While grabbing a drink with a friend recently, we stumbled into talking about hip hop and how I got involved with the genre. After mentioning that they didn’t really know much, or spent time really diving into meaning of lyrics, I found myself asking, “So… who’s your favorite rapper then?”
Friend: “I guess Tupac.”
Me: *sideways glance* “Why?”
Story | Sara Loretta
Photo | Getty Images
Friend: “I don’t know, I’ve just always listened to him in the gym, his music pumps me up.”
Me: *sips my grapefruit and vodka* “But present day, who do you like?”
Friend: “Kendrick is pretty great, his album… Butterfly… I love the beats, it’s just catchy.”
Now I’m not about to give you a speech on why this opinion is wrong, but I am going to counter-argue this conversation and make you think about the impact artists may have on you. First and foremost there is nothing wrong with thinking Tupac or Biggie is the “Greatest Rapper of All Time”. There is something wrong however, with just picking one of them because you haven’t formed your own opinion on the music you listen too.
There is no doubt that both Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls) have had an enormous influence in the hip hop community from the East to West coasts. Their rap styles, lyrical content and lifestyles all have played a part in the infamousy of each artist. I do believe the latter is why each artist is so popular; because their deaths were tragic and controversial, more so than their actual flows. It’s curious to think where each artist would be if they had not died during the height of their careers. Perhaps they would be as rich as Diddy or as royal as Jay-Z after having the opportunity to make several best-selling records. Or perhaps these artists would have entered the 2000s-era and faded off as many artists do because their style didn’t fit in with the current trends of club dancing and late night booty calls. We can’t let our minds wander into the what-ifs though, because history has solidified each artist as yet another celebrity who died too young.
If you aren’t depthly involved with the hip hop community, that’s perfectly okay. Every single rap fan isn’t expected to spend hours on a Saturday night dissecting the latest album they’ve downloaded or saved on Apple Music. But everyone who chooses to click play on the new Young M.A. track or promote Gucci Mane’s latest album through a simple tweet should be able to say why they like the music, or don’t depending on the conversation; especially if you are taking the time to enjoy this current trend in music over some of the original work by artists who have made a lifelong career in the industry (like Nas or Jay-Z).
Recently, Lonzo Ball did just that. He argued his dislike for the OG’s and defended his stance on Migos and Future being more relevant than music 20 years ago. While his opinion is his own, his disrespect for these artists is a problem. Similarly, if you blindly choose to like one artist just because of their celebrity status without taking the time to listen to artists in the same subgenre and lyrical content, you are disrespecting the industry as a whole.
In one of the first articles I wrote for Lunch Table, I talked about mumble rap being a phase, like disco was in the 1960-70s. Millennials are looking for a way out of the world around them; to not spend time dwelling on politics and hate but instead to just drown everything out, perhaps even their own feelings.
I think vocal patterns play a large role in Lonzo’s argument as well. If you listen to Tupac vs. Lil Uzi Vert, Shakur sounds like an old man, his voice is deeper and sounds authoritative, compared to Uzi Vert who sounds like a younger and less father-like artist. While mumble rap may be a distraction, I don’t think people who spend time around me feel comfortable mentioning their favorite artist is Lil Uzi Vert, knowing how deeply involved I am with music. So maybe by saying their favorite artist is Tupac or Biggie (and knowing they had more impactful content in their discography), they are trying to feel relevant and knowledgeable towards their friends.
Unfortunately, blindly choosing an artist because you think it’s who hip hop heads want you to say, creates the problem. More importantly, choosing Biggie or Tupac because their names are known well and you’ve seen their face on a t-shirt at Forever 21 doesn’t make them influential to you as a fan of hip hop. Their controversial deaths have increased their fame, however, there are several artists rapping about exactly what the two 1990’s kings once did. For instance, in Tupac’s track “Trapped”, Shakur raps,
“You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion / Happiness, living on the streets is a delusion / Even a smooth criminal one day must get caught / Shot up or shot down with the bullet that he bought / Nine millimeter kickin’ thinkin’ about what the streets do to me / Cause they never talk peace in the black community”
Just like 2Pac rapped in 1991, Lupe Fiasco talks about seclusion and racism in “Around My Way [Freedom Ain’t Free]” in 2017.
“First off, say “Peace” to Pine Ridge / Shame at all the damage that the white man wine did / Ghost Dance, Trail of Tears, five million beers a year / And all that other crime did / More peace to the teachers of blind kids / To rebels in small cells keeping their mind big / Say everything’s hostile / Suicide bombers and prosperity gospels, emaciated models / With cocaine and blood pouring out their nostrils, they got to / Just to stay awake on the catwalk of life where everybody watch you”
Both artists discuss the same issues of the projects and impoverished inner city problems, yet unknowingly we choose Tupac Shakur over Lupe Fiasco because one name has more conversation around it than the other. So unless you understand the change in time periods and see the similarities in inequalities or political stances, there really is no difference between a Kendrick Lamar, Tupac, Biggie and Ice Cube.
If you truly do like Tupac or Biggie as your favorite artist, I best be hearing more than just their most popular tracks like “All Eyez On Me” or “Hypnotize” through your aux cord.