Many consider Tupac Amaru Shakur as the voice of an entire generation. His music, his poetry, his ideologies, his performances onstage and on the big screen all influenced a large part of the hip hop community and beyond, and will undoubtedly continue to inspire many generations to come. Another facet of 2Pac that thousands draw inspiration from is the rapper’s biographical tattoo collection.
Consisting of phrases and symbols that tell the story of his trials, tribulations and triumphs, ‘Pac’s ink was—and still is—as much a marvel as his remarkable life. Tattoos have become one of the most prominent forms for people to showcase their admiration for icons. Whether it’s a piece that resembles one of ‘Pac’s own tattoos, a quote from his songs and poems, or the ultimate tribute of a portrait of the fallen idol, the “Keep Ya Head Up” rapper is a bottomless well of tattoo inspiration that has transcended both age and race.
As an editor for Urban Ink magazine, I, along with my esteemed colleagues, have delved into the tattoo collections of numerous inked individuals—some consisted of the biggest stars in entertainment, while others were around the way folks who led interesting lives. From The Game, to ‘Pac’s own “closest roaddogz” the Outlawz, to regular Joes (and Janes) who I’ve met while walking the convention floors during tattoo expos, each of them had their own unique stories of how they came to wear tattoos inspired by ‘Pac.
Back in 2011, while working on a special issue of Urban Ink dedicated to the 15th anniversary of ‘Pac’s passing, I had the opportunity to interview Houston, Texas tattooist, Dennis “Dago” Coelho, who is credited for working on some of ‘Pac’s most memorable tattoos such as, the big cross on his back with the words “Exodus 1831” in the center and the iconic “THUG LIFE” across his stomach. After inking the cross, Coelho posted the design on his wall and it instantly became a best seller.
“I put [the design] up on my walls, and everybody wanted it on their backs. It was a good seller. We have done thousands and thousands of [Tupac-related] tattoos. We do the Tupac cross almost daily,” stated the H-Town ink artist during the time of our interview, almost two decades after he had tattooed the original design on ‘Pac.
To this day, admirers of the poetic revolutionary figure continue to show their devotion by inking Tupac-themed designs on their bodies. Just last year, Young Money artist, Lil Twist, got a portrait of the deceased rapper tattooed by artist, John Petro, who boasts numerous other renditions of Tupac portrait tattoos in his portfolio done on a clientele that stretches from L.A. to England.
For this, the 19th anniversary since the passing of one of hip hop’s greatest, BET.com brings you five other celebs who were captivated by 2Pac on such a deep level that they’ve devoted parts of their bodies with tats of either a motto or a photorealistic portrait of the legendary artist.
Check out how Tupac got under these stars’ skins.
1. The Game
What would’ve been a typical cover up tattoo for tatted-up Compton rapper, The Game, turned into a tribute piece to his “hero.” In the process of covering up his first tattoo of an “evil basketball,” The Game decided to immortalize ‘Pac as a “thug angel” on his right bicep.
Coming up together in the game from roadies to superstars, Naughty By Nature affiliate, Treach, often says that he and ‘Pac are kindred spirits. To showcase this solidarity, Trigger Treach got a portrait of ‘Pac tatted on his forearm. While onstage, the East Orange, NJ, artist has even given his tattoo a tribute shot of Hennessy—which is noted as one of ‘Pac’s favorite libations.
3. Lil Wayne
Whether or not Lil Wayne’s “M.O.B.” chest piece means the same as ‘Pac’s “M.O.B.” tat may still be up for debate. In any case, Lil Tunechi has stated that Tupac has inspired him, not only with his musical prowess, but also with his tattoos. So much so, that Mr. Carter openly admits that he got the “Cash Money” tattoo that sits on his stomach because he wanted to be like 2Pac who wore a belly tattoo as well.
Wale chose to not only pay homage to one but two hip hop legends with his tattoos. Done in the photorealistic style by celebrity tattoo artist, Nikko Hurtado, Wale now sports black and grey portraits of both Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. on his leg. Hurtado has also done other tribute pieces on the D.C. rhyme-smith, such as the Malcolm X which sits on Wale’s forearm and was the focus of his Urban Ink cover story in 2013.
Good girl gone bad, Rihanna wowed everyone when she got Tupac’s iconic “Thug Life” motto etched on her fingers (of all places) in white ink. Tattooed at the Shamrock Social Club tattoo shop in Hollywood by shop owner and legendary ink slinger, Mark Mahoney—who coincidentally has also tattooed ‘Pac—RiRi proudly showed off her tribute piece, which was received both positively and negatively by her Twitter followers. In response to the naysayers, in a 2Pacalypse-like manner, the Barbadian pop star fired back at the haters by tweeting, “All eyes on Rih, betta picture me rollin’. #THUGLIFE” and “I can’t deny it, ima riot..u don’t wanna f**k with me!”