In the two decades that have passed since 2Pac‘s untimely assassination, Hip Hop has developed a special type of separation anxiety. From the shameless advertising ploys, posthumous albums, and Machiavellian conspiracy theories, it is obvious that the culture has had a hard time accepting the fact that our beloved outlaw has finally crossed the threshold of that thug mansion in the sky. This grief however is not unwarranted. In life, 2Pac personified all sides of Hip Hop making him the unintended golden boy of the culture. Tupac equally perpetuated his yin and yang like no rapper before him. He was at the same time an image of the violence and prosperity of the hood.
It was the angel side of Pac that made its public appearance first. Raised by former Black Panther Afeni Shakur, it was no surprise that Tupac had a righteous head on his shoulders.2Pacalypse Now shows full force a side of Tupac that is only seen in glimpses throughout the remainder of his career. With an unbelievable sense of personal urgency, a young 2Pac introduces the world to a new narrative on the social issues of the time: racism, police brutality, poverty, and crimes in and against the black community. He is candid in his approach and honest in his delivery with means to actually make a change.
With his second project, Tupac began creeping more toward the Thug side of the spectrum. Unlike his indie/underground influenced debut, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… synchronized Pac’s heartfelt message with a sound that would easily cross over and gain mainstream success. With the acronym “Never Ign’ant Getting Goals Accomplished” in the title and “Keep Ya Head Up” and “I Get Around” as singles, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… was able to keep the party going and push a positive message at the same time.
The thug began to emerge around the time of 2Pac’s third album Me Against the World. In what is considered Tupac’s magnum opus, he for the first in rap history creates a “pre-prison” album responding creatively to the charges brought against him. This project is filled with introspective reflections on his life along with opinions on the outside world that he felt had turned on him. There was an anger brewing that could be seen in interviews and court room footage from this time period which laid the blueprints for “thug life”.
In 1995 Pac’s reputation proceeded him. After being released from prison and signing with the most dangerous record label of the time, Death Row Records, Tupac’s thug quality was undeniable. His new label brought with it a new swagger and 2Pac had become more braggadocio than ever. There was even a shift in his musical content. His 1996 release All Eyez on Me was void of his usual social conscious undertones and stuck with the gangsta rap west coast sound that Death Row artists were known for. It was obvious that Tupac’s prior passion for social justice and change had been directed into an anger that he used to fuel a new passion, a thug passion.
In the final years of his life, Tupac was twice as thug as he was angel. After surviving an assassination attempt, Pac became the catalyst for the most intense territorial beef in Hip Hop history. His days as a purely righteous leader had passed and were replaced by a militant angry revolutionary. With the release of diss track “Hit Em Up”, it was obvious 2Pac’s music had gone completely gangsta. Even his posthumous The Don Killuminati : The 7 Day Theory shadow of the social and political themes that were once the main focus of his music.
Tupac’s life and career were a unique contradiction. As an artist, he both spoke out against and perpetuated themes that were common among the ghettos of the country, truly relating to both the saint and sinner in all who listened. He was rough with his delivery but his intentions were pure and brought about a positive change in the ghetto communities across the country. Even today, his music continues to inspire both the best and worst in his fans and is continuously shaping and changing Hip Hop culture.