One of the most iconic tattoos in the history of popular music was the handiwork of a long-time Houston tattoo artist. The legendary hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur went under the needle at Dagos Tattoo in Houston in December 1992, and walked out with his trademark “THUG LIFE” ink etched into the skin of his abdomen.
A Shakur fan site deciphered the meanings of many of the late rapper’s tattoos. For instance, the famous “THUG LIFE” artwork does not just reflect his attitude, it also stands as an acronym: ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody’. The “I” in “LIFE” is shaped like a bullet, a reflection on the violence the rapper encountered during his youth in Baltimore.
Shakur was a frequent customer of Dennis “Dago” Coelho, the owner and lead artist of the Houston shop. Coelho and Shakur co-designed many of the rap legend’s most memorable tattoos, working together on eight pieces, including the giant cross that nearly covered Shakur’s back.
The cross contains the words “Exodus 1831.” While Chapter 18 of the Book of Exodus does not have a Verse 31, the number actually represents the year that Nat Turner, a slave on a Virginia plantation, led an uprising that killed more than 50 people and led to his execution.
Coelho once said that the cross was among his favorite pieces, and that Shakur was one of his favorite customers.
“We always sat down together and talked about it. It had to have a meaning and be something nobody had,” Coelho told The Source. “Every tattoo meant something to him.”
“I still admire the Tupac Cross. It’s something I respect because of its meaning and we designed it together.”