Hip-hop revolutionary Tupac Shakur mourned 10 years after his death
associated press file photo
In the years since hip hop lost its most dynamic figure, several superstars have embodied the qualities that made Tupac Shakur such a legend.
50 Cent’s vicious raps and bullet-scarred body recall Shakur’s reckless, dangerous side. Eminem’s tortured lyrics remind us of Shakur’s dark and depressing images of life. Jay-Z’s many hits are reminiscent of Shakur’s prolific output.
But 10 years after Shakur died on Sept. 13, 1996, the victim of a drive-by shooting, no rapper is as complex, as multifaceted, as challenging. A handsome and charismatic actor, a violent felon, a brilliant songwriter, a reckless celebrity, a misogynist and a visionary — Shakur still fascinates from the grave.
“I want to be in the future known as somebody,” Shakur once said. “I want people to be talking about me, like, ‘Remember when he was real bad?’ ”
They’re still talking. Unlike so many other rap stars, Shakur represented an actual character, instead of a caricature.
“His messages were really strong and heartfelt, and he was a real person. He could go from saying ‘Keep your head up’ to using the word b---- in the next song,” Kanye West told the Associated Press. “There was no box that he was put in, and he lived and died by what he said.”
Though just 25 when an assailant sprayed his car with bullets as he rode shotgun down a Las Vegas street, Shakur has been the subject of numerous books, film and stage productions have explored his colourful life, and college courses have dissected his songs ranging from the player anthem I Get Around to the prophetic How Long Will They Mourn Me?
But why? Though some have anointed Shakur as the greatest rapper ever, largely due to his passion that could stir even casual listeners, the assessment is hardly universal. Others would give that title to The Notorious B.I.G., Shakur’s foil who was killed months after Shakur. Others say Jay-Z reigns supreme.
As an actor in films like Juice and Poetic Justice, it was clear Shakur was an explosive, raw talent — but one that needed refinement. And his personal life exposed perhaps his most troubling personal traits: In 1994 he was convicted of sexual assault, and though he espoused black empowerment, he spent the last months of his life inciting a rap war through hateful rhymes.
Yet Shakur’s fallibility may ultimately explain why he remains so beloved.
“Nothing that I can answer is really going to get at it, or it’s going to sound emotional and corny, but the fact of the matter is he was just a very special human being,” said Vibe magazine editor in chief Danyel Smith, who knew Shakur before he became a superstar.
“He was the kind of heroic figure — very flawed, very passionate, very handsome, very outspoken, very talented — who comes along once in a lifetime,” she said.
“He stood for something and he really talked about life — it wasn’t just street life,” OutKast’s Big Boi said. “He was an intelligent guy.”