Shakur has sold over 75 million albums worldwide as of 2010, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. Rolling Stone named him the 86th Greatest Artist of All Time.
Shakur began his career as a roadie, backup dancer, and MC for the alternative hip hop group Digital Underground, eventually branching off as a solo artist. The themes of most of Shakur's songs revolved around the violence and hardship in inner cities, racism and other social problems. Both of his parents and several other of his family were members of the Black Panther Party, whose ideals were reflected in his songs.
During the latter part of his career, Shakur was a vocal participant in the so-called East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry, becoming involved in conflicts with other rappers, producers and record-label staff members, most notably The Notorious B.I.G. and his label Bad Boy Records.
On September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was taken to the Southern Nevada University Medical Center, where he died six days later.
Although unconfirmed by the Shakur family, several sources (including the official coroner's report) list his birth name as Lesane Parish Crooks. This name was supposedly entered on the birth certificate because Afeni feared her enemies would attack her son, and disguised his true identity using a different last name. She changed it later, following her separation from Garland and marriage to Mutulu Shakur.
Shakur lived from an early age with people who were struggling and who were imprisoned. His godfather, Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a high ranking Black Panther, was convicted of murdering a school teacher during a 1968 robbery, although his sentence was later overturned. His stepfather, Mutulu, spent four years at large on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list beginning in 1982. Mutulu was wanted for having helped his sister Assata Shakur (also known as Joanne Chesimard) to escape from a penitentiary in New Jersey. She had been imprisoned for killing a state trooper in 1973. Mutulu was caught in 1986 and imprisoned for the robbery of a Brinks armored truck in which two police officers and a guard were killed. Shakur had a half-sister, Sekyiwa, two years his junior, and an older stepbrother, Mopreme "Komani" Shakur, who appeared in many of his recordings.
At the age of twelve, Shakur enrolled in Harlem's 127th Street Repertory Ensemble and was cast as the Travis Younger character in the play A Raisin in the Sun, which was performed at the Apollo Theater. In 1986, the family relocated to Baltimore, Maryland. After completing his second year at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, he transferred to the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet. He performed in Shakespeare plays, and in the role of the Mouse King in the ballet The Nutcracker. Shakur, accompanied by one of his friends, Dana "Mouse" Smith, as his beatbox, won many rap competitions and was considered to be the best rapper in his school. He was remembered as one of the most popular kids in his school because of his sense of humor, superior rapping skills, and ability to mix with all crowds.He developed a close friendship with a young Jada Pinkett (later Jada Pinkett Smith) that lasted until his death.
In the documentary Tupac: Resurrection, Shakur says, "Jada is my heart. She will be my friend for my whole life." Pinkett Smith calls him "one of my best friends. He was like a brother. It was beyond friendship for us. The type of relationship we had, you only get that once in a lifetime." A poem written by Shakur titled "Jada" appears in his book, The Rose That Grew From Concrete, which also includes a poem dedicated to Pinkett Smith called "The Tears in Cupid's Eyes". During his time in art school, Shakur became affiliated with the Baltimore Young Communist League USA, and began dating the daughter of the director of the local Communist Party USA.
In June 1988, Shakur and his family moved to Marin City, California, a residential community located 5 miles (8.0 km) north of San Francisco, where he attended Tamalpais High School in nearby Mill Valley. He began attending the poetry classes of Leila Steinberg in 1989. That same year, Steinberg organized a concert with a former group of Shakur's, "Strictly Dope"; the concert led to him being signed with Atron Gregory. He set him up as a roadie and backup dancer with the young rap group Digital Underground in 1990.