Two decades after his death on September 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur endures as one of hip-hop’s most iconic figures and its most powerful enigma. His life was a tapestry of often contradictory images: the concerned young father cradling his son in the video for “Keep Ya Head Up”; the angry rapper spitting at cameras as they swirled around his 1994 trial for sexual assault; the artist who animatedly, yet eloquently, pushed back at Ed Gordon’s questions during a memorable BET interview; and the man who seemed to predict his own demise when the “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” video, released weeks after his death, depicted him as an angel in heaven.
Although he is no longer with us, the myth of 2Pac the thug angel remains. No other artist better illuminates hip-hop’s fault lines between regional pride and mainstream success, and the struggle to transcend and elevate beyond humble origins while honoring the streets that raised you. His wayward, conflicting expressions of pride, militancy and gangster-ism resonates in a world when black men and women celebrate their heritage and collectively organize against a racist America, yet are also cautious to protect themselves from each other.
Fans – particularly East Coast rap listeners who, after all these years, still harbor a grudge against him – will continue to debate whether 2Pac’s albums can measure up to Nas’ Illmatic, the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, or Jay Z’sReasonable Doubt. But no one can deny the way he transformed hip-hop into his singularly muscular, tattooed, bald-headed, bandana-clad image.
- The incredible rise and tragic murder of Tupac, who died 20 years ago
- 11 Tupac lyrics prove the rapper is an unrivaled political visionary
- I Spent Six Days Protecting Tupac on His Deathbed
- The Rise and Fall of Death Row Records
- The 100 Best 2Pac Songs