Twenty years ago this week, we lost a genius. A prophet. An icon. Tupac Amaru Shakur was gunned down on September 6th in Las Vegas after a fight at the MGM, and finally was pronounced dead seven days later on Friday the 13th.
I can remember that day all too well. I was a high school sophomore, and it was high school football going on that night. I was supposed to be in attendance for a game, but I was slightly under the weather so I decided to stay home and listen to the radio. All throughout the evening, there were news reports saying he was in grave condition, as doctors had removed a lung and other disturbing details, making survival look less likely by the hour. Suddenly, it was just past eight o’ clock and the music was interrupted by the announcement of 2Pac officially being declared dead. The DJ was obviously saddened and shaken up, and within no time, my phone was ringing. Friends of mine were either in a state of shock or were literally crying like they lost their homeboy. Tears came to my own eyes before too long, as I was a fan of the man.
Even though I wasn’t a fan of how he was acting during his beef with Biggie during this time, and how he was going after so many people unnecessarily like De La Soul, Nas, Jay, and others. Nonetheless, he was a powerful figure within the game and he was the creator of countless timeless cuts. I remember the radio station playing the statement and press release from the hospital from the chief surgeon confirming his death. Quickly, the station started playing “If My Homie Calls”, and it became an all evening ode to, now, the late 2Pac. Just the sound of “the late” Tupac Shakur was almost nauseating.
Two days later MTV aired “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”, which had tears falling from my eyes as I watched it. The video was the most surreal thing I had ever seen up to that point, as the video had him murdered and in Heaven with greats like Redd Foxx and Nat King Cole. Calls kept coming in. Again, a few in shock, others actually had cracked voices. It dawned on me that Pac had a deeply impactful presence within people’s lives, as many young men especially felt that Pac spoke for them.
All weekend there were tributes to Pac, on BET and MTV, plus Hip Hop radio stations were playing non-stop Pac. It became all so surreal. I could not believe that this man was gone. At first, my natural instinct was that he would pull through. Most of us were familiar with the shooting in a Manhattan recording studio literally just before he was to get sentenced for sexual assault. He took numerous bullets in that robbery, but survived. We just knew he would pull through this time as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I started playing every Pac album I had, which was every album he had put out, as well soundtracks he had appeared on like Above The Rim and The Show (his cut “My Block” remains one of my single all-time favorite cuts from him to this day). The more tributes and solemn commentaries were being seen and heard, the more overwhelming it was starting to be for me. In school, of course I was the Hip Hop guy – even more so I was one of only a couple dozen Black kids that attended this school – so I was asked all day Monday how I was feeling and “Did I hear that Tupac died”, like I seriously didn’t know that Hip Hop’s most impactful star hadn’t just gotten murdered.
I remember the Rap City that aired that afternoon, and as you would imagine, it was very melancholy and somber. It was two hours of Pac videos and interviews. This basically became the remainder of the week. In February of ’97, Biggie’s interview with Rap City was aired, in which he stated how shocked he was that Pac had died and in spite of their beef, he never wished death upon him. Ironically, his death came a month later. I remember that once the hoopla surrounding Pac’s death slowly started to fade, most of my people were ready for the new Biggie album, Life After Death, and I’m thinking to myself, “That didn’t take long at all did it?”
In the years since his death, we’ve heard so many people influenced by his music and his words. Artists like The Game and Kendrick Lamar have openly stated on many occasions that Pac was the greatest that ever lived in their opinions. Kendrick’s masterwork of an album, To Pimp A Butterfly, was a highly vivid conceptual album that ended with him reciting a poem to 2Pac and having an “interview” with him, only for him to find out he was dreaming. In fact, the original title of the album was Tu Pimp A Caterpillar (Tu.P.A.C.). How crazy would that have been? Also, many people have dedicated cuts to Pac, such as the aforementioned Game, Nas, Scarface, Master P, and many others.
In this current era however, a lot of the younger artists seemingly disrespect his legacy like Kodak Black, saying he’s better than Pac or Biggie. There are also some that never even listened to his music, nor do they care to. This is one of many reasons why there’s such a gap between eras and generations in Hip Hop today: disrespect to the era before them. If one wants to be considered great, one must study the greats. Peep my blog piece that explains the generational gap.
Tupac is often considered the greatest of all-time by many, just in terms of influence and impact alone. Poetic and prophetic, Shakur was as passionate about the Black community as one could be. While often contradictory, as evidenced by cuts like “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and “Keep Ya Head Up” which would get followed up by “Hit ‘Em Up” and “I Get Around”, 2Pac LOVED the children – but even as he never considered himself a role model, he would often let kids know how to act and how not to act. Go to school. Change the system. Be an individual. Stand up for injustice. Arguably the most polarizing figure Hip Hop has ever known, one thing is for certain, 2Pac is missed, whether passively or passionately. In Hip Hop, he was our Michael, Whitney, and Prince. An icon. A game changer. A Revolutionary. We will always remember Mr. Tupac Amaru Shakur. Rest In Peace.