REALITY: Biggie and Tupac don’t matter anymore.
For hip-hop, which has always prided itself on origin stories, the intertwining sagas of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur are key formative narratives.
Together, they’ve become a collective idea, the culture’s most important dyad.
And yet, think of everything that’s happened in the 12 years since their murders: hip-hop’s full immersion into pop, the rise of the South, the reemergence of independent rap, Kanye West. None of these things would have been possible without the footprint Biggie and Pac left upon the collective consciousness, but none rely on their templates or modes for sustenance.
Biggie and Pac have emulators, of course, from 50 Cent to Young Jeezy, but they’re of an older generation, the first descendents in the ancestral line. For a teenager today, the Biggie/Pac axis might sound as foreign as references to Grandmaster Caz and the World Class Wreckin’ Cru.
“I never cried when Pac died/But I probably will when Hov does,” Drake raps on “Fear,” from his So Far Gone EP. So much distance has been traveled — musically, but really, psychologically — that the likes of Soulja Boy, Drake, Plies, and even Black Eyed Peas are just part of the tapestry now.
In a world where hip-hop is lingua franca, it’s hard to recall a time when a rapper could rupture the culture like they did. Now their gifts are part of the starter package: The ability to remain musically whole in the face of mainstream fame, their ease and utter lack of inscrutability, and as ever, the violence. But this particularly toxic blend that led to their murders isn’t as pungent now. And the conflict Biggie and Pac came to embody — East vs. West, in temperament and sound — is less than a memory now. If anything, it’s become the template of what not to do. The commercial success built upon Biggie’s and Pac’s backs has made hip-hop more financially ruthless, but paradoxically, perhaps a touch less life-or-death.
Which is why it’s okay to let them go. It’s time Biggie and Pac stopped bearing the burden of a genre that’s swallowed their teachings whole and continued on apace. Let’s let them rest.
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