From the moment I sat down to create this list, I knew exactly where I was going with the No. 1 spot. In the history of rap, one man has literally influenced damn near every rapper that came after him in some form or other – and, for that reason, he is the most responsible for rap’s demise.
The Legend: From the moment he first captured our attention with the socially conscious “Brenda’s Got A Baby” from his debut album 2Pacalypse Now, Tupac Shakur has been hip hop’s most influential – and contradictory – artist of all time. Throughout his career, he had been a poet, a revolutionary, a thug and a ladies man – sometimes all on the same song. He clowned with Digital Underground on “I Get Around”, told women to “Keep Ya Head Up”, then asked them “How Do You Want It” with K-Ci and Jojo. On “California Love”, he and Dre told the world that California knows how to party. On “Dear Mama”, he thanked his mother for his life while forgiving her her mistakes. And he did this all while guzzling Hennessy and riding on his enemies on songs like “Ambitions as a Ridah”, “When We Ride”, and “Hail Mary”.
And we loved him for it, to the tune of 75 million albums sold worldwide. We sat transfixed during his acting performance as Bishop in the hood classic Juice. We chose sides in the dreaded East Coast/West Coast rivalry. After his untimely death, we purchased his albums by the boatload, and even concocted the myth that he had faked his death and was still alive somewhere.
His influence can be felt in every rapper that donned his trademark bandanas (see DMX and Ja Rule), got tattoos across the chest (Nas and Lil Wayne), and proudly proclaims themselves to be a thug (50 Cent). Even today, Tupac’s ghost can haunt Coachella (in hologram form), and we remain captivated by this legendary figure.
The Aftermath: As 2Pac transitioned from man to legend, the socially and politically conscious messages from his early music became background noise to his thug persona. Although he never had a criminal record before becoming successful, after he became famous, he never met a crime that he didn’t like. As a result, some of today’s rappers have built their reps from being the biggest thugs around. Rappers today wear bullet wounds like trophies, and brag about jail time like they are up for the Nobel Prize. Anyone who’s ever been shot will tell you there is nothing cool about it, but rappers take it to ridiculous lengths: consider how Lil Wayne brags about being shot, even though his bullet wound is SELF-INFLICTED – the equivalent of dropping a cooler of Gatorade on your foot, and calling it a sports injury.
As with most of the worst offenders on this list, any of Pac’s redeeming qualities and lyrical prowess have been taken into a field and shot at point-blank range by today’s rappers, who espouse tales of misogyny and violence without a speck of creativity or authenticity. Plies talks of being the world’s biggest goon – a synonym for thug that, ironically, also means stupid person – even though he attended college and was a successful wide receiver there. And then, there’s this guy: