2Pac is arguably the most influential rapper of all-time. In fact, his closest analog may not be late rival The Notorious B.I.G., but rather dorm-room icons of the mythologized past: Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and James Dean. Even if his legend has become a tall tale, his music remains an indelible testament to the multitudes he contained. He was born Lesane Parish Crooks in 1971, but his mother (a Black Panther leader) swiftly changed his name to Tupac Amaru Shakur in honor of the last Incan emperor to perish while resisting Spanish rule. For much of his career, he embodied this revolutionary, fight-the-power ethos on songs like “Trapped” and “Keep Ya Head Up,” befitting the Afrocentric, conscious-minded milieu of the early ’90s. But there was also the funkadelic player (“I Get Around”), the insular loner (“Me Against the World”), the savage warlord (“Hit ’Em Up”), and the sensitive poet (“Brenda’s Got a Baby”). And as Death Row Records’ strain of gangsta rap defined the middle years of the decade, he became the label’s avatar. Originally branding himself MC New York, 2Pac incorporated influences from the East and West Coasts, not to mention the South, to create a universalist message and sound that explains why murals of him can be found all the way to Sub-Saharan Africa. But you don’t have to travel far to witness his impact: Even two decades after his untimely demise, 2Pac’s influence can be heard in everyone from Lil Wayne to Kendrick Lamar to Future.
HOMETOWNNew York, NY [Harlem]
BORNJune 16, 1971