Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tupac Shakur – Still Overlooked

NOTE TO READERS: This post was written with the intent to refute Combat Jack’s XXL post titled “Tupac Shakur – Still Overrated”.

Was 2Pac the greatest emcee of all time? How about the greatest rapper of all time? There are different ways to look at this question, primarily because there are different ways to define “emcee” and “rapper”. KRS-One once wrote that “rappers spit rhymes that are mostly illegal/ emcees spit rhymes to uplift their people”. 2Pac did both. Biggie did only one of the two. Does that make 2Pac a better emcee than Biggie? Not necessarily. If you prefer to view an emcee in the more technical sense (i.e. flow, cadence, timbre, flexibility), Biggie was ahead of 2Pac by a long shot. But at the same time, Big’s subject matter was narrow as a grain of rice. It’s a shame these two brothers were – and still are – endlessly compared to one another when their styles were so diverse.

To compare Big and ‘Pac is natural, but leave their albums out of it. Big’s albums sit amongst East coast elite records like Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, and The Infamous – gritty at heart. 2Pac’s albums, at least his earlier ones, fit more appropriately alongside provocateurs like Ice Cube, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy. I say if you can’t appreciate an early ‘Pac record, you probably wouldn’t dig Death Certificate or Yo! Bum Rush the Show either.

Combat Jack’s point that 2Pac is overrated is not unsubstantiated. In fact, I’ve often said that 2Pac is overrated for all the wrong reasons and by the same token underrated or underappreciated for all the wrong reasons. He’s overrated by people who typecast 2Pac for songs like “Hail Mary”, “Hit ‘Em Up” and “California Love”; he’s underappreciated by people – like Combat Jack – who overlook amazing performances like Me Against the World’s “So Many Tears” and “Lord Knows” or the Above the Rim soundtrack highlight “Pain”. How could “Dear Mama” and “Old School” be the only good songs you take away from Me Against the World? In my book, ‘Pac’s soulfully-pronounced “ee” and “ah” vocals from “So Many Tears” are deeper and more profound than most rappers’ discographies. But maybe I’m just a stan, right? Maybe. So how ‘bout we take a step away from the music and discuss 2Pac’s background.

2Pac emerged from a family of Black Panthers and revolutionaries. His mother, Afeni Shakur, was hit with 150(!) charges of conspiracy against the United States. ‘Pac’s stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, was on the FBI’s most wanted list. Mutulu’s sister, Assata Shakur, escaped from jail and sought refuge in Cuba. This is where 2Pac comes from. As a youth, ‘Pac excelled in academic studies, taking up interests in acting and dance, as well as music and poetry. Socially conscious and aware from a young age, ‘Pac exhibited his egalitarian points of view. This is what 2Pac was about. For a generation that didn’t have a King or a Malcolm, ‘Pac was poised to fill the void that Jackson or Sharpton’s generational distance simply couldn’t.

In 1991, 2Pac was brutally assaulted by Oakland police. This took place in the same year as the Rodney King beating and as such didn’t attain the media attention it probably should have received. In 1992, a teenager in Texas, claiming he had been influenced by 2Pac’s music, killed a cop; Vice President Dan Quaylin (sorry, Quayle) even stepped in on the controversy, pinpointing 2Pac as a problem child and railing against his lyrics. This only fueled ‘Pac with more energy for his second record.

In 1993, 2Pac spotted a couple of drunk, off-duty officers harassing somebody. ‘Pac stepped out of his car and an altercation soon ensued. As told by Mopreme Shakur, ‘Pac got down on one knee and shot both of these cops in the ass. Literally, shot them in the ass. And he beat the case soon afterwards, dancing his way out of court. Now that’s gangsta. Later that year, ‘Pac was hit with a rape charge which, until his death, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. On a posthumously-released track, ‘Pac spit: “Tell the world I feel guilty to being anxious/ Ain't no way in hell, that I could ever be a rapist/”. In 1994, 2Pac assaulted the Hughes Brothers at a music video shoot. He also dated Madonna for a while. Later on that year, 2Pac was gunned down in a recording studio lobby, hit by bullets on all angles of his body. As 2Pac was being wheeled off into an ambulance, he infamously greeted photographers with a present: the bird. That’s right. Bandaged up, being carted off by paramedics, ‘Pac was still ‘Pac.

So just to recap, in four short years, 2Pac assumed the role of Rodney King, Kobe Bryant and Mike Tyson with a little bit of Malcolm X, all in one. Add to that, he essentially survived an assassination attempt. Add to that, ‘Pac was only 23 in 1994. I haven’t even gotten into 1995 and 1996. Yet.

In 1995, 2Pac served his prison sentence at Clinton Correctional Facility while his album, Me Against the World, reached number one on the Billboard 200 charts. 2Pac was and still is the only artist to go #1 while in jail. (Give it up, Gucci and Boosie, it’ll never happen.) The album also moved a quarter-million copies in its first week, a number unseen by any rap artist at the time.

1996 was the year that 2Pac became a supernova. He dropped All Eyez on Me, a vicious record with threat-filled bangers and anthems. “Hit ‘Em Up” was – and still is – the greatest diss record ever released. And the rest is history. 2Pac got shot up in Vegas, spent seven days in the hospital while the world prayed for him, and then he died at the age of 25.

It’s no surprise that 2Pac died at such a young age since he lived life at such an accelerated speed. No other rapper/emcee has a life story that even attempts to come close to ‘Pac’s. And I haven’t even discussed his cultural impact, his movies, or analyzed his music, let alone his poetic lyricism and unmatched passion. Overrated? I think not.


  1. I used to think 2pac was overated as fuck but you just proved me wrong. but Hit Em Up is not the greatest diss record all time...sorry lol

  2. 2pac is horribly underrated. Thank you sir.

  3. naah jack was on point...this nigga got kurt cobain syndrome

  4. Jack's always on point. I just disagree wittim on this issue.

  5. I agree with Decapitatah. Hit 'Em Up isn't even a good song to me. He's got the Faith thing, but the rest is garbage. He sounds like an idiot on the outro and when he says "I don't even know why I'm on this track." What? Um, maybe because you're obsessed with Biggie and this beef?

    I like Pac. I don't consider him one of the greatest, but I have and enjoy all of his legit albums. 2Pacalypse Now is a great anti-establishment album and Holla If Ya Hear Me from Strictly... is flat-out amazing in my book.

  6. Do I sense a battle brewing here? HHIR vs XXL's newest blogger? Ha!

    'Pac is 'Pac, an extremely gifted poet & passionate rapper. He wasn't the greatest, but he's one of the best at what he did. People argue that he wasn't as technical or witty as the other greats, but what he lacked in wordplay he made up for with his voice & passionate approach..

    Either way, RIP to one of the elite.

  7. I'll save that for Unkut (M.O.P. vs. EPMD)!

    CJ and I had a little convo about this on Twitter a while back and his writeup today just brought it all back, so I had to share my 0.02.

  8. Here, here!

    2Pac is, in my humble opinion, the best emcee to ever touch a mic. He has so much charisma that just shines through on every single track. His diverse topics really stand him out from the crowd.

    I agree that this guy doesn't get enough credit for what he managed to accomplish in his all too short life.

    I completely agree with you.

  9. Didn't CJ Co-sign Gucci Mane lmao.....

  10. I like what you said, Ivan. Pac is appreciated for the G-side, and underappreciated for his conscious side. I feel like Combat Jack was kinda being a d-bag on this one; he sounded like he was disecting Pac only have listened to the last 5 years of rap. Really, he was taking a surface level approach to too deep of an issue. Again, props on the quick discourse, I'm witcha.

  11. My issue with Tupac is that he took the history you referenced above and essentially turned his back on it to make a buck.

    The bulk of the history you mentioned was long before he became a star. He was charismatic then too, but it was not until he chose to change content that he became a profitmaker. What you fail to explore or bring up is how Tupac stopped talking about Black liberation and decided to jump on regressive topics lyrically (avoided here), and went from protest to assaulting the Hughes brothers because of nonsense (also avoided in your writeup).

    I do not fault him. The Thug Life, et al. persona made him popular and made a lot of people money, but by then he had largely abandoned conscious music; a reference here, a song there, but the bulk of the work that he embraced was so far from that social awareness he once championed.



  13. I saved this article to re-read a few times, so kudos for a great piece of writing. I do find some issues however.
    1. What does his personal history have to do with his microphone abilities?
    & 2. Hit'em up as the greatest diss song?

    No Vaseline, The Bitch in Yoo, Ether. Any of those 3 ranks well above and beyond. I do forgive you for that one because your a self-avowed stan. But let's not make it a habit.

  14. Belv: 1. The issue being discussed wasn't necessarily his mic skills; it was whether or not he's overrated. That, to me at least, envelopes him as a whole, not just his musical goals.

    2. Yes, greatest diss song ever. Ether is #2 in my book. Name another emcee that fucked a guy's girl and spit about it on wax (other than Jay on "Super Ugly").

  15. @ e

    It seemed like he turned his back on it, but you could only say that on "All Eyez On Me" for the most part. I'm sure he felt he owed it to Suge for being the only person to pay his bail, but even in the liner notes to AEOM he mentioned Mutulu, Assata, Sekou etc. I think he just knew he had to make the biggest rap album ever, and as far as publicity and being a double album, you could argue he did

    but on Makaveli, he took it back "should we cry when the pope die, my request/ we should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X" What??
    "White Man's World," "Hold Ya Head"

    Naw E, he was definitely coming full circle. And he was only 25 when he went to Death Row. If you listen to his last interviews he had a plan, he was just being as loyal as he felt he should to a nigga who came out of pocket with 1.4 milli

  16. Also, it's funny to me how Pac made the greatest dis song ever in my opinion, and it wasn't even "Hit 'Em Up" and nobody else ever mentions it.

    I go with "Against All Odds" off Makaveli. Shit was amazing to me.

    "Mobb Deep wonderin why a nigga blowed them out/ next time grown folks talkin' nigga close your mouth"

    He got at so many people from the industry to the streets in such a more precise, focused way. That's the best dis song to me.

  17. great my brother..the next time someone says something bad about pac on a blog, we wouldnt only verbally attack him but we will physically attack him as well.fuck y'all haters.

  18. West Coast Rap at the beginning! Pac knew what was up.

  19. He was great in the movie Gridlock'd, dude was cool. Biggest problem for me is that I don't like 95% of the beats he rapped on, it's like the easy listening version of hip hop (although I really like Yo Bum rush the show). He is very angry on hit'em up but it doesn't make it the best diss ever either. If I want to hear a good diss I listen to Jon Stewart on comedy central, it has a bit more substance than some rappers calling each other gay.

  20. You definitely strayed away from his music in your last talking points. And although i agree with your arguments on his personal life and what not but that says nothing about his music.

    Pac would have been the next black leader in this country. I have no doubt about that but I think that if he was around today and still rapping..he would probably held to the same regard as Big Daddy Kane or KRS-One.

  21. though my opinion differs slightly, I co-sign 200%, Me Against The World is one of my favorite albums of all time and So Many Tears and Lord Knows are the tracks that get the repeat treatment the most....Tupac was a renaissance man; actor, dancer, poet, lyricist, activist....he possessed the spirit of a true artist, through the strength of his creations he connected to people all over the world, anybody like that will leave a mark that is well deserved..he was born to be exactly what he was...even the hater's keep his legacy alive

  22. connecting with many people doesn't make you the greatest. Millions connect with Obama...that doesn't make him the greatest president ever. Pac was more famous for his big mouth and the controversy that surrounded him then anything. His albums really were mediocre. There were good songs on them but more fillers then anything.

    In the end, one thing that upset me about pac was his big mouth that ultimately got him shot up. The thing that upset me the most is how he dragged BIG into a east coast/west coast beef that he didnt want to be a part of. he was constantly called out and BIG never cared or responded to pac's attacks. He was killed out of revenge. and for that i will never forgive pac.

    1. You sound like a crack head..

  23. BIG never responded?

    He released Who Shot Ya? -- a track that may or may not (admittedly) been directed at 'Pac -- as a B-Side JUST two months after 'Pac got shot up in NY. Coincidence? Not in my book...

  24. Ivan...
    What's the point of making a diss song and then denying it was geared towards that individual. What sense does that make?

    As far as your does nothing to refute the XXL article because it comments soley on pacs life..not the quality of his music...and when you look at nothing but the MUSIC he made, yes, he was overrated

  25. Keep in mind that that article wasn't written as a refute to some anonymous blogger. I was following up on an ongoing discussion I've had with the homie Combat Jack.

    The only reason why Tupac is considered overrated is because people take into account his life story. People didn't blow up his music, they blew up his iconic status. As such, his music isn't overrated. If anything it's overlooked, hidden behind the shadow of his magnificent aura and personality.

    A post (or series of posts) on his music is soon to follow, don't worry... Soon enough, you'll become a believer...

  26. That was a good read. TRUE, many identify Tupac with songs like 'Hit em Up', 'Hail Mary', and 'California Love'. These songs do NOT reflect Pac's abilities as one of the greatest MCees.

    By the way although 'Hit em up' wasnt lyrically strong, i still think its the greatest DISS track. Because its a DISS right? Your supposed to attack a rapper where it hurts, and thats what Tupac did. Simple and straight to the point, no subliminals, no complex word play to suggest your a genius at DISSING someone. It was powerful. People be taking a whole verse to say what Tupac wanted to say in just one line. He had balls to say what he wanted to. Still, 'Hit em up' is definately NOT one of Tupac's gems.

    People fail to look at Tupac's music fairly due to being biased towards cats Tupac had beef with or they are just ignorant haters. I guess Pac haters just fail to understand what hip hop is or music. Its not all about skills and flow, of course they are important aspects of being an rapper but thats not all. What about the content, the ability of a musican to move people, to elevate a whole community, to help people through struggle? I think such aspects should be included when assessing an artist. Tupac could definately ryhme and was skillful on the MIC but most of his songs, which people associate with Tupac are not good examples!

    Anyway, theres plenty of real hip-hop heads out there who recognise Tupac as one of the greatest (NOT THE GREATEST BUT SOMEWHERE IN THE TOP 10). Cats just need to stop being so biased and being narrow minded haters. Perhaps yall need to check yourself and cut out all the bullshit and misconceptions out from your thoughts and feelings (for those who just cant stand Pac being aggressive to their favourite acts)

    I wouldnt say he is the greatest. Cats say he is overrated because he is so popular and theres many stans out there saying he is the GOD of RAP. I thinks thats just being overly biased and ignorant. Then again many rappers are overrated like Notorious B.I.G., eminem, lil wayne etc etc
    Maybe it comes naturally when people become so popular or when people give them that LEGEND status. None of these cats would be the greatest rapper. Thats just my opinion and i tried looking at it objectively

  27. props Ivan

    hip hop used to be a culture now its in a sad state of affairs

    most of these haters where probably concieved while their crackhead parents bump n ground to this ish in the 90s


  28. ppl can say what dey want bout pac but imo aint nobody touchin dat man....NOBODY!