EL PASO, Texas — I was getting ready for a 7th grade football game years ago when a newspaper was thrust in front of me. “Did you hear? Tupac got shot.”
“Again?” was my immediate reply. At this point in my life I was not as conscious of the hip-hop scene as I would be a short time later. Sure I had heard about Tupac, heard his music, and somewhat naively knew about his celebrity.
Everybody in the locker room got back to putting on football pads and went about their business, not giving too much thought to it since everybody knew he would survive the attack.
But later in the week he died.
This did not affect me too much at the time. I was as a fan of his, but I was maturing into music that was not shoved down my throat by the corporate entities. Once I really sat down and actually listened to his music I was hooked. I was hooked by the passion in his work and in his delivery. Maybe I was also infatuated with his “me against the world” persona and the idea that death was always “around the corner.”
It turns out that Tupac did have that effect on people much like Elvis did because almost immediately there were rumors that he did not die. He was a force to be reckoned with not just because of his so-called gangsta rap image but also because of his ideals, which at the time may have been revolutionary and maybe still are. He was and actually still an icon in the hip-hop community and even those who do not listen to hip-hop still have a general idea of who he is.
There are many discussions about his death and circumstances surrounding it. Any idle discussion can turn into a debate on whether or not he was that great to who actually killed him. All you have to do is play one of his songs to a group of hip-hop listeners standing around and the discussion will inevitably turn to one of these topics.
A recent discussion held in Dr. Maceo Dailey’ black history class with guest speaker Asher Underwood, a scholar on Tupac’s legacy chronicled the impact Tupac had through his songs. Most of the time was taken by a video containing some lost interviews where Tupac speaks about religion and other social themes.
Throughout the video some of his lyrics were put on the screen in order to illustrate what Tupac might have meant or what direction he was going for — asking the correct questions about the time that we lived in, making us raise a collective eyebrow and not accept the status quo. There was also an interview with “Freeway” Ricky Ross, a notorious drug dealer who was in the heart of the Iran-Contra Affair. Snippets of Tupac’s songs were played for him and since he had been locked up since the 80’s he exclaimed that Tupac was ahead of his time.
The masses did not listen. The masses heard him but did not listen until it was too late. The media and other naysayers may look at his reputation as a bad boy, with the exuberant image that he portrayed and his jail stints. The video also shed light on this with interviews from people who did know him personally who talked about the kindness that was Tupac, not just his bad boy “acting.”
Where would Tupac be now if he had not been gunned down near the Las Vegas strip that cold September night? Would he still have the same impact that he has now? Did his legendary status come as a tag just because his artistic life was cut tragically short, while he still had so much to say? Would he still be put on a pedestal, an untouchable of sorts because it is almost blasphemy to talk ill about the legend that is Tupac?
According to youngsters today, his music is still relevant, even though they might not have been aware of him before he died. “Of course you have to listen to him,” says Jesus Garcia, 21 “every artist that is out now has been influenced by him so you have to go back and listen to why he was so important.”
The question is, though, would the “game” be different if he were still here? The general consensus is “yes, of course it would be different if he was still alive.”
The direction of the hip-hop movement shifted after his death and while he is still considered an icon, the reality is that his music is not listened to as much today. He was an artist ahead of his time so it would only be natural that if he were alive now, he would still be a trendsetter. West Coast “gangsta rap” surely did decline in the years after Tupac’s death with only a few notable artists from that region.
One must remember that behind the iconic image and legend that is Tupac, he was also a son, friend, and activist trying to do right for his people. A true artist, he was ahead of his time and surely will be remembered by generations to come.