Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Chances Are He’s Still Better Than Your Favorite Rapper...Well, Not Mine But Probably Yours
First off, let me just say that Tupac Amuru Shakur is not the greatest rapper of all-time nor is he better than Christopher Wallace. He’s just not. His early work is way too inconsistent to allow the greatness of his later work to compensate for the fact that 2Pacalypse Now kind of sucks...like a lot. However, let’s get this one thing straight for those who feel the need to be revisionist jackasses, Tupac was, is and always be a great rapper. You need to cut that Tupac was wack shit for real before some crazy ass Pac stan (and nobody is more fanatic than those lunatics) goes all Chris and Snoop on your ass and leaves you in a vacant right next to Lex, Little Kevin and Old Face Andre.
It’s been a somewhat frustrating trend to me lately that many prominent and not so prominent bloggers and fans have decided to re-write hip hop history and not acknowledge Tupac as one of the greats. In some sense this just an overreaction to the hype and mythos surrounding Tupac’s death. If the old axiom is that “Dead rappers get better promotion”, Tupac Shakur is the primary beneficiary of that. Pac has remarkably sold more records dead than every single rapper ever did while they were alive (except for MC Entire...) and for ten years after his death, it was considered high sacrilege and damn near treasonous to question Pac’s rightful place as the greatest rapper of all-time. This coupled with the fact that MTV and other outlets in all of their infinite wisdom (As...mother...fucking...if...) endlessly crowned him number one in all of those polls right next to Biggie and (Fat) White Jesus himself, Marshall Mathers. When the official ten year moratorium for respecting Pac’s death passed two years ago, the growing backlash against Pac’s pre-mature ascension to the top of the G.O.A.T. heap officially was allowed to reach fever pitch. Suddenly, it became cool and or trendy to say that Pac wasn’t a lyricist, that Pac was wack, that Pac was overrated, that Lil’ Wayne was the best rapper alive, blah, blah, blah. Look, I get it. I really do. Tupac was a flawed emcee. His early material sounds extremely dated, his production on his albums are often uneven and weak, he often relied on somewhat tired tropes in his music, and the endless amounts of posthumous Pac albums filled with his lesser thought outtakes far outweigh the true greatness of his post-getting shot material. HOWEVER, it IS fucking blasphemy and damn near bordering on out-and-out hate (and this coming from me so you know that game recognize game...) to say that Pac wasn’t a great artist.
Tupac’s greatest assest as an emcee is his delivery. Pac’s delivery was fierce, dramatic, and full of emotion. Outside of perhaps only Ghostface, there was no other rapper in the history of the art form that could wrench more emotion and drama out of his voice than Tupac Shakur. The old cliche about Tupac was that he’s the greatest rapper of all-time because he was so “felt” by the people. Well, a big part of that was because he was able to channel emotion through his words and make songs that resonate with a mass audience. Pac’s flow wasn’t as effortless as Method Man’s or as virtuoso as Big’s but in some sense because Pac kept it relatively simple and unflashy, he was able to overcome his shortcomings and make music that resonated to a larger audience than either of them ever truly attained. In some senses, he kept to the formula of “keeping it simple, stupid.” Often more lyrical rappers such as Nas, AZ or Common have a problem connecting to their audience because their use of metaphor and more complex vocabulary served to impress critics and confuse your average listener. Tupac didn’t have that problem. While Nas or Rakim could be subtle in their lyricism, Pac was much more blunt. His music has a more anthemic quality than he is given credit for. His most well known songs, “Keep Your Head Up”, “Dear Mama”, “I Get Around”, “California Love”, etc, are known across genres because they transcend the genre due to their somewhat general and universal themes. Pac could never write a song quite as metaphorically genius and subtle like “I Gave You Power” (although “Me & My Girlfriend” comes close) but he had the ability to write a true crossover smash that alluded most of his peers save Biggie, Treach and perhaps Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ 50 Cent.
Another aspect where Pac gets unfairly criticized is that he is accused of not having any classics. In this point, the haters are just flat out wrong. Pac has three stone cold classics in his repertoire. Early Pac was truly wildly inconsistent. 2Pacalypse Now had a few bright moments on there but gets bogged down in weak, unmemorable production, clunky lyricism and stock post-Public Enemy militancy. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. suffers roughly the same fate but bears a marked improvement in Pac’s lyricism and production but Tupac makes the leap to a truly great rapper on Me Against The World. Perhaps, it was because of the threat of going to jail for a longtime due to his rape charge but Pac delivers a performance on that record that is remarkably subtle and damn near emotionally resonant. It’s a record that is both defiant and mournful. It’s not completely flawless but it’s his most balanced and best record as Pac was able to strike the right pitch between his nihilist thugism, his defiant anti-authoritarianism, and his sensitive emotional side. What happened next is equally as shocking. His last two records that he completed while he was alive the double disc All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory are both equally resonant and powerful records as well that are amongst the most nihilist records ever recorded and feature the best production Pac ever received especially All Eyez On Me. Perhaps, it was due to the pressures that Pac faced in his prison sentence and after getting shocked but these records are stunning in the sense it marks a drastic shift in Pac’s approach as an artist. He almost completely abandons his sensitive brooding side of his first three records and makes two true and true hardcore gangster rap records. All Eyez On Me should be noted is one of the few hip hop double albums that is pretty much enjoyable all the way through (it does peter out slightly towards the end of disc two but disc one is pretty flawless).
Pac isn’t a flawless artist by any means. He has often trouble staying on beat on faster records and his more political stuff can often stray into platitude infused corniness and his production is often weak. However, Pac belongs in your top ten. There is no question. If not for music or technical mastery but on sheer unadulterated influence...good or bad. Tupac Shakur is the most influential rap artist of all-time, an icon and an iconoclast. No more rappers respect, revere, steal from, and base their entire image from. Pac’s given us both DMX and Saigon, Ja Rule and 50 Cent. He’s a not a perfect influence since Pac’s “martyrdom” (and I really truly and lightly use that term) has caused an endless amount of rappers to obsess about their idiotic street cred and realness instead of focusing on making good music but that’s simply a testament to Pac’s charisma and mythos.
If you must hate Tupac, hate Tupac for the self destructive path that he took himself down and ultimately probably got him killed. Hate him for his hubris. Hate him for the fact that his genocidal and foolish beef got himself and Biggie killed for good measure. Don’t hate him for music. Pac’s great. Deal with it.