OK… before anyone says it… it has nothin’ to do with the fact that this fella is my favorite MC. I was never of the belief that I had to dislike one in order to like the other. I never really got into the taking of sides while that shit was goin’ on, and I don’t even compare them to each other today. I’ve always felt that the only reason people connect them anyway is because they’re both deceased and the rivalry they had when they were alive- the same way people still compare Jay-Z and Nas because they had a feud nine years ago. To me, 2Pac and B.I.G. as two almost completely different things musically, both of which I like for different reasons. They shared some of the same subject matter, but that’s where it stops.
Now that I got that out the way… Being a lifelong hip-hop enthusiast, I’ve had all kinds of Tupac Shakur convos over the years- before and after he died, pro and con, in real life and online. If nothing else, he’s always been one that gets a strong reaction one way or the other. Rarely have I ever had a convo about him with someone who doesn’t feel some kind of way about his music, or about him as an individual. But at times, the love AND hate he’s gotten have bordered on insane- which is why I can say, ‘Pac is the most overrated and underrated of all-time. Let’s speak on it.
2Pac Is Overrated by no fault of his own. It has less to do with anything on his part than it does with his fans. I don’t mean “his fans” as in people who respect him as an artist, and enjoy his music as well as his acting. I mean “his fans” as in… those fans, and anyone who’s known a “Tupac fan” before knows what that means. Although I like a lot of ‘Pac’s music, I’d never go as far as to make him an equivalent of Jesus Christ. Nor as some kind of new-age equivalent of Malcolm X. Nor as the big bad wolf that the whole rap world was petrified of because he made songs about them. Last year, I even had a dude tell me that if ‘Pac was still alive today, there would be a third political party. Nigga, please.
The extreme levels to which some people will go with the ‘Pac worship just blows shit way out of proportion. And it’s nothing he has any control over, but it definitely adds to why some (including myself) feel like his greatness has been greatly exaggerated. Of course, most artists who die are going to be canonized to some degree, but Pac’s canonization has reached unrealistic levels. Who was once a controversial MC/actor with a few socially relevant things to say has become a military leader, a martyr, and a biblical figure all in one.
At the same time… 2Pac Is Underrated because his lyrics tend to be hyper-criticized. It almost seems like those who do this are combating the overrating by downplaying his work altogether. ‘Pac has never (to my knowledge) professed to be some sort of “super-lyrical” MC who pushed the limits of vocabulary or had the most complex flows. For those who judge a lyricist’s worth on those things alone, 2Pac isn’t much. They’ll contend that he isn’t as technically skilled by the standards that they measure their favorites on, and thus, he’s not great at all. But what he didn’t have in those areas, he more than made up for in the depth of his words and his delivery.
There are some rappers whose lyrics may look amazing on paper, but have never evoked any feeling at all when it comes out in stereo. One of ‘Pac’s most outstanding strengths is that while he rarely tried to get too fancy with the wordplay, he’s said some really poignant shit and drove home every point, which goes a much longer way. So what if he never told a story in reverse, or rhymed about the evolution of man and how different races and religions began, or dropped long-ass battle raps… that wasn’t his angle to begin with, and it didn’t make his best stuff any less great. Much like Ice Cube and Scarface, who also didn’t care too much for the gymnastics, he was straight to the point- and more often than not, he made his words count.
So all in all… that’s why I feel ‘Pac has been both grossly overrated and underrated at the same time. Just like there’s people who’ve seen fit to suddenly make shit like 2Pacalypse Now out to be a classic… there’s people who out-and-out refuse to acknowledge the quality of his most defining albums. Some think he was God, some think he was garbage. Me? I’m just somewhere in the middle. There’s stuff I like (most of his official ’94-’96 output), stuff I don’t (a great deal of his early shit), and some I’ll probably never bother to listen to (most of those doctored albums they put together after his death). I give him all the props in the world for the great stuff he did (in music and real life), but I can still say he did some wack shit too (in music and real life).
Today, Tupac is 39 and lives in Cuba would’ve been 39. And like I said in the earlier part of this post, he still gets strong reactions, and his music is still played and respected everywhere. Whether for or against, that alone is a testament to how important he is, which I don’t think anyone on either side of the coin could ever dispute. R.I.P.