Every decade, an artist defines a generation and embodies the myriad of qualities that made the era unique. For the 1990’s, that was Tupac Shakur. The tattoos and the provocative lyrics, his love-hate relationship with the media and, most importantly, his music totaling four definitive solo albums over the course of his life that charted the course of Hip-Hop for decades.
This Tuesday will mark 20 years since the legend’s drive-by shooting murder on the Las Vegas strip. Though Hip-Hop and pop culture still feel the effects of his absence, Tupac’s legacy and spirit certainly still live on.
While the JAY Z, Nas and Dr. Dre’s of the world are still hitting their stride, none of them have been able to surpass Pac in terms of influence. In the two decades since his murder, Tupac has become one of the biggest selling artists of all time with more than 75 million records sold internationally and nearly 30 million in the U.S. alone.
He’s also the second highest-selling rap artist in the U.S. and the world, just behind Eminem. In a 2015 Rolling Stone interview, Eminem praised the luminary for his dynamic abilities beyond the vocal booth.
“He covered such a broad perspective and there were so many different sides to him, but the best part about him overall was that he was a human being,” Eminem said. “I used to be fascinated with his interviews like, ‘Yo, what he’s saying is so true.’ He would also be able to trump people who were interviewing him when they would hit him with hard questions — it was incredible. He was a superstar in every aspect of the word.”
This quality is still present today when Kendrick Lamar dropped his critically acclaimed album “To Pimp A Butterfly” last year, which featured a never released interview from 1994. The Grammy-winning album ends with a powerfully crafted conversation between Lamar and Pac which tackles themes and topics relevant to today. In fact, when Lamar asks Pac what he thinks will be the future of today’s generation, his answer proves puzzling.
“I think that n—as is tired of grabbing sh-t out the stores, and next time it’s a riot, it’s gonna be bloodshed. For real. I don’t think America can know that. I think America think we was just playing, it’s gonna be some more playing. But it ain’t gonna be no playing. It’s gonna be murder,” Tupac said.
In the age of heightened police violence, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Baltimore and Ferguson riots, it seems as though his vision proved true. Born to parents that were both active members of The Black Panther movement of the 1970s, Pac’s revolutionary spirit began years before he laid his first verse. His mother, Afeni, who just recently passed away, named him after the Peruvian revolutionary who was executed after an uprising.
In his debut album, “2Pacalypse Now,” Pac displayed depth through socially conscious lyrics and storytelling. With songs like “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” he discussed prostitution and teen pregnancy. In “Trapped,” he divulged on his personal encounter with crooked cops and police brutality. Twenty-five years later, these songs have become inspirations for J Cole’s “Be Free” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”
After his debut, Pac proved his talents on the big screen with films like “Juice” and “Poetic Justice”, both of which have become cult classics. Much like Will Smith and Queen Latifah, Pac helped open the door for rappers to be taken seriously as actors. As a result, rap and film are often intertwined in 2016.
While he would release more albums, it was 1995’s “Me Against The World” and his last album in 1996, the diamond-selling “All Eyez On Me”, that would define his legacy. In 1995, Pac became the first artist to have a No. 1 album on the Billboard charts while being incarcerated. In his 1996, Pac became the first rap artist have two No. 1 albums in the same calendar year with the posthumously released, “The 7 Day Theory.” Tupac’s vibrant and sometimes toxic personality makes him such a mythical figure — fanning the flames of the East Coast beef that resulted in the murders of both he and the late Notorious B.I.G. 20 years later, both murders remain unresolved.
Currently on Sprite cans across the country, his lyrics from his song “Keep Ya Head Up” are printed. The Rose That Grew From Concrete, a book collection of his written poetry, is seen in many schools around the world and used to teach by teachers daily. In Broadway theatre, his life and contributions to hip-hop culture have been celebrated in Lin Manuel’s “Hamilton” and Kenny Leon’s “Holler If Ya Hear Me.” With artists like Drake, who’ve made a career off displaying their vulnerability, it was Pac who was the first to do so. Delivering lyrics that always left you feeling something visceral, Pac’s music was as much soul music as it was hip-hop.
It’s safe to say there will never be another Tupac Shakur. In a remarkable fashion, his legacy has grown larger and larger much to his credit. His relentless work ethic left us with a bevy of songs to hold us for a lifetime. Thus, his musical reach, ability and cultural impact all but certainly make him hip-hop’s most influential rapper.
Muktaru is a graduate student working on a Master’s of Teaching after earning an undergraduate degree in English and Political Science. In addition to writing for the CT, he also co-founds his own music and arts site, STROKES N RHYMES. Topic areas Muktaru enjoys covering include music, sports and pop culture.
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Carson McNamara is a senior in Communication Arts who loves contributing to narratives through Editorial Illustration. She drinks a lot of coffee and reads a lot of books for toddlers.
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