Today marks the sixteen year anniversary of the death of one of the most topical figures music, let alone hip-hop, has ever seen – Tupac Shakur. Loved by many and castigated by others, I’ve recently been revisiting his back catalogue and although he never made an absolute stone cold classic, none of the albums he released before his death either (including the Thug Life group he formed) are bad, and the one that immediately followed his passing, under the Makaveli pseudonym, is also solid. Posthumously of course he was nigh on horrendous but you can’t hate on him for that. Here’s the post I did on his Birthday where I tried to defend his legacy. He made great feel-good RnB inspired music, aggressive political full speed records with the Bomb Squad behind him and street focused wistfulness, all long before he met up with Suge Knight and Death Row Records or did a debut with Elton John from beyond the grave. If only more people knew about that side of his career.
What people also forget that on the exact same date, two years earlier, his rival and the man who he is always compared to, the Notorious B.I.G, released his debut album Ready to Die. Although at times flawed this was what Shakur never achieved, an absolute milestone in hip-hop and an album that still makes the hair stand on the back of my neck with some of the lyrics. Biggie was an absolute poet, no question, the opening salvo to ‘Warning’ is beyond brilliant and perfectly endemic of just how awesome he was an emcee. “Who the fuck is this, paging me at 5:46, in the morning crack of dawning, now I’m yawning, wipe the cold out my eye. See who’s this paging me, and why”. Seriously that is up there with William Blake.
Anyway, pay your respects to two of the most important figures in the music who are always inextricably linked even down to the finer details. And check Nick Broomfield’s documentary on their death if you haven’t already.
Today marks what would of been the 41st birthday for Tupac Shakur. As an actor, rapper and, originally with Digital Underground, a dancer, 2Pac as he later became known, was one of, if not the loudest, voices in hip-hop in the early to mid nineties. Everything he did, from arguably one of the greatest hip-hop based performances on celluloid of all time in Juice, up until his untimely death in 1996, screamed for attention. For better or worse he was an icon of the times, constantly provoking discussion and debate, love and hatred. He live, and died, by what he stood for.
Now now. We know his music has been overdone since his death. We know he wasn’t one of the most quotable emcees of his time. But I’m gonna stick my neck out here and say 2Pac was mad underrated. He’s done a few albums that stand up well, Makaveli, Thug Life and especially Me Against the World. Even the magnum opus on Death Row, All Eyez on Me, counts as something of a classic if you shredded it down a little bit. But becuase teengae fanboys revered him after he died (I’m gonna admit I was one circa 1997-2000) hiphop heads never give him his dues. So I’m gonna plead the case for his legacy to be re-appraised slightly. Through the power of five songs…
Seriously, is it possible to dislike this record? Shakur is just straight up clownin with the Digital Underground and singing about shagging loads of birds. But it’s playful misoygny (by Hip-Hop standards at least) and just loads of fun. Love, love, love it.
Yowzers. This is probably the most distilled record of hate ever made. It even trumps Bob Dylan. It’s venomous bile of a different kind, and pretty uncomfortable listening at times. It’s not the most skilful or important diss record ever (KRS stand up), but it is one of the best. Sadly indicative of a man about to be engulfed by the themes he rapped about, it’s nevertheless a fascinating piece of music.
“Before the BDP conflict with MC Shan, Around the time when Shante dissed the Real Roxxane”. So begins Nas on the final verse of his iller than ill ‘Represent’ track, painting a picture that is pure homage to the old school pioneers. One year later though and Pac went one further and delivered this classic tribute to the forefathers of hip-hop. Shakur knew his onions, and this is reverential to a point that his west coast partner Snoop never quite managed with Lodi Dodi and Vapors.
Pete Rock & Cl Smooth’s ‘TROY’ is the quintessential ‘dead homie’ record in hip-hop, but this languid effort from 2Pac’s Thug Life group is a worthy addition to the canon. Such was Shakur’s conviction to his cause that his body was the ultimate outlet for his branding of his ideas, quite literally, with his tattoos. Body art in music was certainly no new thing, but Shakur gave hip-hop it’s first real beyond the wax militant, worthy in dedication if not necessarily in cause to his Black Panther ancestry. Also if not in name but definitely in spirit, ‘Pain’ by 2Pac and Big Stretch, is probably the other timeless Thug Life record, lifted off the Above the Rim Soundtrack.
Still an absolute anthem! This is all about Dre in the last stand of g-funk, the final apocalyptic record he gave Suge and Death Row, but Shakur came out banging heads with a brutal call to arms verse that would characterise his violent, combustible and musically hit and miss stay on Death Row. This song and this video, which featured cameos from Chris Tucker and George Clinton with a brilliant nod to both The Warriors and Mad Max, should of started what was Death Row’s second golden age. Things sadly didn’t work out that way, but this is the sound of hip-hop taking over the world. That it didn’t quite happen for another four years is irrelevant, because this was the sonic boom bap that announced the music was going to top the charts across the planet.
That opening slavo, ‘Out on bail fresh out of jail, california dreamin’ is still up there in hip-=hop entrances. And one of the first records I truly, truly loved in the genre; if it had been a Soundgarden or Smashing Pumpkins song that had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as a thirteen year old I might not be writing this blog today. And he did get that bomb beat from Dre and serenade the streets of LA.