Tupac Shakur Earning Like He’s Still Alive

Over the weekend, the website for PBS’ “NewsHour” posted a story announcing that Tupac Shakur was alive and well, living in New Zealand.

To veteran hip-hop heads, the piece was clearly a prank–reports of Shakur’s continued existence have become as common as tabloid reports of a living Elvis–and indeed, hacker collective LulzSec soon claimed responsibility, citing its disappointment with PBS’ recent portrayal of WikiLeaks.

Lost in the news buzz is the fact that Shakur is earning money like he’s still alive. The late rapper’s estate took in about $3.5 million last year, by our estimates. Shakur has sold over 75 million records worldwide, with the bulk of that coming after his death; seven of his 11 platinum albums were released posthumously. As recently as 2007 Shakur’s estate banked $9 million–more than Eminem or 50 Cent made last year.

Shakur’s vast library of unreleased material–over 153 songs in all–has been dwindling of late. His estate now makes more money hawking Shakur’s likeness than it does from his music, thanks to strong demand for the rapper’s Makaveli-branded sneakers, t-shirts and even sweaters. Last year was the first time in ages that Shakur’s annual earnings wouldn’t have been enough to qualify him for our Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, which ranks rap’s top 20 earners.

That may change in the coming year, as long-rumored Tupac biopic is finally slated to start filming this summer. Shakur will have a long way to go to catch the top-earning dead celeb: Michael Jackson raked in $275 million last year from beyond the grave.

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