From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
LONG BEFORE VIOLENCE CAUGHT UP with him on the streets of Las Vegas, Tupac Amaru Shakur, who grew up in poverty and rapped his way to riches, seemed haunted by the destiny he suspected awaited him. The gangsta rap star, whose 2-million-selling 1995 album Me Against the World included the titles "Death Around the Corner" and "If I Die 2Nite," "knew intuitively he wasn't going to live a long time," says the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a Brooklyn Pentecostal minister who had known Shakur since his boyhood in New York City. "In his rap message there was always a death motif. He lived with death."

Ultimately, death stalked Shakur for six days as he lay in a coma after suffering massive chest wounds in a brazen Sept. 7 shooting near the Vegas strip. On the afternoon of Friday the 13th, Shakur, 25, finally succumbed, and after an autopsy was performed that night, his body was released to his mother, former Black Panther Party member Afeni Shakur, who had kept a vigil at his bedside since he was shot. Her son was cremated the next day, and after a small service in Las Vegas, she returned to her home in Atlanta with his ashes. While supporters made plans for memorial gatherings in New York City, Atlanta and Los Angeles, "the family wanted to avoid a lot of fanfare," says Daughtry. Shakur's mother, he says, is bearing up. "She has known bitter waters," he explains. "She has seen tragedy and heartbreak."

Police, meanwhile, were making little headway in their investigation of the shooting, in which Marion "Suge" Knight, 31, Shakur's producer and head of Death Row Records, was grazed by a bullet fragment. Released from the hospital the following morning, Knight, a Compton, Calif., native with reputed ties to the Los Angeles street gang the Bloods, waited four days before agreeing to a one-hour interview with Las Vegas police. Afterward they reported that he had said little, only that he and Shakur, the sole passenger in Knight's BMW, were at a stoplight when a white Cadillac pulled alongside and two men got out and opened fire. Thirteen bullets struck the BMW, four hitting Shakur as he attempted to lunge into the rear seat. While Las Vegas investigators were stymied by the lack of leads and only sketchy details from Shakur's friends, police in Los Angeles began investigating the Sept. 13 murders of two Compton men as a possible payback for the shooting. But L.A. antiviolence activist Khalid Shah, for one, hopes Shakur's death does not prompt a cycle of revenge killings. "Maybe his death will be a way of saying it's time for the madness to stop," he says.

The violent realities of ghetto life that he began to rap about as a teenage high school dropout in Oakland, Calif., were well-known to Shakur. He once described the father he never knew as "a gangsta" who died freebasing cocaine, and he and his mother had sometimes been homeless. Despite his carefully honed gangsta image—before starting an 11-month prison sentence in 1994 for sexually abusing a New York City fan, he had the title of his 1994 Thug Life album tattooed on his stomach—he talked about launching charitable projects for inner-city kids in Oakland and in Atlanta, where he bought a home for his mother last year. But Shakur never rose to the opportunities his wealth and talents might have allowed. "Once he was out, he had to go back to the life," says Daughtry, who counseled him in prison last year. "He couldn't break the cycle."

PATRICK ROGERS
LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles and MARIA EFTIMIADES in New York City

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet,
  • Maria Eftimiades.