Twenty-one years after his death, Tupac Shakur remains a gold standard for what a rap star is supposed to be. Sure, there have been rappers that had dominating runs critically and commercially over the last two decades, but none of them have superseded the impact that Shakur has had on Hip-Hop culture.
Tupac has been dead four times longer than he had a career and still, Eminem is the only rapper that has sold more albums than him. Surely, ‘Pac wasn’t the first rapper with tattoos, but the way he wore them opened the floodgates for skin ink to become a damn-near mandatory part of the standard rapper outfit. He wasn’t the first rapper to make a diss record but every diss after “Hit ‘Em Up” is held up against it in a litmus test for lyrical acidity. Tupac wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of “Bishop” in the Black cinema classic Juice, but there’s a generation of people who know his lines from that movie verbatim. He never won a Grammy during his lifetime or in his death, but we all know of at least one person who has one of his song or album titles tatted on their flesh.
But accolades aside, the two things people remember ‘Pac for the most are the same two things all human beings are remembered for: how they made you feel and how they died.
‘Pac’s music took you through a range of emotions from “feeling like Black was the thing to be” to “thriving on misery.” One minute he could have you slapping fives to “Never Had A Friend Like Me” and the next have you slapping faces to “Ride On My Enemies.” Get into any “greatest rapper” discussion and the Tupac fan in the debate is sure to use “but you got to feel Pac” as the base of their argument.
The way Tupac died is remembered more than how he was actually born, which was a remarkable story as well. His death came a week after he had been shot multiple times on the Las Vegas strip. Most of us that were around at the time can still remember what we were doing, watching and maybe even eating the moment we heard ‘Pac had passed away.
But the crazy thing is, nobody really remembers him actually going away.
Tupac was cremated when he died, which means he didn’t have a funeral. Which has led to 20-plus years of debating if he’s really dead. Sure, there have been numerous conspiracies placing him everywhere from Cuba to his mother, the late Afeni Shakur‘s house in Stone Mountain, Ga. But figuratively speaking, ‘Pac is still “alive.” So much of his soul was recorded while he was living, music and interview footage of his continues to be released decades after he passed. He is still generating income [for somebody] via his music, personal belongings at public auctions, books and documentaries about his killing, movies and television shows about the following investigation and finally a biopic about his life that hits theaters this June. Since we never saw his body in a casket, the image of him living has been able to survive via our own memories as well as spooky-ass holograms.
In the past month, and especially last week, we saw Tupac’s name and spirit resurface in two unlikely places: Brooklyn rappers and part-time rivals Joey Bada$$ and Troy Ave. Well, actually, ‘Pac’s spirit may not have sought them out on its own. Both men summoned it with statements and actions that were almost as boisterous as some of ‘Pac’s finer moments.