Fifteen years ago today, Tupac Shakur died as a result of bullet wounds he suffered after being shot in Las Vegas, NV following a boxing match at the MGM Grand six days prior. His murder, and that of the Notorious B.I.G. six months later, sent dual shockwaves through the hip-hop community. Yet while Diddy immediately set to work securing his friend’s musical legacy (helped by the fact that Biggie had completed a studio album just prior to his death), Tupac’s legacy, though it’s never been in question, has been comparatively uncertain and inconsistent (particularly in New York City).
Nevertheless, in 2011 a Tupac groundswell has served to highlight the late rapper’s talents and the extent of the loss suffered when he was killed. In 1996, lyricism was still the primary criterion for many rap fans’ judgments, and while Tupac never lacked for charisma, beat selection, or delivery, his verses weren’t always as memorable as those of, say, the Notorious B.I.G. After a decade and a half, though, things look different. Imagine the Notorious B.I.G. alive in 2011, and you might form a picture not dissimilar to Jay-Z—the rapper-as-businessman, and still on top. But try the same exercise with Tupac, and quickly the extent of the loss is made all too apparent. Like Aaliyah, who died five years later, Tupac was a multi-talented, charismatic performer, who seemed able to succeed at anything he worked to accomplish. We couldn’t begin to guess what he might be up to in 2011.
As for the year’s zeitgeist, which includes Rick Ross‘s hook on Meek Mill‘s “Tupac Back” and The Outlawz‘ claim (all but denied by Shakur’s mother) that they smoked Tupac’s ashes? Partly it’s just a confluence of news, but at least as much, it’s a belated recognition of the ways in which Tupac’s charisma and performance opened mainstream hip-hop up to a broader range of expression, even if within the hyper-masculine world of gangsta rap. (One could joke that Ross’s self-comparison to Tupac refers to their frequent shirtless appearances.) Tupac may not be back (and despite remained aliveconspiracy theorists’ evidence, he might not be alive) but his influence never left—even if it wasn’t always apparent.
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