Tupac Amaru Shakur, commonly known as Tupac, 2Pac or simply Pac, has long been considered to be one of, if not, the greatest hip hop artist. Not only of his generation but of all time. Although at first glance he might seem as an incredibly furious, angry and full of hatred young black man, he certainly was more than just that. Tupac’s influence is still present to this day, whether it is through his music, his poems or sayings…his legacy is very much alive. Tupac achieved great success in a very short-lived music career of just five years, especially due to him being a true literary genius and mastering the art of storytelling. The question arises when thinking about what makes Tupac such a special artist, what facts prove to us that he indeed is, the greatest rapper to ever exist. Born Lesane Parish Crooks, to activist parents, in East Harlem, New York, 1971, he had been exposed to violence from a very young age. His mother was a Black Panther Party member which eventually got her imprisoned. In the music video for his song “Dear Mama”, she is heard saying “when I was pregnant in jail I thought I was gonna have a baby and the baby would never be with me, but I was acquitted a month and three days before Tupac was born…I was real’ happy because I had a son”.
The hardships she faced from the time she left the Party to be a full time mother, and the rejection she, Pac and his sister received for doing so, would be crucial during his upbringing and later on discussed greatly in his tunes. In relation to this, there is a quote which perfectly depicts so, “Kevin Powell, […], recalls him standing before a room of teachers and administrators explaining that T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. (The Hate You Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone), which Tupac so valiantly trumpeted, is an expression of the laws of karma. He forced society to face up to its role in shaping the very object of its disapproval. His dynamism in all avenues of life gave onlookers access to themselves, for he was an exaggerated version of our collective multiplicity. It is for this reason that Tupac remains of colossal interest to such a wide array of people.” (Wells-Wilbon, Jackson, Schiele, 2011). Tupac coined the term T.H.U.G L.I.F.E and in fact, redefined “THUGS” and the perception people had of them. He defined a THUG as a man who was able to triumph despite society’s impediments, as opposed to its original meaning which was another variation of “gangsta”. Many other rappers have adopted the term ever since, coming to show how vast Tupac’s repercussion was. In addition to all of this, Tupac triumphed in this industry because his rap did not depend on the flow, as this was, and still is very common nowadays. His musical approach was never a commercial one, as proven by this journal quote which stated “His lyrics, like the traditional African narratives and poems, were full of symbolism and imagery, not just simplistic extreme hate diatribes coined for shock value alone”. (Wells-Wilbon, et al., 2011). Therefore, he cared for the content he was giving to the society that listened to him, which not only helped when gaining followers and recognition at the time but established him as an immortal artist. LaCount stated “It’s a hint as to why Tupac has endured. He didn’t just make music, he wove philosophy and literature out of words.” (Tupac Shakur, 2014). His lyrics were raw, hoarse, genuine and relatable, even now, more than 20 years after his death. Perhaps studying at the Baltimore School for the Arts, being an active reader and a major admirer of Shakespearean literature, he once even said “I love Shakespeare. He wrote some of the rawest stories, man. I mean look at Romeo and Juliet. That’s some serious ghetto s**t.”, were some of the determining factors to exploiting his spoken word and poetic skills. Furthermore, his internal conflicts, the world which he inhabited, the false sexual assault claims that landed him jail time, the East Coast vs. West Coast beef… all came together to shape Tupac as a tormented soul with an extreme desire to scream out loud everything which tortured him or was unfair. This pain is seen in a poem written by Tupac himself which goes as follows “I exist in the depths of solitude pondering my true goal, Trying 2 find peace of mind and still preserve my soul. Constantly yearning 2 be accepted and from all receive respect, Never compromising but sometimes risky and that is my only regret. A young heart with an old soul how can there be peace. How can I be in the depths of solitude when there R 2 inside of me.
This Duo within me causes the perfect opportunity 2 learn and live twice as fast as those who accept simplicity.” (Shakur, 1999, p. 5) Shakur has one of the most extensive repertoire of albums, as he was known for spending long hours in the studio recording, with a total of over eleven albums. The artist believed time was not meant to be wasted, so he exploited it to his maximum ability. He also had a premonition that his death was soon to reach, maybe due to the fact that he had been shot five times or other factors that the rest was not aware of, thus felt his time on Earth was very limited. An example of this is his track “Hail Mary”, which was written within an hour and recorded in just a few takes, a completely different approach to music-making. One of the innovations he introduced while conceiving new tunes was the creation of a double CD, which artists such as Drake have replicated this past year. Moreover, he used a technique known for layering one’s vocals in order to add another coat of warmth and rawness to his voice. One of the most differential factors of Tupac’s music was the sense of urgency you could perceive when listening to his tracks. He was not focused on the musicality of a song but on the action of making a song. Generally, musicians tend to work on an album for a while, then release it and wait about a year or two to work on another one. However, this was not Tupac’s case. Tupac was truly a hardworking man, and being in jail did not stop him from writing. Once he was released, thanks to the bail payment done by Suge Knight and Jimmy Iovine, he signed with Death Row Records to make three albums under said label. His only desire was to write and record. He had the need to tell the truth, to express everything he had prevented himself from doing in the past, his lyrics went from racism to police brutality, all the way to poverty and politics. Shakur wrote so much, that seven of his albums were published after his death. Nevertheless, an artist’s success and greatness is also measured through the the number of awards or recognition they receive. In the case of Pac, his trophies list is not as extended as his records albeit the numerous nominations he received. Among all of the recognition he obtained, perchance the most remarkable ones are two Soul Train Awards for Best Rap Album for “Me Against the World” and R&B/Soul or Rap Album of the Year for “All eyez on me” respectively and a MOBO award for Best Video for “California Love”.
Another impressive fact is that almost each and every one of his albums went platinum after their release, with some reaching the staggering figure of 9 times platinum on the album “All eyez on me”. Lesane was shot three times during a shooting from a car in the Metropolitan Area of Las Vegas, Nevada. This happened on September 7th, 1996 and after a long battle, he passed away on the 13th of September, 1996. A remark he had made prior to his death was “I’m not saying I’m going to rule the world or I’m going to change the world. But I guarantee I will spark the brain that will change the world. That’s our job – to spark somebody else watching us.” In spite of the fact that his death was atrocious and completely unexpected, Pac, without a doubt, left this world initiating young people into critical thinking through probably one of the most persuasive and widespread channels, music. In conclusion, Tupac is undoubtedly the greatest rapper of all time. As it has previously been explained, it is not just about the flow or the rap itself. It is about how powerful someone’s voice is and how skillful one is with words. And even so, it also involves charisma, attitude, hardwork and most importantly, a message to be told. Tupac Amaru Shakur surpassed these qualities and had even more to offer, with an inspiring and heartfelt childhood to an amazing music career to an incredibly tragic death, he had it all. His legacy will continue and expand to even more publics, and as long as somebody talks about him, Tupac will always be alive.