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On This Day In Music… March 14, 1995: Tupac Shakur Becomes the First Man to Top the Album Charts While Imprisoned

'Me Against the World' would be described by the rapper as 'explaining my lifestyle, who I am, my upbringing and everything. It talks about the streets but talks about it in a different light.'

tupac shakur
Source: Chi Modu / UPI Photo Service/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Tupac's third LP eventually sold over 3 million copies.

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The short, explosive career of Tupac Shakur is heralded for many reasons – some more laudable than others – but among his lesser-known achievements is that on March 14, 1995, he became the first male solo artist to score a U.S. No. 1 album whilst incarcerated.

Tupac’s third LP, Me Against the World, shot straight to the top spot in its debut week, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies and setting a separate record for the highest first-week sales by a male solo rapper. It would go on to shift some three million copies, and be described by AllMusic as: “the best place to go to understand why 2Pac is so revered.”

Both the musical and lyrical qualities of Me Against the World, and the reasons why Tupac was behind bars when it topped the charts, can be seen as an illustration of the complexities and contradictions that came to define the rapper.

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tupac leaving court
Source: David Rentas / NY Post / MEGA

Tupac was in jail on sexual abuse charges when 'Me Against the World' was released.

On December 1, 1994, Tupac was convicted of two counts of first-degree sexual abuse for offensive touching without consent. The charges stemmed from a 1993 incident in a New York hotel room, in which a woman claimed the rapper and others had raped her. After failing to post the $3 million bond, he surrendered himself to New York authorities and on February 7, 1995 was sentenced to a maximum of four and a half years in prison, with the judge describing his actions as “an act of brutal violence against a helpless woman”.

Prison was not Tupac’s only concern, however. The day before his conviction, on November 30, 1994, he had been shot five times by three robbers at Quad Studios in New York. It was an incident that would go on to have far reaching consequences beyond his immediate recovery.

By the time of the shooting, imprisonment and Me Against the World release, Tupac had risen to become one of the most incendiary – and ferociously intelligent – figures in music. After moving from New York to the West Coast as a teenager, he released his debut album 2Pacalypse Now in 1991. The LP’s furious take on gang violence, police brutality and political disenfranchisement was an immediate sensation, hailed by rappers including Nas and Eminem as an inspiration and prompting Vice President Dan Quayle to declare: “There's no reason for a record like this to be published. It has no place in our society.”

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Source: sundance/WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Tupac's debut was a furious take on gang violence, police brutality and political disenfranchisement.

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The Vice President was not alone in his distaste for Tupac’s uncompromising approach to the issues he addressed in his music – but his views were also lazily myopic. Quoted in the book Tupac: Resurrection 1971-1996, the rapper said: “Me Against the World was really to show people that this is an art to me. That I do take it like that. And whatever mistakes I make, I make out of ignorance, not out of disrespect to music or the art. So Me Against the World was deep, reflective. It was like a blues record… It was all my fears, all the things I just couldn’t sleep about.

“It’s explaining my lifestyle, who I am, my upbringing and everything. It talks about the streets but talks about it in a different light.”

Source: Chi Modu / UPI Photo Service/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Tupac described the record as being about 'all my fears, all the things I just couldn’t sleep about.'

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Taken in retrospect, those “fears [and] things I just couldn’t sleep about” now seem eerily prophetic. The paranoia and sense of impending doom that was prompted by his shooting is present throughout, as well as what AllMusic described as “a certain hope”.

“Having stared death in the face and survived, he was a changed man on record, displaying a new confessional bent and a consistent emotional depth,” said their retrospective review. “By and large, this isn't the sort of material that made him a gangsta icon; this is 2Pac the soul-baring artist, the foundation of the immense respect he commanded in the hip-hop community. It's his most thematically consistent, least-self-contradicting work, full of genuine reflection about how he's gotten where he is – and dread of the consequences.

“Overall, Me Against the World paints a bleak, nihilistic picture, but there's such an honest, self-revealing quality to it that it can't help conveying a certain hope simply through its humanity. It's the best place to go to understand why 2Pac is so revered; it may not be his definitive album, but it just might be his best.”

On October 12 1995, Tupac was bonded out of prison in the process of appealing his conviction. The $1.4 million was put up by Suge Knight, CEO of Death Row Records.

tupac suge knight
Source: ZUMAPRESS.com / MEGA

Tupac with Suge Knight.

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Within a year Tupac would be dead.

Soon after his release, he publicly accused several people including the Notorious B.I.G. and Sean Combs of being complicit in his shooting at Quad Studios. It set in place a back and forth rivalry, at first in song – B.I.G. and Combs released “Who Shot Ya?”, Tupac responded with “Hit ‘Em Up” - and then, on September 7, 1996, escalated into real-world violence, when Tupac was murdered by a still-unidentified shooter. The killing of the Notorious B.I.G. would follow six months later.

That both men have since been immortalized, and not always for the right reasons, is now a part of rap mythology. But in an interview with the L.A. Times shortly after his 1995 release, Tupac explained how, with Me Against the World at least, he was trying to progress beyond the “Thug Life” stereotype.

“I am not a gangster and never have been,” he said. “I’m not the thief who grabs your purse. I’m not the guy who jacks your car. I’m not down with people who steal and hurt others. I’m just a brother who fights back. I’m not some violent closet psycho. I’ve got a job. I’m an artist.”


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