It is clear now, more than a decade after his murder, that Tupac Shakur was more than a rapper.
His short but prolific career touched on everything from music to literature.
In death — Shakur was shot down in 1996 — his estate has released a half-dozen albums of previously unpublished music, and several books have been written about him.
Nikki Giovanni dedicated a book of poetry, “Love Poems,” to Shakur and carries a lasting memory of him — a tattoo reading “Thug Life” on her wrist.
“He was one of the most influential and compelling artists of my generation,” said Georgia Roberts, a doctoral student at the University of Washington who teaches a course called “The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur.” “Growing up in the Bay Area to a single mother, I read books because of Tupac,” she said.
Now, Shakur’s writings are being collected and archived at the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center.
Last week, the library and the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, run by his mother, Afeni Shakur-Davis, announced a partnership to make his writings available for scholarly research.
“The collection will certainly enhance hip-hop studies, research and scholarship,” said Loretta Parham, CEO and director of the Woodruff Library. “But what is especially exciting is the prospect of marrying the primary resources within the Shakur Collection with teaching and learning currently taking place at our AUC institutions. Shakur’s writings, notes and correspondence will be outstanding companion resources for existing courses in a variety of areas.”
Scholars studying Shakur will sit next to researchers focusing on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, C. Eric Lincoln and Walter Rodney, whose papers are housed at Woodruff.
Shakur, who died at the age of 25, holds a unique place in history.
He was at the center of the East Coast-West Coast rapper war and did prison time. When he was killed in Las Vegas in a hail of bullets, it wasn’t the first time he had been shot.
But he was capable of producing tender lyrics and poems about despair, family and pain. He was the rare rapper who could be on the cover of Rolling Stone with his bullet wounds showing and still open a movie.
“His life experiences and his creativity still resonate with people today,” said Karen Jefferson, the records manager at Woodruff. “Part of his controversy is about who he saw himself as. On the one hand, he had strong family values and a commitment to the black community. On the other hand, he was into the gangsta rap scene. I think he recognized that he had strong values that we would appreciate.”
It was Jefferson who initially approached Shakur-Davis about housing Shakur’s writings. At the time, the foundation was meeting with scholars — including Roberts — about creating an academic curriculum focusing on Shakur’s works and influences.
“The impact that he had and still has is incredible,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson said Shakur’s writings — dating from 1989 until 1996 — are in 11 boxes.
“In addition to providing historical material, his writings document a social period,” Jefferson said. “... This material has that kind of historical research value. And it is more than just the music.”
If any similarity exists between the writings of King and Shakur, it might be in the intellectual evolution. Although he was of a different era, Shakur wrote everything in longhand. He never used a computer.
“With Tupac’s writings, you can see where he might have scratched something out as he was developing it,” said Tre’ Maxie, a Shakur Foundation board member. “When people use computers, you only see the finished product.”
The collection will include music video treatments, movie scripts, personal notes, letters, musical concepts and lyrics.
Specifically, those writings include:
● Handwritten playlists for “All Eyez on Me” and “The Don Killuminati : The 7 Day Theory,” his last two albums before he died.
● Handwritten versions of poems included in his anthology “The Rose That Grew From Concrete.”
● A copy of a handwritten management contract with Shug Knight.
● A hospital’s handwritten listing of Shakur’s personal items returned to his family upon his death.
● Letters to his family from jail.
“It is enough for you to get a good concept of who he was,” Maxie said. “I was a Tupac fan, so I am not surprised about what is in the papers. But I was inspired by the level of diversity of his knowledge. I was enlightened and inspired.”