Tupac Shakur, also known as 2Pac, needs no introduction, as he is one of the most influential rappers in the history of hip hop and Black-American music. But as he recognized for himself, his mother Afeni Shakur was a huge inspiration for the person he was and what he chose to do with his powerfully insightful and relevant music and lyricism.
Afeni was a member of the Panther 21 in New York City; a Black Panther group that consisted of 21 members and, according to Rolling Stone, “specialized in raising bail money for jailed Panthers”. In 1969, she and the other members of the Panther 21 were jailed for a conspiracy of attempting to bomb NYC police stations.
After an eight-month trial, where Afeni defended herself, they were all released and found innocent in the conspiracy. Tupac was born on June 16th, 1971, a month after Afeni was released from prison.
If you’re a fan of Tupac – or 90s hip hop culture in general – you know that he was the face of the West Coast rap game. However, some may be surprised to learn he was actually born in East Harlem, NY. Their family wouldn’t relocate to California until Tupac was in his teenage years, after Afeni fell into various bad relationships and struggled with substance abuse, per ATI Magazine.
But because of these struggles, Tupac felt like he needed to distance himself from his mother once they moved to California so that he could try and focus on his own life and aspirations, and so he moved out as a teenager.
He started his music career as a dancer, roadie, and vocalist member for the hip hop group Digital Underground. Soon after, he began releasing his own music and reconciled with his mother.
From Afeni’s influence and social and civil rights presence, Tupac decided to make his music as a purposeful message for racial injustices and other country-wide and global issues like poverty and homelessness and hunger.
At age 17, he spoke in an interview about his mother’s influence, per GMA.
“My mother taught me to analyze society and not be quiet if there’s something on my mind speak it,” he explained at the time, “because my mother was a Black Panther, and she was really involved in the movement.”
Afeni had previously expressed how she considered her son to be an unofficial member of the Black Panther Party.
“Tupac was and remains in my mind a child of the [Black Panther Party],” she said in an interview, per BET. “I think that I always felt that even though this society that they had destroyed the work of the BPP. I always felt that Tupac was living witness to who we are and who we were.”
As most musicians do for their heroes and inspirations, he dedicated a song to his strong mother in 1995, the triple Platinum and UK Silver certified track “Dear Mama”, whose title has now been adapted for a new five-part docuseries airing on FX and Hulu this Friday that details Tupac and Afeni’s relationship.
“I wrote [the song] for my mama because I love her and I felt I owed her something deep,” he said in a 1995 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
As many know, Tupac was killed in 1996 by a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. A year after his death, Afeni started the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which helped make arts programs more easily accessible to students who wanted to pursue an education and eventual career in arts and entertainment.
Sadly, Afeni’s life ended too early, too. In 2016, Afeni passed away from an apparent cardiac arrest. She had always thought so highly of her son and his work and was an extremely proud mother to the late hip hop legend.
Although she inevitably mourned his death, saying in an interview, “In the 25 years that God gave him on this Earth, he shone like a star, and he did all that he was supposed to do, he said all that he needed to say,” she also emphasized that the people of the world need not weep over his death, but act on his beliefs in place of his absence.
“You need not weep for Tupac, but weep for yourself, because we are left here with these contradictions that we still must face,” she said. And as a strong political activist herself, I’m sure she’d want us to carry on similarly when dealing with her own death.
Dear Mama premieres April 21 on FX and Hulu, and will dive into what the mother and son meant to each other and their joint influences on their community and the world.