“…I will spark the brain that will change the world.” These are the famous words that the rap star, Tupac Shakur uttered in his famous interview with MTV in 1996. Those very words would hold true, as he was able to invoke a sense of hope and inspiration for generations to come, through his music and persona. One of the individuals who has been moved by Shakur’s famous words, is rapper Kendrick Lamar, who considers himself an offspring of Shakur’s movement.
Many can remember back to Tupac’s earliest days, when he was performing with hip-hop group, Digital Underground. In 1991, he eclipsed his mentors, releasing his first studio LP, 2pacalypse Now. This would be the starting point for what would become his legacy of greatness.
From his first film Juice, to his first major single “Keep Ya Head Up”, he was on the rise to stardom. But, it was through his social activism and compassion which drove the sincerity that made so many of his die hard fans stay by his side. His major success was felt from his final two albums while living, Me Against The World and All Eyez On Me. The former captured the soul and social awareness of Tupac, his softer side. The latter, captured his rage and fury towards a world and rap industry that grew hostile.
Though Tupac did pass away in 1996, his death only furthered his cause. Now, he has become a rap legend—a hip-hop symbol, and dominates discussion in America’s west coast as its undisputed king and martyr. Since then, Kendrick Lamar has picked up the torch of Makaveli, and continues to pursue the life goals and dreams that his mentor once shared.
Lamar was born on America’s west coast, specifically Compton, home to some of America’s most notorious neighborhoods. It’s clear to see the influence Tupac had on K-Dot, as he continuously references the former Death Row star on tracks such as Keisha’s Song, Hiipower, Ab Soul’s Outro and most intriguing of all “Mortal Man” the final song on his sophomore record “To Pimp A Butterfly”.
Mortal man is a track that tackles Kendrick Lamar’s paranoia of betrayal, mostly by his beloved fans. He continually questions the loyalty of his followers, comparing himself to great leaders such as Nelson Mandela, MLK, Malcolm X and even former United States president John F Kennedy. The paranoia may be justified as some of his predecessors, in the end, met their end in controversial deaths for the most part. The track can be seen as Lamar’s attempt to acquire some level of reassurance that he will not face a similar fate.
The paranoia Lamar feels is similar to that of Tupac’s fascination with death. Though, the song is a powerful message to its listeners, a more important message lies at the end of the song. Kendrick plays an extremely rare unreleased interview with Shakur, one he acquired during his time in Germany. Lamar, replaces himself with the original interviewers. Shakur then proceeds to answer his questions. The discussion ranges from philosophy, to black issues, and ultimately fate.
The Compton artist seems fascinated in the words Tupac spews back at him.
Near the end of the interview, Kendrick chooses to read a statement that his friend made to him and he turns to Tupac for his perspective on the matter, only to be left with an empty silence.
This interview is intriguing, but Lamar’s infatuation with Tupac’s responses sparks a serious thought. Does Kendrick Lamar view Tupac Shakur as a prophet? Lamar, raised as a Christian in his household, could have asked God or even Jesus to answer his questions on the matter. Instead, he chose the deceased rapper.
In an interview on MTV, Lamar spoke on the initial title for his second album “To Pimp A Butterfly”
“…Tu Pimp A Caterpillar, that was the original name…”
The title was supposed to represent an acronym for T.U.P.A.C. The title of course would change from the original idea, but the mere idea that Kendrick wanted to conceive an album around Shakur shows the significance that he holds to him.
“The answers Pac was giving, was answers for today…and I said the world gotta hear this, they gotta hear it on a major scale.”
Kendrick clearly feels Tupac’s message is worth carrying on to the current generation to hear. Based off of the previous statement, it seems that Kendrick portrays himself as the messenger of Tupac.
In another interview, Kendrick claims that Tupac had come to him in a dream.
“It was a real situation where I was asleep one night, and a blur, like a silhouette and he basically said “keep doing what you’re doing, don’t let my music die.””
It is obvious now that Kendrick Lamar holds Tupac in extremely high regard. He undoubtedly believes that his message is something worth carrying on for others to hear. K-Dot infuses Makaveli with a supernatural aspect, visiting him in a dream, which is ultimately the final aspect that any god-like figure is given.
Referring back to the original track, Kendrick raps an interesting lyric:
“But a prophet ain’t a prophet til they ask you this question: When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?”
Tupac does not necessarily ask the question, but rather answers it in an interview during his incarceration in 1995. He stated that he did not gain the recognition or compassion from his fan base or society during his troubles with the law. Claiming that other rap artists, who truly proclaimed a hardcore gangster mentality by actively promoting violence, were receiving praise from their fellow community while he was ridiculed in prison. His frustrations continue when he claimed that when other artists were portraying acts of misogyny, they gain recognition as a credible artist, while when he brings the idea that “All I say is you know, we don’t need to be letting these B-I-T-C-H’s run our life and I’m hating females.” Nonetheless, Shakur claimed he would not allow those individuals who have wrongfully persecuted him to bring him down. “I don’t feel it, I think I’ve been attacked more than I deserve but, that’s all good to me, cause I always been a fighter, always been a soldier, always been a struggler. Can’t nothing stop me, but death itself…”.
This was not the first time that Tupac felt betrayed, or spoke on the issue of loyalty:
“On the whole, I don’t have any friends. Friends come and go; I’ve lost my trust factor. I believe I have people who think they’re my friends. And I believe that there are people probably in their heart who are friends toward me or are friends to me. But they’re not my friends, because what I learned is that fear is stronger than love.”
These statements represent that he may not have attained all the answers, but that he has lived through the experiences that Kendrick Lamar so desperately desires to understand. This depicts Tupac’s wisdom in the eyes of Kendrick.
The idea that Shakur does not possess the necessary solutions to overcome his surroundings, but rather the experiences that will help guide those that lend his message an ear. Ironically, Tupac’s ability to not answer Kendrick’s question shows his human side, but does not discredit him from claiming some sort of supernatural status.
Kendrick does not stand-alone on his stance with Tupac. Since his passing, Shakur’s followers have been bewitched by his death, claiming that he had never passed on and is rather waiting for the appropriate moment to return, something almost apocalyptic.
Author and academic Michael Eric Dyson, an individual who spent years studying the life of Tupac Shakur had the following to say regarding this matter:
“…Tupac is a ghetto saint, people don’t think he’s dead, he’s the first character to integrate immortality in our community…some young people can’t believe Tupac is dead because they’ve so identified with his body, beautiful, young, handsome, expressive, articulate that for him to die is for us to die. Our identification means we are vulnerable to. So we forestall that possibility by believing in his immortality, or at least his joke on the grand blog, his big joke on America imitating Machiavelli…others believe that he is alive in their hearts because the spirit continues to exist in a beautiful way. And see, Tupac now is an urban legend, and to celebrate Tupac is to judge and critique the society that made thug life necessary. In other words when we celebrate him, we’re telling America, we don’t listen to you telling us not to like him, we like him to judge you. And he’s a saint because some people invest in him a kind of almost deification, an elevation to a status of saint…and so Tupac to me represents all that is beautiful and contradictory, and ugly, and self-destructive, and edifying, and hopeless and hopeful. Which is why he’s the complete symbol of a generation, still evolving.”
Therefore, Tupac clearly represents a prophet of some degree to Kendrick and even that to the hip-hop/black community. But this raises another question, is Tupac Shakur a prophet?
By definition, a prophet is defined as: a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God.
By this definition, Tupac fits into this category with so many followers believing in his ability to be God’s messenger on earth. To people of other cultures this may seem like a joke. “Tupac was merely a rapper, a thug, a man” or even “what has he done to given such a grand stature”. This should not matter. A character does not need to attain universal acclaim to reach a prophet status. It merely takes the acknowledgement of a community to take one to a supernatural level. If society did require such a feature, we would be left with zero credible individuals who would fit that criteria. When compared to the likes of other prophets, Tupac does not fall far from their legacies. Jesus, after his ascension into heaven saw his people’s revolts crushed and were thus exiled from Israel by the Romans. Muhammad, left an Islamic dynasty for his devoted followers, only to see his empire torn into two, among Shiites and Sunni’s.
Tupac never himself claimed to be a prophet stating “I don’t have all the answers”, words Lamar would spew himself later in his career. Tupac represents the struggles of the black community, the heart of a champion that hip-hop fans desire, he was everything we as his supporters desired. He was an imperfection, but his desire to change society for his perception of the greater good is why he is held in such high regard. While everyone else around him was infatuated with the material things, he was beyond their thought process, attempting to solve his internal struggles, to progress the external struggles that plague his community today. Thus, he clearly holds a significant place in the lives of Kendrick Lamar, rap fans and especially to those in the black community, who view him as a messiah. Tupac attempted to change black America, and though he came short, he left a lasting legacy, which is why he is the most widely discussed rapper of his and our generation.