On April 15, 2012, 2Pac made its debut at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. At this point, 16 years had passed since Tupac Amaru Shakur was murdered on the streets of Las Vegas at the age of 25. And yet he was on stage, projected with uncanny vitality alongside his holographic likeness, former collaborators and company mates Snoop Dogg. and Dr., who is now speaking and trading in front of an audience of 80,000. dr.
The first performance of its kind, the 2Pac hologram became national news, raising concerns that a wave of virtual tours featuring ghostly images of long-dead stars will soon fill festival grounds and amphitheaters. Except for a few one-offs, however, this did not happen. Yet the 2Pac hologram still felt important for a different reason. After fifteen years of post-cellar-clearing publications, books, documentaries, statues, shouts of hundreds of hip-hop songs, and murals published in the Bay Area and in virtually every American city without retreat, Shakur’s iconography has long been visible. he risks swallowing the bright, exasperating, inspiring, complex man and leaving behind only a depthless shadow.
Shakur isn’t the first generation of superstars to see his legend eclipse his life and work after death, but few have adapted so awkwardly to the narrow, two-dimensional confines of the icon world. Arguably one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Shakur was both a sensitive poet and a volatile provocateur. A liberating prophet and an agent of chaos. A figure of conscience and empathy with a tendency to violence and self-sabotage. To reduce it to just one of these qualities was to misunderstand what makes it so special – very few American icons make less sense as a simplified, cleansed symbol.
Yet, as the years pass and veterans of hip-hop’s most important and turbulent era reach middle age, it feels like his legacy is coming into sharper and more complete focus. Earlier this year, Allen Hughes’ FX documentary series “Dear Mama” featured a wide-ranging account of Shakur’s life, focusing on Shakur’s relationship with his mother, Afeni Shakur (who was also a groundbreaking figure in the Black liberation movement whose life would become a documentary). presented a study. it’s worth it even if her son is a masseur). Multiple universities now have courses devoted to 2Pac, and the growing library of Shakur research offers plenty of room to explore the darker corners of his life and work. He is already a Rock Hall member and only the third rapper to have a song included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. And on June 7, Tupac Shakur when he finally gets a star it will add another important notch to his legacy. Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Considering how thoroughly dissected it has been over the decades, it’s worth remembering what an exciting and abnormal figure Shakur was when he emerged into the popular consciousness. When it made its debut in 1991, hip-hop’s golden age was in full bloom. LL Cool J proved that rappers can be heartbreaking with their pin-up photos. NWA raised the stakes for violent lyrical provocation and showed how lucrative doing so can be. Groups such as Public Enemy, X Clan, and the Jungle Brothers used hip-hop as a tool for Black liberation. And Will Smith was on the cusp of proving that a rapper could move into a mainstream film and TV acting career. The possibilities seemed endless for the young genre, and 2Pac was the first to embody all these possibilities at once and in the process become the model for the modern hip-hop star.
His style has always been too slick for pigeonhole. True and otherwise, he rapped with the cadences of a priest who was equally comfortable with biblical sermons or Old Testament brimstones. As a lyricist, he was at home on a variety of recordings, from the most frank narratives and simple rhyme schemes to dizzying bursts of alliteration and splatter paint abstraction. Even the timbre of her voice could have inspired too many imitators to say, but few have succeeded in replicating the whole-body commitment and hunger that powers her delivery. (As Shakur’s one-time mentor Shock G put it, “‘Pac rhymed from the pit of his stomach.’) Here was a Black Panther-raised man who grew up amidst the overwhelming danger and deprivation of the 1980s crack epidemic. while he was reading and playing Lorraine Hansberry on stage – and all these different life experiences would form the main colors of his art.
After a brief but significant time as a dancer-rapper-roadie hybrid with Oakland’s Digital Underground, 2Pac made his solo debut as one of the first artists signed to the nascent Interscope label. Considering how quickly it would become a lightning rod for controversy, it’s striking how defiantly non-commercial much of the movie “2Pacalypse Now” from 1991 sounded to modern ears. Passionate, rightly political, and sometimes didactic, this book was as well-informed as anything in rap radio rotation at the time, as well as the kinds of rhetoric Shakur might have drawn from the stories of his famous godparents, Geronimo Pratt and Assata Shakur. Listening to him today, it’s easy to understand why many close to Shakur saw him as an emerging revolutionary in rap, making him an easy target for Vice President Dan Quayle (despite his relatively small national profile at the time). Election year cultural war sounds.
In 1993’s “Strictly…”, Shakur got much closer to the mainstream without breaking his policy, adding a few doses of Digital Underground’s party fun and narrowing the gap between his Oakland-flavored style and the powerhouse that rose just below hip-hop. Highway 5 in Los Angeles. His roles in the films “Juice” and “Poetic Justice” showed his effortless charisma to an even wider audience (although at the time Shakur was still clearly offended by the “gangsta rapper” label) and within two years he had read hers. first masterpiece. In “Me Against the World,” 2Pac presented the most coherent and complete portrait of the warring impulses that drive his art. It contained bursts of aggression and an almost theatrical sense of fatalism, as well as the greatest moments of compassion and introspection. It was a remarkably mature work produced by a 23-year-old, capturing so sharply the intricacies of the artist’s inner struggles that a New York Times review called it St. Augustine’s Confessions.
It was also 2Pac’s first #1 album, but that success came with a big star: At the time of release, Shakur was in jail and recovering from five gunshot wounds. Indeed, the year before its release was an almost unbelievable period of turmoil, involving Shakur being shot at Quad Studios in New York City and the arrest of at least three of them, the most serious leading to convictions for sexual misconduct. While Shakur always maintained her innocence on the second charge, it was difficult to reconcile the endlessly empathetic narrator of “Dear Mom” with the man photographed spitting at reporters outside the courthouse where he was accused of sexual crimes.
The last year of Shakur’s life couldn’t have made it any easier. By signing with Suge Knight’s infamous Death Row Records, spreading a gruesome series of controversies with other rappers, and supplying journalists with an endless amount of paranoid and polarizing short quotes, post-prison 2Pac sometimes looked almost unrecognizable to those who followed him from the start. On the 1996 double-disc “All Eyez on Me,” the last album released while alive, Shakur’s heel-turn was complete, and the lyrics were clearly rolling in violence, misogyny, and hedonism, giving him only fleeting hints of social consciousness. Such a fascinating study of duality before. Commercially, it was a conscious move – “Eyez” sold over half a million copies in its first week and produced its first and only #1 single. And yet, however you feel about it, nothing about that album seemed remotely calculated or opportunistic. Shakur’s immature anger at the growing hostile roster here sounded just as sincere as it was when directed at more deserving targets. His rhymes were sharper than ever, and his dedication to his craft was just as obvious. As for his music, 2Pac seemed structurally incapable of bullshit. And all this was really 2Pac.
And that was the image of 2Pac that still lingered in the weeks following his unsolved murder. It might even have remained so if he had not left behind him a frankly astonishing amount of unpublished and incomplete material that would gradually reveal more and more shadows of his ever-changing personality. Tracks like “Hail Mary” and “Me and My Girlfriend” from his first posthumous album would become gangsta rap bible. A collection of Shakur’s pre-celebrity poems will become a bestseller, with Shakur’s look at his most sensitive and vulnerable side endearing him to the next generation of young romantics. Over the years, the constant trickle of posthumous releases—some enhanced by contemporary production and featuring beyond-the-grave collaborations—has begun to form its own shadow discography, an attempt to reflect a comforting and familiar version of Shakur into the present. As if anyone could guess where this perpetually confusing man might be staring at next.
At a certain point, its importance became more widespread when memories of his turbulent life began to turn into legend. The rapper, who once caused condemnation from politicians on both sides of the aisle, is now claimed as a personal favorite by everyone from Kamala Harris to Marco Rubio. The Vatican has included one of their songs in its official playlist, alongside Gregorian chants and sermon pieces from the Pope. Kendrick Lamar structured his landmark album “To Pimp a Butterfly” around an imaginary conversation with his departed idol. And when the late Nipsey Hussle faced a similar crossroads between pursuing commercial success and dedicating her talents to community renewal, she was both inspired by Shakur’s example and took cautious notes. Whatever you wanted Shakur to symbolize, there was probably too much evidence to support your reading.
But one of the reasons Shakur’s popularity has remained so steady is because it resists our need for clearly defined heroes and villains. Shakur once bravely put his life and freedom on the line to protect someone he never knew from being beaten by two off-duty cops in Atlanta. Years later, he would do the same to avenge pointless beef on the floor of a Las Vegas casino. “Keep Ya Head Up” is an excellent 2Pac song. So is “Hit ‘Em Up.” Loving 2Pac is constantly grappling with these contradictions and entails often disagreeing with it, sometimes loathing it. It may seem that he expects no less of himself.
It’s often said that Shakur packed a whole year into every week of his short life, and his creative output spanned from studio albums to posthumous material, film roles, TV appearances, drawings. scripts, poems, manifestos – it is difficult to understand that all this came from a professional career that lasted only five years. He thought about his own mortality so often that his premature death then seemed predestined. But the truth was that it wasn’t, and a quarter century was a brutally short share of life for someone with Shakur’s energy and ambition. Given more time, would he have been able to reconcile these fascinating contradictions at the center of his life and art? Or would he always be restless, finding more impossible questions to ask, more contradictions to grapple with? It certainly left us more than enough to figure out on our own.