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Tupac Shakur

Icons of the Century

Born just after his Black Panther mother was released from prison and raised on a steady diet of radical politics and avant-garde thought, Tupac Shakur was a walking contradiction by the time he learned to walk. His mom provided solid political grounding, while a stint as a dancer for smut-hop kingpins Digital Underground let him get in touch with his inner pimp.

His raps usually stayed closer to the former blueprint, laced as they were with incendiary, often violent imagery that was mirrored by his lengthy arrest record. Shakur wasn’t hardened through and through — his poetic, sentimental, side emerged often in song — but he was drawn all too often to, as the tattoo on his torso blared, “Thug Life.” Still, his missives from the street remain as riveting as the best dispatches from the front lines.

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