Why Tupac Shakur's Rock Hall Induction Celebrates Hip-Hop's Trailblazing History

Two decades after his death, Tupac Shakur continues to make a significant impact. Next year, the late rapper will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, marking an important moment in music, rock and hip-hop history.

This well-deserved milestone is a defining one for the Rock Hall. It comes as hip-hop’s place in the shrine continues to be questioned by the likes of Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, who claimed N.W.A didn’t deserve to be inducted earlier this year simply because they were a rap group. Ice Cube countered this in a memorable induction speech. “Are we rock and roll?" he asked. "You goddamn right we rock and roll. Rock and roll is not an instrument. [It’s] not even a style of music. Rock and roll is a spirit." 'Pac’s induction is a sign that rap’s spirit will not be silenced.

Perhaps surprising given hip-hop’s prominence today, 'Pac is just the sixth rap act to enter the storied institution. He follows Run-D.M.C., Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and N.W.A into the history books. However, he is the first of these acts whose careers began in the ‘90s, prompting what could usher a renaissance of rhymers as Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and more become eligible in years to come. Like he was in his raps, Shakur continues to be a trailblazer.

Tupac’s induction is also vital because it celebrates hip-hop’s history as a vehicle for social commentary. Since his debut album, 1991’s 2Pacalypse Now, he’s provided poignant records about police brutality ("Trapped"), teen pregnancy (“Brenda’s Got a Baby”), the war on drugs ("Words of Wisdom"), domestic violence ("Can U Get Away"), gender and race equality ("Keep Ya Head Up"), to name a few. He did this with a distinct perspective, as a poetic soul who’d been raised by Black Panthers in New York and Baltimore through the ‘70s and ‘80s. These themes, of course, are sadly as relevant today as they were then, making ‘Pac’s induction feel particularly essential in 2017.

But ‘Pac’s music reached beyond the socio-political sphere -- it also hit the heart. This Hall of Fame entry is a celebration of that emotional vulnerability as the late rapper managed grief ("Life Goes On"), helplessness ("No More Pain"), and suicidal thoughts ("So Many Tears") in his music. "Now I'm lost and I'm weary," he rapped on the latter cut. "I’m suicidal so don't stand near me." It was insightful and, for some, relatable, offering a window into his soul and a mirror for listeners to reflect upon. But 'Pac also provided hope. "Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that," he encouraged on "Me Against the World."

These emotional nuances have inspired some of today’s most introspective rappers like Kendrick Lamar. The TDE wordsmith used a 2Pac interview as the foundation for last year’s Grammy-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly, where he explored suicide, anxiety, race, and self-love. Then there’s Kid Cudi, who sampled ‘Pac’s voice in "Goodbye," a song about his mental health released just months before he entered rehab for suicidal urges among other things. All of this influence makes ‘Pac’s induction feel crucial as the celebration of a fruitful seed that has helped inspire music’s brightest and most contemplative minds.

Even hip-hop legends who are not yet eligible for the Hall have taken pages from ‘Pac’s book. Eminem, who co-executive-produced the posthumous 2004 Shakur album Loyal to the Game, once wrote about his influence. "When I was feeling at my worst (before fame, before Dr. Dre), I knew I could put that Tupac tape in and, suddenly, things weren't so bad," he wrote. Nas, a former Tupac foe, showed reverence on "We Will Survive," in which he eulogized the late icon while quoting some of his lyrics. “Will there ever be another MC as nice?” he asked of ‘Pac. "Will you return to us like the resurrection of Christ?"

'Pac's entry into the Hall of Fame is also an important, positive light in the wake of tragedy. Twenty years ago, ‘Pac was gunned down in a still-unsolved shooting in Las Vegas. His death followed a feud with several rappers including Biggie Smalls, who was killed months later, in a similarly unresolved shooting in Los Angeles. The deaths mark a dark period in hip-hop in which two of the genre’s most touted rappers’ lives were cut short in their mid '20s (‘Pac was 25, B.I.G. was 24). This Rock Hall induction could also be a sign of things to come for Frank White, who’ll be eligible for the Hall in three years.

Tupac once famously compared himself to a "rose that grew from concrete." In a poem, he noted that such a rose would be filled with scratches and scars, but that the beauty is in its resilience rather than its flaws. The metaphor is fitting for ‘Pac, who emerged from depression to give hope, and continues to help music evolve even after his death though heart-wrenching work and an impactful voice. It’s also fitting for hip-hop, which evolved from what many believed to be a fad into a respected art form that has a place in music’s history books, despite what some critics have to say.

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