In 1996, 25-year-old Tupac Shakur was prepared to enter a new phase in his ever illustrious career. Leaving behind a period of incarceration, and having signed the now notorious deal with Death Row Records, Tupac—always a multi-hyphenate dreamer—spent the first half of that year strategizing the expansion of his artistic empire.
Through the launch of his media conglomerate Euphanasia Incorporated, ’96 saw Tupac retooling his image as he transitioned into an executive role in music, strategized screenwriting projects, and rededicated himself to community care through Euphanasia-run youth outreach programs. By 1996, Tupac not only felt ready to take on the world; he was prepared to conquer it. The aesthetic rules of Hip Hop Culture are clear; there is only one way to commemorate your arrival into a new phase of life—you get a new piece of bling.
This is where Yaasmyn Fula—at once Tupac’s godmother, advisor, “auntie,” money manager, caretaker, and lifelong supporter—enters our royal tale. New Jersey, December 1995, Fula receives a call from her beloved godson asking if she’s ready to take his career to the “next level” (Fula, 133). By the end of January 1996, Fula had relocated to Los Angeles to begin her tenure as Office Manager and head of business at Euphanasia Incorporated. It was Fula who steered Tupac away from his original idea to name the company “Euthanasia”—a reflection of his desire to put a peaceful end to his “Thug Life” persona—to “Euphanasia,” derived from euphoria, a feeling of well-being. A new parent company for his label Makaveli Records, Tupac’s Euphanasia Inc. was to simultaneously be a new media group and community organization, tasked to produce newspapers, magazines, films, create youth programming and build community spaces all in service of the ongoing project of black liberation (Fula, 133-34). The son of Black Panthers, raised by a collective of women in the revolutionary movement, Euphanasia was conceived as Tupac’s triumphant return to the riotous political origins at the heart of his identity. It is no wonder, then, that Tupac selected Fula, his trusted mentor, to helm this new project.
Fula came into Tupac’s life before he was even living it. As a young, politically-engaged Black New Yorker in the city during the infamous Panther 21 trials, Fula did not hesitate to participate in the marches that took places outside the Women’s House of Detention and the 100 Centre Street courtroom while Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, defended both her innocence and her right to a dignified pregnancy that was being intentionally withheld through targeted corrections department procedures. Following her hard-won release, Fula secured Afeni safe housing in a home shared amongst “socially conscious women” in the movement. They both worked at the Bronx Legal Services where they stayed engaged in the struggle, serving their community. It was into this world that Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in 1971, a “so[n] of the social revolution in America” (Fula, i). While Tupac grew up in a circle of women and their children, few had the same impact on his personhood as Fula.
Along with his mother, Fula was instrumental in Tupac’s cultural education, taking on much of the childcare for Tupac when her own son—Yaki ‘Kadafi’ Fula—came along and the two were inseparable. Until his family relocated to Baltimore in 1984, Fula was the primary organizer of Tupac’s social life. It was under Fula’s direction that Tupac and Yaki explored the culture of the city, attended summer camps, visited beaches and parks all over the tri-state area, discovered a love of cars, and became students of the world. Even after Tupac had moved down the East Coast to Baltimore, Fula made sure that he and Yaki stayed close, facilitating regular phone calls and summer road trips (Fula). This consistent ethic of care made Fula a permanent presence in Tupac’s life; steering him though periods when his biological family life grew strained through the time when his dreams of fame started to become reality. Fula was always an invaluable member of the Tupac crew—handling business, keeping track of money, and counseling the young rapper on matters of spirituality, life, and love. This eternal bond between Fula and Tupac becomes why, in 1996, he entrusts Fula with his most important matters, including the running of his company, and the handling of high-value matters, such as the production of the present ring.
Over the course of a few months, Tupac would design not only the Euphanasia Incorporated logo, but two distinct pieces of jewelry—the first being his infamous “Euphanasia” medallion and the second being the present lot—with Fula liaising between the young superstar and jewelers in New York, communicating Tupac’s designs and specifications, and ensuring they were followed to a T. Boasting 10-carats of cabochon rubies and pavé diamonds, Tupac’s gold crown ring is a creation purely from his imagination, tooled and re-tooled according to the icon’s specifications until perfect. Reflecting his recent affinity for Niccolo Machiavelli’s political manifesto The Prince—Tupac would start going by “Makaveli” after reading The Prince while incarcerated—Tupac modeled his design after the crowns of the medieval kings of Europe in “an act of self-coronation,” according to Fula, a celebration of survival through a tumultuous year in an oft tumultuous life. Sitting atop a diamond-encrusted gold band is the crown itself: a gold circlet studded with the three largest jewels in the entire piece—a central cabochon ruby, flanked by two pavé-cut diamonds. Atop this circlet sits 16 rays (or spikes) of descending heights—the crown proper—with the tallest 5 rays being topped with round cabochon rubies set in gold. Inside of the circlet band is a 6-pronged ‘arch’ and capped with a cabochon ruby ‘ball’—traditional European design elements that characterize this crown as a specific coronation piece. Reflecting on his early childhood, Fula remembers Afeni teaching Tupac the following mantra: “You are our black prince. You are my miracle, and you will make black people proud” (Fula, 3). It’s hard to imagine that when selecting the symbol of a crown to self-coronate this new era of prosperity, Tupac’s mother’s words were not front of mind.
Tupac’s selection of the ruby as the focal gem is a continuation of this royal narrative, as rubies have long been symbolically tied to the imagery of monarchy and wealth in our cultural imagination. First named the ‘King of Precious Stones’ in ancient Sanskrit, the ruby has since been worn by warrior tribes for protection, by royalty to demonstrate richesse, for healing, and for good luck. A Hip Hop king of his own making, named for the Peruvian indigenous revolutionary leader Túpac Amaru II—the ruby’s storied social history made it the perfect principal stone in Tupac’s crown. The ring bears an inscription atypically engraved on the outer, palm-facing side of the ring band, “Pac & Dada 1996,” referencing his recent fairy-tale engagement to sweetheart Kidada Jones. Inspecting the ring today, it is this inscription that bears the heaviest signs of wear — ironically, the heaviest abrasions wore down the late icon’s name, almost rubbing “Pac” back down to the gold.
Images : Gold, Ruby, and Diamond Crown Ring, designed and commissioned by Tupac Shakur in 1996
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