Rapper, actor, and icon, Tupac Shakur would have turned 50 years old Wednesday, June 16. The prolific rapper has a legacy that is linked (incorrectly or not) to the infamous East Coast vs. West Coast rap rivalry. In addition, Tupac’s voice and content loom large in the memories of audiences around the world. Whether he is rapping about an illiterate teenage mother, or challenging rappers he thought of as enemies, Tupac always presented a unique world view.
Tupac Shakur: rap legend
Tupac was born Lesane Parish Crooks. Reportedly, his mother changed his name to Tupac Amaru Shakur when he was a year old. Ironically, the rapper who represented the West Coast in the 1990s rivalry with the East Coast, was born in Manhattan in 1971. By 1988, Tupac and his family had relocated to San Francisco, and by the early 1990s, Shakur was living in Los Angeles to work on his music career.
Several albums give credence to those who posit the rapper as among the greatest. From his earliest work until the last album credited to him, Tupac offered rhymes with reason and danceable or head-bobbing beats to go with them.
Tupac’s first album “2Pacalypse Now,” (1991) contained the single, “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” which pointed out some of the issues behind teen pregnancy. The recording also contained the song “If My Homie Calls” and “Trapped.”
The release of “2Pacalypse Now” garnered Tupac some unwanted attention from then-Vice President Dan Quayle. After a defense attorney claimed his clients had been listening to the album before shooting a state trooper, Quayle reportedly remarked that “There is no reason for a record like this to be released. It has no place in our society.”
The problematic nature of Qualye’s comments go beyond personal taste for the album. It seems odd that the politician had such a response to the album, especially when there were a number of rock and roll albums that he could have reacted to if he merely wanted to comment on the nature of rebellious music. Thus, it seems like he went out of his way to attempt to censor a young black man. Tupac responded by essentially stating that he was just writing from his experience and was not trying to represent every young black man. “2Pacalypse Now” would be certified gold, but without any charting hits. Still, among rap fans at the time, the album was played and quoted often.
But it was 1996’s “All Eyez On Me” that really distinguished Tupac from other rappers. While the idea of hip-hop was relatively new, Tupac seemed to take it to another level with the addition of r&b singers K-Ci and Jo-Jo as backing singers. The song features of a variety of percussion and bass, and with K-Ci and Jo-Jo’s signature voices, the song is arguably irresistible. Even in a song about carnal attraction, Tupac manages to take shots at politicians. “Bill Clinton, Mister Bob Dole/you too old to understand the way the game’s told/…” Tupac also gave unfavorable mention to C. Delores Tucker, an African-American civil rights activist who was particularly interested in the rights of women. Late in life, Tucker took an anti-hip-hop stance which Tupac found unhelpful at best.
Tupac: a life ended too soon
There is much that can be said about Tupac – – the songs he performed, the women he dated, the crimes he was convicted of, etc. But what seems lost on some people is the rapper’s relative youth. Tupac was murdered by an unknown assailant (although allegations are plentiful) on Sept. 13, 1996. He was 25 years old.
Like his friend-turned rival Notorious B.I.G., Tupac seemed to foresee his short life. Tupac’s work with Snoop Dogg are among fan favorites and seem to highlight the best of what both rappers had to offer. Tupac’s body of work is marked by quality, not quantity. Interested parties should listen to the albums in the order of their release. Tupac was the first solo hip-hop artist to be inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.