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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Why Tupac still matters to fans
By Greig Watson
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Simon Balmain in Los Angeles
Simon won the chance to film a documentary on his hero

Poet, spokesman, gangster - 10 years after his death in a drive-by shooting, rapper Tupac Shakur remains an enigma, and his profile has rarely been higher.

The hotly-anticipated release of a new album means his posthumous output now matches that of while he was alive, and the fanbase of the "first martyr of hip-hop" continues to grow.

Simon "Turi" Balmain, was the winner of BBC 1Xtra's Ultimate Tupac Fan competition, timed to co-incide with the anniversary of Tupac's death on 13 September 1996.

The 19-year-old from Great Barr in Birmingham, became a fan soon after Tupac's death.

'Positive songs'

"I heard Live and Die in LA and me and my sister rushed out and bought the album straight away," he says.

"It struck me in a way no other music had. It was very melodic, very sincere, the way he used words was very personal, like he was talking to me.

Tupac Shakur
He is the greatest rapper of all time, no one will ever make the same impression
Simon Balmain
"That made him a good musician but what made him inspirational is that he was multi-talented, there were so many sides to him."

Tupac's early life gives clues to his provocative nature. His mother was deeply involved in radical black power politics but then fell into crack addiction.

During this period Tupac became a member of Harlem's 127th Street Ensemble, a highly regarded drama group. He also studied acting, poetry and jazz at college.

"People tend to focus on the negative, the violence." Simon continued.

"But there was far more to him. He was very deep, a poet and many of his songs are positive, are about hope.

"He is the greatest rapper of all time, no one will ever make the same impression. No one will have his legacy.

"He left the message that it doesn't matter how hard your background is, you can still make something of yourself."

Violent world

Tupac's recordings were uncompromising, with albums like Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z and Thug Life, and they were often matched by his lifestyle, with several spells in jail.

He was injured in a shooting in 1994, accused of sexual assault, was involved in the shooting of two police officers and was one half of a notorious and often violent feud with rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

Simon in LA with a Tupac poster
He was part of a violent world and he spoke about everything he saw
Simon Balmain
But even as he became a figurehead for gang culture, his records, like All Eyez on Me, dealt more and more with themes of social justice and equality.

Simon believes this is at the centre of his enduring appeal.

"He came from the gutter almost. He was moved around a lot, didn't know his real family, was looked down on and written off and those are the biggest issues that young people face.

"He proved these didn't have to be negatives, they could be positives, they could be used, that becomes your life experience and your understanding of how the world works and you can build on that.

"You can't just dismiss him as a gangster. He was part of a violent world and he spoke about everything he saw."

Simon's prize in the 1Xtra contest was to help make a documentary on Tupac's background, travelling to Los Angeles to record it.

"It was amazing," he said, "There are things you can only appreciate when you are being told them by the people who were there at the time.

"And since his environment had such a profound influence on his music, it is really important to experience that."

The Ultimate Tupac Fan documentary will be broadcast on BBC 1Xtra on 13 September from midnight.

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