Given his protean output, enduring chart success and road-tested ability to stay in the headlines, it's easy to forget sometimes that Tupac Shakur is no longer among the living -- September marked the 10th anniversary of the rap superstar's death.
Last week, the man who holds the Guinness Book of World Records' title as the most successful rapper issued "Pac's Life," an album of previously unreleased studio material (with the exception of a verse on one song) -- his 11th album since being killed by an unknown assailant in a 1996 drive-by shooting.
The CD seems like a shoo-in to crack the top 10 Wednesday when sales figures are released; four of Shakur's posthumous albums have hit No. 1 on the pop and R&B;/hip-hop charts.
"I say it every time, that Tupac left us the blueprints to follow," Afeni Shakur, the rapper's mother and an executive producer on "Pac's Life," said in a news release about the latest album.
Carrying on what is fast becoming a sub-genre of hip-hop that he unintentionally helped create -- the posthumous "duet" between performers who never met in life -- Shakur is joined on "Pac's Life" by chart-topping rappers and singers, including Ludacris and T.I.
But the majority of Pac's latest collaborators weren't even old enough to drive a car at the time of his passing: R&B; singers Keyshia Cole and Ashanti were, respectively, 14 and 16 in 1996. And rappers Lil Scrappy and Young Buck were just 12 and 15 when Shakur died.
Mostly through the unflagging efforts of Afeni Shakur -- and a seemingly bottomless trove of unreleased 2Pac recordings -- the rapper isn't likely to fade into obscurity any time soon (even if, hypothetically, his future releases take titles like "Yo, Is This Mike On?: The Forgotten Tape"). Last month, the gangsta superstar's estate announced a 25-city "Tupac Legacy Tour" set to kick off in the spring. His smiling likeness continues to appear in ads and on clothing for Makaveli Branded, the rapper-actor's "official" street-wear line. Earlier this month, his Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation organized a multipart competition (in conjunction with Amaru/Interscope Records), inviting fans to submit video, art, essays and poetry to bring together what is known as the "2Pac Community." And that material will be turned into a Tupac book, of course.
-- Chris Lee