Tuesday was the 15th anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s death. That anniversary isn’t something that I have marked on my calendar or anything, so to be totally honest, I only realized it the day of. But nevertheless, for most people who are familiar on any level with hip-hop and its history, 2Pac is iconic figure, revered perhaps more than any other emcee. He’s been an unexpected source of inspiration in my life, and I want to take this Throwback Thursday to talk a little about how I came to listen and to admire him.
If I asked you to name a famous swimmer, who would you name? Michael Phelps? Well, like the legends of almost any sport or art, 2Pac’s name is known even among those totally foreign to hip-hop. And when I first began to take a serious interest in hip-hop, I was almost (but not quite) as foreign to the genre as I was to olympic swimming. I’d heard of 2Pac, but save for a song or two, I really had no idea who was or why he was so respected. For an artist who consistently ranks with the top of the top in popular rankings in hip-hop, what would his music sound like? Could he really be that good?
I first started listening to hip-hop while I was living in China, and my roommate at the time was a hip-hop connoisseur. Almost like a hip-hop hipster. He raved on and on about all the classic rappers, music from the early and mid-nineties that I’d probably never have heard without him. I’d always wanted to to get to know hip-hop on a deeper level, so I figured he’d be the best way in. Soon enough was giving me all this music (of course at 320 kbps, god forbid he listen to anything less), and I was listening to it everyday during my long commute to and from work. It came time for me to listen to 2Pac’s albums, and man was I excited. I mean, this guy is like the cream of the crop, right? So I charged up my iPod with Me Against The World and All Eyez on Me and I shuffled on out the door with “If I Die 2Nite” bumpin’ in the ‘phones.
I wasn’t feeling it as much as I thought I should. I felt guilty. I mean this was one of the LEGENDS, and I wasn’t feeling blown away at all. I thought the sound was a little dated, and I was having trouble seeing what distinguished it so wildly from the other nineties hip-hop I was listening to. Maybe I didn’t get it, I thought. Or maybe everyone who claimed to love him was following a heard mentality of “this guy is awesome because everyone says he is.” I’ve had that feeling before; a classic writer whose books I thought were crap, or a painter or poet or film that disappointed me despite being so popularly bloated with reverence. As I’ve learned, in these situations this disappointment usually means one of two things: 1) The popular reverence is phony and self-perpetuating or 2) There’s something you have yet to see or understand about whatever/whomever is in question. Often it’s probably a little of both. But for 2Pac, it became clear some time later that there was more depth than I could possibly see with the feeble scratches I’d given on the surface.
After cruising the Beijing subways to the loss of my 2Pac virginity, I came back to my apartment to my hip-hop connoisseur friend telling him that I wasn’t so overwhelmingly impressed. And that didn’t change until months later when I sat down to get to know him, to really listen to him. To understand the realness of who he was and what he was saying. I listened to him speak in interviews, read things he wrote, and really listened to what he was saying (Use those lyric websites!). He’s transformed the way I listen to hip-hop. And more importantly, even though we come from staggeringly difference backgrounds, he’s given me more wisdom and inspiration than arguably any musical artist out there. When it comes to people citing him as the one of the greatest rappers ever, it’s not because he’s got the greatest flow or the best lyrical and technical precision out there. He doesn’t, not at all. His music is so powerful and he shines so much as an artist because of his reflection and his emotion and his honesty. The potency of what he’s saying and how he says it. When you hear him speak in interviews, his intelligence and his realness is totally consuming. It makes me want to be true and in everything I do….It’s hard to explain, but does anyone feel me?
Listen to Tupac Shakur in his first interview in 1988, when he was 17 (3 years before he was to real ease his first album):
Here is is 7 years later, interviewed while serving prison time. This is long, but so fucking interesting.
I can watch interview upon interview with him and always learn something new or discover another kernel of wisdom. The context and history behind his music and his life is far too long to write here and I probably wouldn’t do it justice, but it’s something I definitely encourage anyone to explore. If you haven’t seen it, Tupac: Resurrection is an amazing posthumous documentary about his life, narrated by 2Pac himself.
Listen to some of my favorite songs of his:
Download ZIP or individually:
MP3: “I Ain’t Mad At Cha (feat. Danny Boy)” – 2Pac
MP3: “Only God Can Judge Me (feat. Rappin 4-Tay)” – 2Pac
MP3: “Thugz Mansion (Nas Acoustic) (feat. Nas, J. Phoenix)” – 2Pac
MP3: “So Many Tearz” – 2Pac
MP3: “Better Dayz (feat. Mr. Biggs)” – 2Pac
MP3: “Hail Mary (feat. Kastro, Young Noble)” – 2Pac
MP3: “Old School” – 2Pac
MP3: “Life Goes On” – 2Pac
MP3: “Runnin (feat. Notorious B.I.G) – 2Pac
MP3: “Still Ballin (MiMOSA Remix) – 2Pac