Saturday, November 17, 2018

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Tupac Shakur’s Death 22 Years Later: “Makavelli” Unleashed His Cultural Power

The anniversary of Tupac’s death is a day of contemplation for his fans, young and old.

If there ever was cause for martyrdom in hip hop, it began with Tupac Shakur questioning his own mortality. When Pac was briefly imprisoned in 1995, he used his penal library code to check out books written by Niccolò Machiavelli, a noted contrarian whose philosophical work was both divisive and polarizing no matter the era which it was read. Machiavelli’s view cynical view of “power” influenced the character Tupac would develop in the latter stage of his life.

Shakur rebranded himself Makavelli, thus creating a personal mythology that could follow him into the afterlife. The Makavelli complex became the most identifiable aspect of his mystique. Other rappers have tried in vain to become transcendent figures within their lifespan of activity, but none were more convincing than Tupac. When the fabled Death Row rapper passed away in 1996, 22 years ago to the day, the nuances of Tupac’s character became larger than the sum of its parts, to the point where people starting using his name in search of proper semantics. When XXXTentacion was murdered in June, Jermaine Dupri declared him the Tupac of his Zeitgeist, the conclusion being: historical framework loses its singular strength over time. You can rightly make any value proposition about yourself and Pac, so long as its positive.

If you compare Tupac and XXXTentacion as people (not signifiers), there are without a doubt overlapping elements. Both men ran out the clock before they could right their transgressions. Within the context of their actions, XXX and Pac were reacting to the climate around them.

Rappers like Boosie Badazz refer to themselves as a Tupac-like figure, even with hardly any comparable traits. The symbolism of Tupac’s legacy is evolving at a rate more rapid than he ever accounted for. That’s why Boosie Badazz is allowed to make a positive remark, however ill-fitting, whereas Lil Xan’s dogged commentary almost got him blacklisted. Unfortunately, the powers that be also saw the commercial appeal in Xan’s comments, so they doubled down on their investment. None of that would have been possible without using Tupac’s name as “literal” currency, by the power invested in his legacy.

In the end, Xan’s disparaging comments were no match for the power “Tupac Shakur” yields as a cultural idea. The sum of that cultural idea was expressed by Pac’s genuine interest in history, music, poetry, philosophy, and existentialism. But not of that matters out of context. The teenagers who threatened Lil Xan in a fast food restaurant weren’t necessarily familiar with his music, in fact, they probably never ventured beyond his “greatest hits” compilation, but none of that even matters in the context of his legacy. Some would argue, Tupac began his transformation before he left the corporeal World, his mythology as unrestrained as he was open-minded and susceptible to change.

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