur had punched at the MGM Grand earlier that night. Anderson was killed in 1998 during a gunfight in Compton, California.

Tupac Shakur Dead Daily News Headline

A Daily News front page headline announcing Tupac's death.

Another rumor with a lot traction focuses on Shakur’s involvement in the infamous East Coast vs. West Coast feud with the Notorious B.I.G., aka Christopher Wallace. The two former friends had become bitter rivals along with their respective record labels: Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records (run by Sean "Puffy" Combs). Biggie’s murder by a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles less than a year after Shakur’s has only stoked the suspicions. 

Still more rumors swirl around Knight. One is that he was the assailant’s real target. Another alleges that Knight was not the intended target but rather the mastermind behind the shooting because Tupac reportedly wanted out of his Death Row Records contract. 

The Never-Ending Search for Answers

Fans, friends and family members of the late artist are hoping that A&E's upcoming release of Who Killed Tupac?, will jump-start the stagnant investigation. The six-hour, limited series will focus on the investigation into his death and attempt to provide some real answers about what actually happened that fateful night. 

READ ARTICLE: "A Letter to Tupac by Kevin Powell"