Shakur was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on 8 August 1950, as Jeral Wayne Williams. At age seven he moved to Jamaica, Queens, New York City with his mother and younger sister. By his late teens, Shakur was politically active with the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and later joined the Republic of New Afrika.

In 1970, Shakur began working with the Lincoln Detox program, which offered drug rehabilitation to heroin addiction using acupuncture — instead of the FDA-approved drug methadone. Eventually he became the program's assistant director and remained associated with the program until 1978. He became certified and licensed to practice acupuncture in the State of California in 1979. He went on to help found and direct the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA) and the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture.

Arrest and incarceration

Shakur was one of several Black Liberation Army members to carry out the 1981 robbery of an armored car. They stole $1.6 million in cash from a Brink's armored car at the Nanuet Mall, in Nanuet, New York, killing a Brink's guard, Peter Paige, seriously wounding another Brinks guard, Joseph Trombino, and subsequently killing two Nyack police officers, Edward O'Grady and Waverly Brown (the first black member of the Nyack, New York, police department). Trombino recovered from the wounds he received in this incident, but was killed in 2001 in the September 11 attacks.

Shakur, the alleged ringleader of the group, evaded capture for six years and thus was the last one to go on trial on charges related to the robbery. In the 1980s, Shakur and Marilyn Buck were indicted on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges. While at large, on July 23, 1982, he became the 380th person added by the FBI to the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. He was arrested on February 12, 1986, in California by the FBI. Shakur and Buck were tried in 1987 and convicted on May 11, 1988.

Although federal parole was abolished pursuant to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Shakur's convictions were exempt because the Act's provisions did not take effect until 1987. Thus, under the rules in effect at the time of his conviction, he was due for a mandatory parole determination after serving thirty of his original sixty-year sentence, which came in 2016. However, the United States Parole Commission denied his release in 2016 and 2018.

Since his incarceration, he founded a New York-based organization named Dare 2 Struggle which released a tenth-anniversary tribute album for Tupac Shakur called A 2Pac Tribute: Dare 2 Struggle in 2006 through music industry veteran Morey Alexander's First Kut Records and Canadian activist Deejay Ra's Lyrical Knockout Entertainment. The album features artists such as Mopreme Shakur, Outlawz, and Imaan Faith. As Shakur explains it, the CD was created in order to motivate, inspire, and challenge black people to struggle against their obstacles. He also recorded a radio PSA for Deejay Ra's "Hip-Hop Literacy" campaign, encouraging reading of books about Tupac. Shakur was interviewed in the Oscar-nominated documentary Tupac: Resurrection, in which he described how he wrote a "Thug Life Handbook" with Tupac, expressing an anti-drug and anti-violence message.

Personal life
Shakur is the father of Mopreme, Nzingha, Chinua, and Ayize Shakur. In 1975, he married Afeni Shakur— mother of Tupac Shakur. They had a daughter, Sekyiwa. They divorced in 1982. In October 2019, he renewed the motion for a reduction of sentence, by applying for compassionate release but it was once again denied. A few years later on November 10, 2022, the United States Parole Commission granted Shakur's release on parole, effective December 16, 2022. The Commission noted that Shakur's terminal illness ensured that he was not a threat to commit another crime.