Underneath his gangster persona, abrasive demeanour and coarse attitude, legendary West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur was quite a complicated character. Irrespective of what some may think, the icon was pretty cultured. As a former Baltimore School for the Arts student, many know he deeply appreciated all kinds of artistic expression. Beyond hip-hop, Pac loved jazz, poetry, ballet, and acting. Over the years, it has been well documented that Shakur found poetry cathartic, and this form of literature served as his segue into rap.
Musically, 2pac explored all kinds of different realms. From Jazz-inspired conscious music to hardcore gangsta rap, the California rapper tried his hand at everything. Many would assume that Shakur was just an avid gangsta rap fan before he broke into the mainstream. However, this could not be further from the truth. Despite his thuggish exterior, 2pac was not ignorant and learnt a lot about other genres of music through his mother and his time at art school.
As listeners and fans, we make many assumptions regarding our idols without acknowledging that we don’t know much about them beyond our surface-level perception. This is especially true for rappers and other hip-hop figures. Memphis producer Jazze Pha has had several rap and R’n’B hits. However, in an interview, he once revealed that he doesn’t really consume hip-hop but has a deep love for country and western music. Furthermore, Harlem female rapper Azealia Banks once unveiled she grew up listening to avant-garde jazz music and, in her youth, was a massive fan of indie rock, hence why she made songs like ‘The Chill$’ (a rap rendition of Peter, Bjorn and John) before she found fame. Even 2pac’s compadre and partner in crime Snoop Dogg has incorporated the soundtrack of his childhood into his music. The Long Beach act (real name Calvin Broadus) released over nine volumes of his mixtape Welcome To Tha Chuuuch, showcasing his love for gospel music.
That being said, Shakur himself had a rather eclectic taste in music. One of 2pac’s favourite musicians of all time was none other than the iconic singer Prince. In 2016, a letter Shakur penned for his high school crush featured this previously unknown fact that came as a revelation to many. Written in 1988 to a female nicknamed ‘Beethoven’, the letter read, “We both love Prince, we have both had heartbreak, and we both adore candles.” 2pac was only 17-years-old when he wrote the letter.
While there is no tangible evidence, multiple 2pac biographies and close sources have confirmed that Shakur was a fan of British and Irish rock acts, including the likes of U2, Culture Club and Sinéad O’Connor. This may come as a shock to many. However, rock and hip-hop are highly compatible, both possessing an abrasive aura of rebellion. Whether it’s punk or heavy metal, the genre has many highly anti-establishment and non-conformist subgenres. Run-DMC and Rick Rubin played on this over a decade before Shakur was anybody.
Various hip-hop music publications, including the likes of AllHipHop.com and HipHopDX have insinuated that Shakur was even considering working with some members of the Wu-Tang Clan before he was murdered. Irrespective of the East Coast versus West Coast feud whatever such a collaboration would have gone down in history due to the sheer power Shakur and the Clan had in the mid-’90s. Kidada Jones who was engaged to Shakur the year he was shot, has stated that the rapper “had wonderful musical taste, and he listened to everybody.” Below you can watch a video in which Smooth B who knew 2pac elaborates on his love for Prince.