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'Tupac Shakur Way' Unveiled in Oakland as Rap Icon Gets His Own Street

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The sign for 'Tupac Shakur Way' is unveiled during a renaming ceremony in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The City of Oakland has officially honored Tupac Shakur, one of the most paramount figures in hip-hop history, with his own street.

In a star-studded ceremony on Friday, Nov. 3, “Tupac Shakur Way” was unveiled near Lake Merritt along a portion of MacArthur Boulevard, where the superstar lived in the early 1990s, in front of enthusiastic family members, former collaborators and fans.

Attendees of the event included Bay Area icons like E-40, MC Hammer, Spice 1, Money B, Richie Rich, B-Legit, Davey D and Sway Calloway. Shakur’s siblings Mopreme and Sekyiwa, his earliest manager Atron Gregory, and various community representatives were also present, including members of the Black Panther Party.

Sekyiwa Shakur, joined by Ray Luv, E-40, Money B, MC Hammer, Sway Calloway, Fred Hampton Jr. and others, speaks onstage during a ceremony honoring her brother Tupac Shakur in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As Shakur’s music played from large speakers to a head-nodding audience, numerous icons who knew him closely spoke about his influence and time in Oakland.

Money B, who recorded and performed alongside Shakur in Digital Underground, said that Shakur’s apartment on MacArthur was “the first set of keys Tupac ever had to anything. Him and Big D created most of the music for 2Pacalypse Now right there. It was like a [music] factory.”

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Calloway, host of Sway’s Universe, told the crowd that “Tupac confirmed to me what my role would be in the culture. We started spreading what we do in the Bay Area to the rest of the world. He stood ten toes down for us.”

Some spoke of Shakur’s fun-loving nature. E-40 recalled the origin of one of his many nicknames when Shakur “told me he was Makaveli. And I’m like, ‘Well, I’m Fonzarelli.” Richie Rich said that when Shakur called the house, his mom mistakenly thought his name was “tube socks.”

But a recurring theme was Shakur’s importance not only to Oakland but to hip-hop culture at large. Oakland councilmember Carroll Fife said, “This is to preserve what Tupac was trying to tell us. Pouring into solutions. What he stood for.”

(From left) Sekyiwa Shakur, Mopreme Shakur and Mutulu Shakur, members of Tupac Shakur’s family, attend a street renaming ceremony for ‘Tupac Shakur Way’ in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The street naming was largely spearheaded by Shakur’s sister Sekyiwa, councilmember Fife, hip-hop historian Leroy McCarthy and one of Shakur’s closest friends, rapper Ray Luv.

“There are streets in this country named after slave owners. Those aren’t people you should be naming streets after,” said Ray Luv, a member of Shakur’s early group Strictly Dope, in a phone interview before the event. “With this street naming, I just wanted to make sure my friend is represented properly.”

Friday’s renaming follows a succession of beloved hip-hop legends being honored in recent years — from E-40 in Vallejo and Too $hort in East Oakland to the Notorious B.I.G in Brooklyn and the Wu-Tang Clan in Staten Island.

In his 25 years, Shakur lived in numerous cities, including New York City (where he was born), Baltimore, Marin City, Santa Rosa, Richmond and Los Angeles. But it’s in Oakland where, in a candid interview, the rapper said he learned “game.”

“I saw [the game] living in Oakland, I saw it thriving in Oakland,” Shakur said. “That was in no other city I lived in. So I give all my love to Oakland. If I’ma claim somewhere, I’ma claim Oakland.”

MC Hammer speaks during a street renaming ceremony for Tupac Shakur Way in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Oakland’s Influence on Tupac

According to Ray Luv, Oakland had a huge influence on Shakur’s artistic development and political mindset.

“The birth of hip-hop [for us] was based right here in Oakland, around Digital Underground,” he said. “Oakland was the perfect place. It was culturally diverse, but also musically rich. Trying to find a sound and build a brand, it was the best place we could’ve hoped to launch from.”

Even as teenagers living together in the North Bay, the two would often record at a studio on 45th Street in North Oakland, and spend nights with Ray Luv’s uncle, who lived on 66th Avenue in East Oakland. Soon after, Shakur would move into his own apartment on MacArthur.

Ray Luv (center left) and Money B sit on stage near a sign unveiling for ‘Tupac Shakur Way’ in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

By that time, the city was an established hub for artistry and activism. Within Oakland rap circles, Ray Luv credits Too $hort, Richie Rich, MC Hammer, Shock G, Money B, Chopmaster J and DJ Fuze as those who identified potential in Strictly Dope, and provided the group with encouragement and support.

Oakland is also where Shakur’s sister Sekyiwa would eventually donate her time and resources to Roses in Concrete, a school named after a Tupac poem. And it’s in Oakland where the lasting influence of the Black Panther Party — of which Shakur’s mother, Afeni, was a member — permeated the community and infused Shakur’s spirit and lyrics. (Fred Hampton Jr., son of assassinated Black Panther deputy chairman Fred Hampton, attended Friday’s ceremony.)

Shakur often sprinkled local references throughout his songs and videos, including “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” which was filmed in a downtown Oakland alley. In the 1993 film Poetic Justice, costarring Janet Jackson, Shakur plays a disillusioned postal worker who aspires to become a musician. In the semi-autobiographical narrative, he ditches a rote life elsewhere in order to pursue his creative dreams in Oakland.

E-40 speaks during a street renaming ceremony for Tupac Shakur Way in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The Evolution of Tupac’s Legacy

In the past year, Shakur’s legacy has been repeatedly revisited. The Emmy-nominated Hulu series Dear Mama chronicled Shakur’s relationship with his mother, Afeni Shakur, and multiple events commemorating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, including congressional recognition, have elevated Shakur’s importance.

This year’s most seismic development, however, is the Sep. 29 arrest of Duane Keith Davis, the lead suspect accused in Shakur’s 1996 murder. On Nov. 2, Davis pleaded not guilty in a Las Vegas courtroom, and at the time of this writing, the outcome is yet to be determined.

The shooting is one of modern music’s biggest unsolved cases, further adding to the complexity of Shakur’s life.

“Tupac’s mother and family definitely want justice on his behalf. I want justice on his behalf,” Ray Luv said. “I hope they get the culprits and give us the story.”

Fatima Adcock poses for a selfie in front of the ‘Tupac Shakur Way’ in Oakland, Calif., after an unveiling ceremony on Nov. 3, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As was evident at Friday’s ceremony, despite his gangster image and oft-misinterpreted “T.H.U.G L.I.F.E” adage, Shakur regularly spoke about brotherly love, unity and peace — something for which Ray Luv and others hope he is equally remembered.

“We want [Tupac Shakur Way] to be a safe space for women, children, human beings. We want to lead with that message of peace,” Ray Luv said.

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“Oakland is a great place to have a message like this from someone like Tupac.”

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