Tattoos are looked at by some as a window into the soul, using self-expression as a means of letting people know what is important in their lives. With Tupac’s tattoos one can only image the pain, the hurt, and love that it is expressed.
Often shirtless in music videos, live performances – Tupac’s tattoo was on full display. It was part of his signature as an artist, and as an icon for that matter.
Most notably was his ‘THUG LIFE’ tattoo. Inked across Tupac’s stomach, the THUG LIFE tattoo is instantly recognizable and probably his most famous. Coming a close second is the cross on his back.
Curving across his midsection, in the ‘THUG LIFE’ tattoo, ‘Pac made the letter ‘I’ into a bullet. THUG LIFE, an acronym standing for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everyone.’
Till this day, people are still talking about ‘Pac’s tattoos and trying to delve into the meaning of them. The complexity of Tupac Shakur comes across through his tattoos. We take a look at Tupac’s incredible ink, getting to know each tattoo and the meaning behind it.
Tupac Tattoos: Complete Guide
- Tattoo: 2Pac
- Location: Left side of his chest
Meaning: In 1989, at the age of eighteen, Tupac got his very first tattoo. He had ‘2PAC’ tattooed on the left of his chest. Born Lesane Parish Crooks, Afeni renamed him after the last Incan ruler, Tupac Amaru II. With this being his first stage name, it was inevitable that he would put it on his body.
- Tattoo: Makaveli
- Location: Right side of his neck
Meaning: While incarcerated in 1995, Tupac read an abundance of books. One of those books, The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, made an impression on him so much so, he gave himself the alias Makaveli.
Machiavelli, a political theorist from Italy, wrote the book in the 1500s with the work of his is to be the first works of modern philosophy. Writing about how you can get an advantage over your enemies and political tactics to deceive, Machiavelli paved the way in philosophy. Loving the way he viewed topics, ‘Pac analysed the life and writings of Machiavelli. His first posthumous album was released under the alias Makaveli.
3. Be Ambitious With Love While Young
- Tattoo: Be Ambitious with Love While Young
- Location: Upper Right arm
Meaning: On Tupac’s right shoulder is one of his lesser-known tattoos. However, as with most things Tupac, it proves just as complex and interesting. It depicts a skull holding money and a balancing scale, with a baby in one side and the other gold bars. Alongside the picture are the words “Be Ambitious With Love While Young.”
- Tattoo: Heartless with Skull and Crossbones
- Location: Right side of his arm
Meaning: On Tupac’s right bicep he had inked a skull and crossbones, with “Heartless” above it. The basic meaning of a crossbones tattoo is usually a symbol of death.
5. My Only Fear Of Death Is Coming Back Reincarnated
- Tattoo: My Only Fear Of Death Is Coming Back Reincarnated
- Location: Left arm
Meaning: Directly below the skulls and crossbones tattoo is the phrase “My only fear of death is coming back reincarnated.” He referenced this phrase on a few tracks including Only God Can Judge Me and No More Pain.
- Tattoo: Notorious
- Location: Right forearm
Meaning: Continuing down his right forearm is the word “Notorious” in Old English font. Tupac had got this tattoo in memory of murdered friend, Big Kato.
- Tattoo: MOB
- Location: Backside of the right arm
Meaning: To the rear of his arm, MOB inked the length of his tricep. MOB stands for “Money Over Bitches” and a song on the posthumous album Until the End of Time. People mistake the interpretation of this tattoo for the term “Members of Bloods” because Tupac was on Death Row. On the set of All About U, ‘Pac decoded the acronym “Money, Organization and Business.”
8. Trust Nobody
- Tattoo: Trust Nobody
- Location: Inner right forearm
Meaning: A seven-point crown and the words “Trust Nobody” seen on his right inner forearm. Most noteworthy, the seven-point crown symbolizes immortality of the soul and spirit. With this tattoo, it played a big part in ‘Pac’s life. In 1994, he went through a sexual assault case and shot in a robbery at Quad Studios. As a result, this sent his mind into overdrive not knowing who he could trust. Therefore, after all of this, Tupac kept his circle small.
Tupac seen walking into Sunset Strip Tattoo shop asking “can I get tatted up real quick?” This featured in the 2003 documentary film Tupac Resurrection.
9. Panther Head
- Tattoo: Panther Head
- Location: Top of left Arm
Meaning: On his left shoulder, a menacing Black Panther jumps out at you, giving a bold look. The Shakur family had very strong ties with the Black Panther Party. Tupac’s mother, Afeni, and biological father Billy Garland were members of the New York branch. Mutulu Shakur, his stepfather, also a revolutionary Black Panther, raised Tupac, therefore passing on knowledge. His upbringing in the Black Panther Movement, as a result, can be heard throughout his music.
10. Only God Can Judge Me
- Tattoo: Only God Can Judge Me
- Location: Left Arm
Meaning: Directly below his Black Panther tattoo was an image of a Jesus-like-figure burning on a cross. The words next to it read “Only God Can Judge Me.” Although he spoke in interviews about rejecting mainstream religion, ‘Pac referenced a number of times that God is the only one who could judge him and determine his fate. On the 1996 album, All Eyez On Me, he has a song of the same title featuring Rappin’ 4-Tay.
- Tattoo: Outlaw
- Location: Left Arm
Meaning: The word “Outlaw” runs vertically down his left forearm. This represented ‘Pac’s group, The Outlawz, made up of his closest friends and also family. The Outlawz were part of Tupac’s inner circle and was there with him day in, day out. As a result, each member of the group had “Outlaw” tattooed on their left arm.
Tupac had an acronym for Outlaw. The general definition of an outlaw is a person that breaks the law. In Tupac’s definition, it meant “Operating Under Thug Lawz Az Warriorz.”
12. Boss Playaz
- Tattoo: Boss Playaz
- Location: Back of his neck
Meaning: ‘Pac tattooed ‘Boss Playaz’ on the back of his neck along with a three-point crown. The term Boss Playaz, as described by Tupac, is the next level up from a thug n****. He used the term in 1995 when writing to former publicising at Death Row, Nina Bhadreshwar, while in prison. In the letter he elaborated; “A Boss Playa is a thinker, a leader, a builder, a moneymaker, a Soulja, a teacher and most of all a man!”
13. Fuck The World
- Tattoo: Fuck the World
- Location: Right below his neck
Meaning: He put this bold statement in between his shoulder blades. Besides being one of the tracks on his third studio album, Me Against The World, ‘Pac felt like the whole world was against him.
14. Exodus 1831
- Tattoo: Exodus 1831
- Location: Right below his neck
Meaning: Just below his Fuck The World tattoo, ‘Pac put a gothic cross covering the length of his back with ‘Exodus 1831 in the middle. People believe the numbers 1831 is a reference to the verses in the Bible’s book inthe Old Testament. However, chapter 18 of Exodus only has 27 verses, meaning verse 1831 is non-existent. Some fans think that Tupac referenced the year 1831, the year Nat Turner led the Southampton Insurrection in Virginia.
Tattooist Dennis ‘Dago’ Coelho inked Tupac’s cross and his iconic Thug Life tattoo. ‘Dago’ spoke to The Source magazine recently in which he describes the cross as his favorite Tupac tattoo. “I still admire the Tupac cross. It’s something I respect because of its meaning and we designed it together,” Coelho said. Dago claims Tupac at the time wanted to get a tattoo on the back of his back which he can take with him for the rest of his left. At the end Tupac decided to go with the cross.
15. Smile Now, Cry Later
- Tattoo: Smile Now, Cry Later
- Location: Left and Right of his back
Meaning: Flanking his huge cross are two ancient symbols of ancient Greek theater, comedy and tragedy masks. These masks represent the good and bad times in life with not giving in to negativity, smiling, staying positive, crying later if you need to. It seems like the masks are without a doubt a nod to ‘Pac’s love for acting and theater.
- Tattoo: Ballin
- Location: Lower back
Meaning: At the bottom of his back is the word ‘Ballin’. This term describes living with affluence and wealth. His 1994 album with group Thug Life, titled Thug Life: Volume 1, contained the track ‘Str8 Ballin’.
- Tattoo: 2.Die.4
- Location: Right chest
Meaning: On his right chest, under a portrait of Queen Nefertiti, are the words ‘2.Die.4’. Queen Nefertiti was an Egyptian queen and looked at as a symbol for strong black women. Most noteworthy, In his songs, Tupac referred to his mother, Afeni Shakur, as a Black Queen.
Finally, ‘Pac’s 1993 album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z, includes the song ‘Something 2 Die 4’, where he says; “If ya can’t find something to live for, you best find something to die for.”
- Tattoo: Dada
- Location: Left arm
Meaning: Unknown. It had been rumored the tattoo was for his finance Kidada Jones, but that is not the case.
19. 50 NIGGAZ with AK-47
- Tattoo: 50 Niggaz
- Location: Below chest
Meaning: Getting this menacing tattoo done with brother Mopreme and friend, Mouse Man, Tupac had this inked just above his THUG LIFE tattoo. It symbolizes black unity. Tupac proved to be militarily minded from a young age. He felt if one black person from each states came together, they would be stronger than any weapon.
20. THUG LIFE
- Tattoo: Thug Life
- Location: Stomach
Meaning: Tupac’s THUG LIFE tattoo is instantly recognizable to almost everybody and certainly his most famous. Curving clearly across his midsection, ‘Pac made the letter ‘I’ into a bullet. THUG LIFE, an acronym that ‘Pac came up with, standing for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everyone.’ In addition to this, early on his career, Tupac formed a group called Thug Life.
He got this iconic tattoo in 1993 at Dago’s Tattoo in Houston. Dennis ‘Dago’ Coelho was the owner and responsible for doing not only this piece but also ‘Pac’s cross on his back.
Tupac Tattoos: Summary
- “Makaveli” written on his neck
- Neferetiti with: “2 Die 4″ written underneath
- A Skull
- Skull And Crossbones with: “Heartless” written above
- “Notorious” on forearm
- The now famous “Thug Life” across his stomach, the “i” is replaced with a bullet
- AK-47 with: “50 Niggaz” (representing all niggaz in all 50 states)
- A Black Panther, to show respect to his families ties to the Black Panthers
- Jesus on burning cross in crown of thorns with: “Only God Can Judge Me”
- “Outlaw” representing Outlawz
- A Cross, with the bible verse “Exodus 18:11″, which reads: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.”
- Face with “Smile Now” written below
- Crown with “Boss Playaz”
- “Fuck The World” across shoulders
- Face with “Cry Later” written below
- “MOB” on back of his right arm representing ‘Money Over Bitches’