Ballet and Black Panthers: 15 Surprising Facts About Tupac
In the ‘90s, Tupac was the biggest bad in the game, pulling hip-hop by its breakdancing roots down into the underworld of gangs and drugs, but that was largely part of a calculated public image. He called himself Makavelli, after all. In reality, the king of West Coast hip-hop had more faces than a medieval politician. For one thing…
He Was an East Coast Guy
Tupac was born in Brooklyn in 1971, moved to Baltimore in 1986, and didn’t set foot in California until 1988. His first stage name was even MC New York.
He Was Named Twice
Tupac Shakur is actually his real name, but it wasn’t always. At birth, he was named Lesane Parish Crooks. It’s unclear why, because neither his mother, her husband, nor his biological father (yep, they were different people) were named Crooks, but it may have been to make him harder for his parents’ political enemies to track down, which was a whole thing. Afeni Shakur soon changed her mind and named her son Tupac Amaru Shakur after the Peruvian revolutionary Tupac Amaru II.
His Parents Were Infamous Black Panthers
Afeni Shakur, then named Alice Williams, joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 after hearing Bobby Seales speak. It was a real whirlwind year -- she soon married fellow Panther Lumumba Shakur and found herself in jail for conspiracy to bomb several police stations. While out on bail, she got pregnant, and she defended herself to an acquittal just a month before she gave birth to Tupac.
His Godmother is a Most Wanted Fugitive
Afeni’s sister-in-law, Assata Shakur, was convicted of murdering a cop in 1977, escaped prison with the help of the Black Panthers, and fled to Cuba. She’s been living there ever since as a political refugee, with a $2 million bounty on her head and on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.
He Loved Shakespeare
At the Baltimore School of Performing Arts, Tupac fell in love with Shakespeare and performed in several Shakespeare plays, later citing the Bard as a major influence on his music and describing his plays as “some serious gangster shit.” He also praised “stuff like Les Miserables,” so let’s hope there’s a home movie out there in someone’s basement of Tupac ripping some Jean Valjean.
He Did Ballet
He also studied ballet at the school and even got good enough to star as the Mouse King in the school’s production of The Nutcracker. That footage is definitely out there, so be the change you want to see in the world, whoever has that.
He Danced For Digital Underground
Tupac got his big break as a roadie and backup dancer for Digital Underground. Yes, the “Humpty Dance” guys. He danced in goofy neon tracksuits and humped blowup dolls on stage until he was finally allowed to record an equally goofy song with the group.
He Was Engaged to Rashida Jones’s Sister
In 1993, Tupac criticized producer Quincy Jones for marrying a white woman, prompting Jones’s daughter, Rashida (who you might know now as a super-famous actress), to write him an open ass-handing. He eventually apologized to the family and was even engaged to Rashida’s sister at the time of his death.
He Auditioned for Mace Windu
According to a Death Row Records executive, Tupac once announced to him that he’d auditioned for the next Star Wars movie and “they wanted him to be a Jedi.” That was in 1996, notably the year he died, so we never had a chance for a Mace Wintupac, and while nobody’s complaining about Samuel L. Jackson’s performance, how much would that have ruled?
And Forrest Gump
In 2004, Tupac’s ex-wife, Keisha Morris, revealed that they went to see Forrest Gump on their first date “because he read for the part of Bubba." That’s a baller move only Tupac could pull off: coming out swinging with your failures.
He Was Jada Pinkett Smith’s Best Friend
After they met in high school, the future Mrs. Willie Style developed a deep bond with Tupac, who she described as “like a brother,” even inspiring several of the poems in The Rose That Grew From Concrete. That sounds a little sus, as people don’t typically write poetry for people they feel non-sexy about, but though they kissed exactly once, Pinkett Smith says it was “the most disgusting kiss for us both.”
Jim Carrey Was His Prison Pen Pal
According to Tupac’s former bodyguard, he was a Jim Carrey superfan, performing “dead on” imitations of “that mothafucka all the time.” When Carrey heard about this during Tupac’s 1995 prison stint, he started writing him letters to keep his spirits up.
He Loved New Wave
As a teenager in the ‘80s, Tupac “listened to a wide range of music” and especially liked “English and Irish pop,” including Kate Bush, Culture Club, Sinead O’Connor, and U2. It’s nice to know that, at some point in his life, his taste was just as bad as everyone else’s.
He Predicted His Own Death
In a guest spot on Richie Rich song “N----s Done Changed,” Tupac raps, “I been shot and murder, can tell you how it happened, word for word.” It’s especially eerie given the past tense and the fact that the song was released two months after his death, but he failed to tell us, in fact, how it happened, word for word, so he’s one for one.
He’s Released More Music After His Death Than He Did Alive
Tupac left behind enough material for seven full albums, plus a few live albums and various complications, which is almost twice as many as he released during the part of his career he was there for, adding reasonable fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories that he only faked his death. He’s even had more hits than he did alive and become the Guinness World Record holder for best-selling rap artist, so if he did, it certainly wasn’t a bad plan.
Top image: John Seb Barber/Flickr