2pac has always been a very vocal rapper and was not one to hold his tongue. Born in New York, the emcee (real name Tupac Amaru Shakur) moved around the US a fair bit during childhood and even made a pitstop in Baltimore. However, upon his arrival in California, he first landed in Oakland. Located in the north of the state, this is where he first entered the music industry as part of the collective Digital Underground.
Shakur arrived in the region in 1988, and in a 1995 interview with MTV News, he detailed how he didn’t even live with his mother, revealing: “When I came to California, I was broke, I had nowhere to stay…I was staying with a friend of a friend of a friend of my mother”.
The ‘Dear Mama’ rapper soon began to take music more seriously and released his material independently. As a unique, politically aware artist in the birthplace of the Black Panther Party, Shakur eventually garnered the attention of Atron Gregory, the manager of Digital Underground.
In 1991, under the moniker 2pac, Shakur became a roadie and hypeman for the collective. During this period, he was working on his debut album, 2pacalypse Now, which he released later that year. However, only a year prior, MC Hammer had released his album, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, with its lead single ‘U Can’t Touch This’.
The smash hit was nominated for three Grammy Awards and was the first rap song to be nominated for ‘Record Of The Year.’ However, it was a highly controversial body of work as it was seen as a parody-rap album and a mockery of hip-hop.
In an appearance on Kron TV in 1991, when asked what his favourite rap song was, 2pac facetiously responded, ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ causing the audience to laugh. The show’s host, Dominique DiPrima, questioned Shakur and asked why cultural figures look down on MC Hammer and deride him even though he had a diamond-certified hip-hop album.
However, Shakur was blunt in his response and even labelled him a Sambo, a slur for Black individuals who pander to caucasians, declaring: “I’m not getting on Hammer. He did sell 10 million records, but crack fiends bought 10 million rocks; that don’t mean it’s good. It don’t mean nothing. I’m down with him because he’s a brother and he’s making his mail, but he’s diluting rap”.
He added: “He’s making something — he’s playing that Sambo role, and the reason everybody’s buying his record is because he’s no threat, and everybody wants to see Sambo dance.”