It is widely known that Tupac read a lot, especially while serving time in prison in 1995. It was here Tupac grew an interest into Niccolò Machiavelli. He was so impressed by the figure and his ideas, that he wanted to change his stage name from “2Pac” to “Makaveli”. Tupac’s last studio album was posthumously released under the alias Makaveli.
Location: right side of the neck
Written underneath the portret of Nefertiti, an Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. She is a symbol for strong (black) women. This might also be a reference to Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, a Black Queen as he often referred to her. The “2.DIE.4” probably refers to his own song, ‘Something 2 Die 4’ (Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z..., 1993), in which he said:
You know what my momma used to tell me / If ya can’t find something to live for / You best find something ta die for.
Location: right chest
His original stage name and his first tattoo, which he got in 1989.
Location: left chest
Be Ambitious with Love While Young
Possibly one of his lesser known and lesser photographed big tattoos, but at the same time one of the most complex. It shows a skull with a bunch of cash and a scale balancing what seems to be a baby on one side and bars of gold on the other. Next to it is written “Be Ambitious with Love While Young”.
Location: right side shoulder
This skull with crossbones underneath the word “Heartless”, was at a later stage supplemented by the phrase “My only fear of death is coming back reincarnated”.
Location: right upper arm
The word “Notorious” written vertically over the whole right forearm. According to some, it goes together with the “Outlaw”-tattoo on his left forearm read “Notorious Outlaw”. But the big difference in style and type of writing contradicts that somewhat.
Location: right forearm
An AK-47 with “50 NIGGAZ” written on top of it. According to Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, this tattoo symbolizes black unity: bring together 1 black man from each of the 50 states in the United States and they would be stronger than any weapon; even a Kalashnikov assault rifle. “NIGGAZ” is also an acronym for Tupac, meaning “Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished”. The concept of “50 NIGGAZ” quickly morphed into “Thug Life”, a more inclusive, better defined philosophy.
Location: xiphoid process
Without a doubt Tupac’s most famous tattoo: “Thug Life” written across his belly, with the “i” being substituted by a bullet. “Thug Life” was an integral part of Tupac’s life and persona: it is an acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody”, in 1993 he formed a rap group called Thug Life, and together with his stepfather Dr. Mutulu Shakur, he wrote a “Code of Thug Life” a code of conduct for gangs.
A black panther: symbol of courage, valour and power; and an obvious reference to the Black Panther movement, in which his mother Afeni played an important role, together with many other members of his family.
Location: left side shoulder
Only God Can Judge Me
A Jesus-like figure depicted with a crown of thorns in front of a burning cross. Next to it, it reads “Only God Can Judge Me”. Tupac strongly believed nobody was to judge on him, but God. He also has a song titled ‘Only God Can Judge Me’ (All Eyez On Me, 1996) featuring Rappin’ 4-Tay.
Location: left upper arm
An outlaw is a person who has broken the law and who lives separately from society because they want to escape legal punishment. It is said to be an acronym for “Operating Under Thug Lawz as Warriorz”. Furthermore, Tupac had formed a rap group called “The Outlawz” in 1995. Some believe it belongs together with the “Notorious”-tattoo to form “Notorious Outlaw”, however, the type of writing is significantly different to form a unity.
Location: left forearm
A three-point crown with the text “Boss Playaz”. For Tupac, “boss playa” is the next level a “thug nigga” should try to reach. In a 1995 letter titled “Is Thug Life dead?” to Nina Bhadreshwar (publicist for Deathrow Records) he elaborated:
[Coming from the ghetto, our development as men] begins with a dust kicker, a thug nigga then finally a boss playa. […] [Many] never survive the next level of Thug Life. […] A regular playa plays women, a Boss Playa plays life. A Boss Playa is a thinker, a leader, a builder, a moneymaker, a souljah, a teacher and most of all a Man!.
Location: back of the neck
Fuck the World
Location: top center shoulder blades
A gothic cross in which “Exodus 1831” is written. Often mistaken as a reference to the Bible’s second book of the Old Testament, Exodus, with 18 being the chapter number and 31 being the verse number. However, such a reference would need a colon (“:”) between chapter and verse number (such as “18:31”) and, more importantly, Exodus chapter 18 only has 27 verses, so verse Exodus 18:31 is non-existent.
More probable would be that it actually refers to the year 1831, in which Nat Turner’s slave rebellion took place; a slave exodus.
Location: lower back
Part 1 of a double-tat (together with the “Cry later” one on the other side of his lower back). Together they represent Tupac’s passion for acting and theatre. The masks (known as “sock” and “buskin”) are two ancient symbols of comedy and tragedy. Also, on Scarface’s song “Smile”, Tupac says:
There’s gonna be some stuff that you’re gonna see / That’s gonna make it hard to smile in the future / But whatever you see / Through all the rain and pain / You gotta keep a sense of humor / Gotta be able to smile through all this bullshit.
Location: left side lower back
Part 2 of a double-tat (together with the “Smile now” one on the other side of his lower back). Don’t give in to negativity. Smile, stay positive and fight back; you can cry later if you (still) need to.
Location: right side lower back
A 7-point crown, traditional symbol of immortality (especially of our souls or spirits) with the advice “Trust Nobody”. It is not a secret Tupac became quite paranoid, especially after being shot at the Quad Studios in New York in november 1994. An event of which Tupac was convinced it was a set-up, involving various people close to him. On All Eyez On Me’s ‘Holla at Me’, he raps:
When me and you was homies / No one informed me / It was all a scheme / You infiltrated my team / And sold a nigga dreams / How could you do me like that?, where he was most probably talking about his former friend, Stretch from Live Squad.
Location: inner right forearm
One of the last tattoos he got, this crown accompanied by “Dada” is believed to be a tattoo dedicated to his fiancée, Kidada Jones, daughter of the legendary jazz musician and record producer Quincy Jones Jr..
Location: inner left forearm
“MOB” is often used as an acronym for “Members of Bloods”, but not in Tupac’s case. In several songs – such as ‘Blasphemy’ (The Don Killuminati: the 7-Day Theory, 1996) and of course ‘M.O.B.’ (Until the End of Time, 2001) – he describes it as “Money Over Bitches”, although he seems to have explained it as “Money, Organisation and Business” as well near the end.
Location: inner right upper arm