Even in death, Tupac Shakur and his music still reign supreme. This year marks the 20th since that fateful night in 1996, when the rapper was shot after a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas, losing his fight for life six days later on September 13, twenty years ago today.
Tupac was one of the most outspoken and prolific rappers of all time. One of the most multitalented artists of all time, he was a rapper, a poet, a producer, an actor, an activist, a nice-guy, a thug, a legend, a prophet, and he was also a man taken way before his time. Despite his ‘Thug Life’ attitude and numerous assault charges, he was a man of the people. “He represented, more than anything … that angst for people who felt oppression and poverty or felt marginalised,” MC Khaled M said. “He was the voice of the voiceless. Up until this day, I don’t think we have a hip-hop artist being able to replicate … his depth and passion.”
The emotion he put into his music, his social commentary, and his call-to-action approach to telling stories of inner-city life are still as relevant today as they were in the early 90s. Tupac set the bar for hardened gangsta rappers, but also showed us that it was okay to drop your guard and show emotion sometimes too.
Tupac had many dedicated fans, some who have concocted numerous conspiracy theories surrounding his death. Many of these hinge around his seemingly prophetic lyrics and his name change from Tupac to Makaveli, as seen on the writing on the sleeve of his final album (which came out after he died), The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory: “Exit Tupac, Enter Makaveli.”
While everyone would surely love for Tupac to secretly be hiding in exile in Cuba with Elvis, Bowie, and Prince, common sense dictates that, everything else aside, there is no way he could have remained this silent for twenty years. No way he could have sat by and said nothing with all that is going on in the world.
In the twenty years since Tupac last graced this earth, there have been plenty of rappers who have enjoyed the same (and more) levels of success, though arguably none have had the lasting impact on music and popular culture that Tupac has. Tupac is still being honoured today. Before his death, he drafted a logo and theme for a restaurant, with the hopes of opening up ‘The Powamekka Café’ – a music-themed restaurant where artists could feature their own recipes. Two decades later, Take 3 will finally bring his vision to life. Take 3, a restaurant based in Fresno, California, will pay tribute by opening the ‘The Powamekka Café’ pop-up restaurant today on September 13.
Later this year, the Tupac biopic will hit theatres too – hopefully it will depict the everlasting Tupac that us 90s hip-hop kids grew up listening to, and the new generation of hip-hop heads can see why there is still such love for the man and the era he helped define.
Most ordinary people remember Tupac and honour his memory and music by putting one of his CDs into the stereo and rapping away; by buying his posthumously released albums and tributes, or by watching Above The Rim.
No matter how many times I hear songs like Baby Don’t Cry, I Ain’t Mad At Cha, Changes, or Brenda’s Got A Baby, they still evoke the same raw emotions in me that they always have. It’s difficult to believe it has been twenty years. The tributes will undoubtedly flood in overnight, and this will be but one in a plethora.
Growing up playing sport and listening to hip-hop, it was hard to come to terms with emotions I was having. The man that hip-hop and basketball were raising me to be was a hardened, don’t-show-emotion, feelings-are-for-the-weak, misogynistic type of man. It was important to have people like Tupac in my life to show me that even the hardest of men can say beautiful things; to be ‘the rose that grew from the concrete’.
Tupac was, and forever will be, one of the greatest men, teachers, and rappers of all time. Gone but never forgotten – twenty years on, I hope you’re still resting, homie.