Growing Tupac's Legacy, 10 Years After His Death Ten years ago Wednesday, the rap-music world lost one of its most revered and controversial icons — Tupac Shakur. The musician's mother, a former Black Panther activist, has launched a number of charities in her son's name.
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Growing Tupac's Legacy, 10 Years After His Death

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Growing Tupac's Legacy, 10 Years After His Death

Growing Tupac's Legacy, 10 Years After His Death

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Ten years ago today, the music world lost one of its most revered and controversial rap icons, Tupac Shakur.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TUPAC SHAKUR (Rapper): (Rapping) So will the real men get up. I know you're fed up ladies, but keep your head up.

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Keep ya head up, oooo child things are gonna get easier. Keep ya head up…

CHIDEYA: Tupac Shakur, who has sold more than 73 million albums worldwide, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The incident happened in Las Vegas as he sat in the car of music mogul Suge Knight. Tupac was placed on life support but he died six days later on Sept. 13, 1996. His murder remains unsolved.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHAKUR: (Rapping) I hear Brenda's got a baby, but Brenda's barely got a brain. A damn shame. The girl can hardly spell her name. That's not our problem, that's up to Brenda's family. Well let me show ya how it affects the whole community. Now Brenda never…

CHIDEYA: For many, Tupac was a lyrical genius and a promising actor. But others saw the late rapper as complex and troubled, a young man who fell victim to a self-professed gangster image. Tupac's tough persona was drawn in stark contrast to some of his most uplifting songs about pride and responsibility.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SHAKUR: (Singing) Now Brenda's gotta make her own way. Can't go to her family, they won't let her stay. No money. No babysitter.

CHIDEYA: Since Tupac's death, his mother Afeni Shakur, a former Black Panther activist, has taken control of the release of his work. She's also launched a number of charities in her son's honor, including the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation based in Georgia.

We'll hear from Ms. Shakur in a moment. But first, reporter Josh Levs paid a visit to the foundation and spoke to the group's young organizers about what Tupac means to them.

JOSH LEVS: Memorial Drive in Stone Mountain, Georgia, just east of Atlanta, is a largely industrial road filled with strip malls, offices and restaurants. If you didn't know to look for it, you'd easily miss the entrance to a six-acre park here. But step through a small break in a large fence and you're surrounded by green.

Mr. VERN CHAMBERLAIN(ph) (Office Manager, Tupac Amaru Shakur Center): The theme of this garden is tranquility.

LEVS: Vern Chamberlain is office manager for the Tupac Shakur Center, which operates the park.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: It's not a park where people come and play football. It's a passive park. It's a park where people come, they sit, they reflect. And it's really a place of peace.

LEVS: It contains areas for meditation, a so-called peace maze made of small plants that you walk around, and pavilions for visitors to do artwork or yoga. Chamberlain says the park symbolizes Tupac's passive artistic side, but also acknowledges the violence in his life.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Some people call that the hard side of Tupac. And so when you look around, you see lots of stone, you see lots of hard surfaces; but then you also see the beauty of the flowers, the beauty of different plants, the grass, grassy knolls, so you see a lot of that. And Tupac was a complex person; he had many different sides as well.

LEVS: In the center of this park there's a seven-foot tall bronze statue of the late rapper. Instead of showing his more typical image with baggy jeans and no shirt, he wears a three-piece suit with a large cross hanging from his neck, and he's holding a copy of his poetry book, The Rose that Grew from Concrete.

Again, 25-year-old Vern Chamberlain.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: This is for my generation. If somebody would ask me, who would I want to see a statue of that was no longer living? I would say Tupac, because I wasn't here for Martin Luther King, I wasn't here for Malcolm X.

LEVS: He says Tupac may not be thought as a civil rights leader, but he spoke truth to power and symbolized a generation of people who fought to make life better.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: As long as they're inspiring someone to keep on pushing forward, to stay alive as long as they're inspiring someone to keep their head up. As long as they're giving somebody the courage to fight for justice then - put him on a statue.

LEVS: This kind of reverence for Tupac is the norm here at the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts, which opened last year. The multimillion-dollar creation was directed by Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur. Tupac had bought her a home in the area.

The center's main building is filled with artwork memorializing him. One piece shows Tupac at the Last Supper alongside Marvin Gaye, Aaliyah and other diseased hip-hop and R&B stars. There are also huge photos and drawings lining the walls of the large room.

Ms. CELINA NIXON (Artistic Director, Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts): We have more of course, but this is just what's on display now.

LEVS: Celina Nixon is the artistic director. Amid the artworks celebrating Tupac, there's also the blown-up cover of Vibe magazine from March 1995 containing his jailhouse interview. Nixon says the violence in Tupac's life is not presented as something to admire.

Ms. NIXON: But it is something that we have to acknowledge and learn from - from him, because he's not going to be last person who dies from an act of violence.

LEVS: Nixon is 23 and has an eight-year-old daughter. She says Tupac's words helped her through her teen years because he rapped about making it through life's biggest challenges. She says you could tell he meant what he said.

Ms. NIXON: I like him so much because he was so passionate about what he was saying, and it was real. That's what I'm trying to keep within myself to pass on.

LEVS: She passes it on by directing programs for children. A foundation in his name has run a children's arts program for eight years, and this center now serves as a rehearsal space. The kids put on performances that include Tupac's music and make DVDs of their shows.

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) What did we all adore? Something worth dying for. Nothing but pain, nothing to gain. Looking for more than the game…

LEVS: The center will begin its next children's program in October. Nixon says each year she's struck by how many kids, as young as 12 years old, relate to Tupac's music.

Ms. NIXON: And they know everything about 'Pac just as when we did growing up on his music, and it's just amazing to see how his legacy just continues to follow to generation to generation.

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) What did we all adore? Something worth dying for…

LEVS: At the base of the bronze statue of Tupac, there's one of his famous sayings. In it he says he may not change the world but “I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

LEVS: For NPR News, I'm Josh Levs.

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) …looking for more than your game. What did we all adore? Something worth dying for. Nothing but pain, nothing to gain.

(Soundbite of applause)

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