September 13, 1996 and March 19, 1997 are two dates that changed the entire landscape of hip hop forever. These are the dates that mark the historic losses of the extremely prolific rappers, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Their mark on hip hop, which is almost as immeasurable as the effects of their music, as well as the overall package that came with each dynamic personality, are deeply rooted in the genre of rap music today and for the foreseeable future.
They will forever be fixtures in hip hop and rightfully so, however, it is also widely accepted that, if not for their unfortunate demises, Tupac and Biggie would still be dominant forces in music today. The reason for this is because they were both fresh off their most critically acclaimed releases shortly before they were murdered. Tupac had released All Eyez on Me, which was filled with gangsta raps as well as thought-provoking tracks riddled with social commentary. The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory was also recorded shortly before Tupac’s death but was a posthumous release. Biggie’s final album, Life After Death, was also a posthumous release. Both rap artists were easily at the apexes of their careers, which is why the timing of their passing is so unfortunate.
The idea that I would really like to challenge (with respect to Biggie and Pac) is whether they would be dominating the rap world if they were still around today. Furthermore, I would like to explore the possibility that it is more likely that they would not be the most dominant artists in hip hop today in terms of the music they would be releasing. Now before you look up my IP address and gather all your friends in an angry mob for my head, just hear me out. The way I see it, there’s three main paths that the rappers could have followed if their lives were not tragically cut short.
Outcome #1: The Continuation of Their Domination
So let’s assume here that Biggie and Tupac continued to drop full length LPs on a semi-regular basis that were, not only critically acclaimed, but also widely accepted by the general public. For this outcome to be realistic, one would have to assume that the best parts of their careers were yet to come to fruition since it has been over 15 years since those tragic events. Moreover, this would mean that Biggie and Pac would not have actually reached the apexes of their careers at the time of their death and they would actually see even more success than they already had. For each outcome I want to mention examples of rappers that have followed a similar path, however, I do not believe there has ever been a rapper in the genre’s history that maintained the level of popularity that Biggie and Pac perished with for a long period of time. I want to stress “the level of popularity” because there are definitely rappers out there who have been pumping out amazing music for years and years, (e.g. MF Doom and The Roots). It is important to note that these rap outfits do not garner even nearly as much attention as Tupac and Biggie did in their time.
For this outcome to realistically happen, Biggie and Pac would have to do something that virtually no other rapper has ever done before. You have to keep in mind that right before they were killed they were two of the largest cemented fixtures in rap. In order to keep that up, they would have to maintain their musical excellence as well as their enticing images. They would have to also make sure to stay innovative in a clever way as to make sure their acts did not become dated to listeners. They would have to do the impossible in rap…please everyone.
Outcome #2: Less Music, More Business
“Music business hate me cause the industry ain’t make me.
Hustlers and boosters embrace me and the music I be making.
I dumbed down for my audience and doubled my dollars,
They criticize me for it, yet they all yell holla.” – Jay-Z in “Moment of Clarity”
This would be the most probable outcome, in my opinion. If a rapper wants to either gain popularity or maintain a high spot in the eyes of fans, they have to create enjoyable music, all the while maintaining a high level of innovation, which just is not sustainable. In addition, when an artist reaches a certain level of popularity, they become much bigger than their own music and they become a brand themselves. Initially, their music will be their main source of income but if they are successful, it is their personal brand that carries them financially.
Don’t believe me? Just keep waiting for Detox to come out while Dr. Dre sits in his mansion farming cash off his branded headphones. Dr. Dre, literally, has nothing to gain with making music. He’s already proven his prowess as an elite producer and he’s living quite comfortably with his personal business ventures. There are also countless other examples of rappers who have quit putting their heart and souls into producing LPs and have fallen back onto other forms of revenue and you cannot blame them. The public demands so much from artists so it makes sense for artists to just try and live their lives. Being under the microscope with all of society’s eyes behind the eyepiece watching and criticizing your every move has to be extremely taxing mentally and physically. If Tupac and Biggie were still alive today, imagine how many headphone companies would be begging for them to put their name on a new product in exchange for a hefty royalty. The more their legendary status becomes cemented into the genre, the less pressure they have in proving themselves musically.
You are probably all thinking “just look at Jay-Z and Nas!” Both of these rappers were also very influential in the rap genre even back when Biggie and Pac were still around and they are still huge monikers for hip hop today, all the while still making music. However, after objectively comparing Jay-Z and Nas’ music in the pre-1998 time period to the many different styles they have experimented with after, there are many mixed feelings from listeners within the community. As a result of the achievements and level of praise for their work in the past, many actively argue that Jay-Z and Nas have gotten much worse musically than they were back in golden era of hip hop. Jay-Z even admits to intentionally dumbing down his music in order to further supply his wealth and Nas is still seemingly putting a lot of effort into his music, however, he has found it difficult to create consistently highly impactful records. Basically, my main point is that Jay-Z and Nas have failed to reach the same quality of music they put out earlier in their careers in the eyes of many of the hip hop community. Personally, I believe that Jay-Z and Nas’ fates would be the best possible, yet still realistic, scenarios for Biggie and Pac’s nonexistent continued careers. They would still be relevant in music but would fail to reach the levels they once had in the past.
Outcome #3: Whatever Happened to Tupac and Biggie?
This last possible outcome includes the sudden disappearance of the rappers due to some sort of major event that could have forced them out of the public eye. Whether it be because of a sudden epiphany, like when Mase found God, or a conscious decision to leave the spotlight like Lauryn Hill did (sparked by her disdain for the state of society). This outcome involves hip hop fans going “Whatever happened to Biggie and Tupac these days anyway?!” Alternatively, they may have left the music industry completely and pursued other endeavors such as acting.
This outcome is the most unrealistic one in my opinion only because of the level of notoriety that Tupac and Biggie had achieved. Although artists have dropped off suddenly in the past, none were as popular as Biggie and Pac in their time.
In the end, there should be no debate at all on whether Tupac and Biggie would be huge names in the hip hop world today. They undisputedly would remain the kings of rap because of how far they pushed the genre. Their influence would just continue to grow and grow until they became bigger than music themselves. This would, in turn, lead to the rappers to not put as much focus in their music which I would say would start in the mid-2000s, if not earlier.
This article is not meant to downplay or be presented as a negative connotation towards the lives and music of Notorious B.I.G or Tupac Shakur. It is solely directed to those who wholeheartedly believe that if the two superstars were still alive today, they would still be dominating the rap world musically. Based on general trends of the volatile and unpredictable genre as well as trends from other artists in similar situations, it is more realistic to believe that Tupac and Biggie would not still be pumping out music at the same level they were before they passed away. Furthermore, it would not be because they were no longer capable or a testament to their talents but more so an indicator of the rapid evolution of hip hop as well as the somewhat unrealistic expectations of music listeners. The sheer magnitude of their influence on the genre today is immeasurable and will definitely be felt for years and years to come. The music that they were able to present to the public in their short lives have successfully been immortalized in the history books and rightfully so.
The opinions and views expressed here are the opinions of the designated author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or views of any of the individual members of Dead End Hip Hop.