Arts & Entertainment

TUPAC AMARU SHAKUR: JUNE 16, 1971-SEPT. 13, 1996

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Sept. 13, 1996. It didn’t truly hit home until the following day. Having traveled to Philadelphia on Sept. 13 with my mother, grandmother and brother, we heard the news together on the radio — Tupac Shakur dead of gunshot wounds. I was 10. That Saturday, Sept. 14, my grandma’s cousin’s man, Arcenio, walked me to a Germantown spot to grab a cheesesteak. The blocks were lined with men and women. Some were drinking, and “pouring out a little liquor,” as ‘Pac had advised on 1994’s Thug Life Vol. 1. To my eyes, some did weird things with their fingers — rolling blunts. A lot of people openly wept as Shakur’s music blasted from car stereos and apartment windows.

I recall in particular the song “Ambitionz Az A Ridah” from his Death Row Records debut 1996’s All Eyez On Me, released just seven months before he died. I’m ready to die right here tonight / And m—–f— they life / That’s what they screamin’ as they drill me / But I’m hard to kill … That was Death Row. That was Suge Knight’s influence. That was slow-cooked paranoia, simmering for months in a maximum-security prison for a crime he swore he did not commit. That was the rage of having been shot five times entering a New York City elevator. And feeling the hit was an elaborate setup. That was Tupac.

What had been billed as the East Coast vs. West Coast war had been on my mind. We argued on the playground about what side we pledged allegiance to. Some chose Biggie and Bad Boy. Others, like myself, chose ‘Pac and Death Row — if for no other reason than that making the “W” with your fingers looked cool. It might as well have been another WWF (World Wrestling Federation) or WCW (World Championship Wrestling) storyline — not one that came with actual consequences. Arcenio didn’t say much on the walk for our food. He was a man of few words, anyway. He was from Cuba, and didn’t know much about Tupac. “He must have been someone special,” Arcenio said, “for all this.”

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