(January 17, 2020). Seven rap acts have been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Five of them are groups: Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five (why the whole group though?), Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A. and Public Enemy.
The other two are Tupac Shakur and now The Notorious B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace), both of whom were nominated as soon as they were eligible and are first-ballot selections, with Biggie’s induction happening this May.
Both rappers were gunned down by unknown assailants in shootings just six months apart in Las Vegas (‘Pac) and Los Angeles (Biggie) in 1996 and ‘97, respectively. Thus, both artists’ selections to the RRHOF were done posthumously.
Assuming you’re not one of those rock purists who believe that NO rapper should ever be bestowed such an honor (if you are, then maybe you should just proceed to this article), let’s examine for a minute why just these two – and not other legendary soloists like Kurtis Blow, one of hip-hop’s true pioneers, or LL Cool J, one of the first rappers besides Run DMC to bring a rock/rap hybrid to the mainstream America – are included.
First, let’s be clear there is no question that both Tupac and Biggie deserve to be in the Hall. They both brought ‘90s hip-hop to the forefront with multi-platinum (and diamond) albums that changed the rap game forever. Other solo rappers (like Hammer, Vanilla Ice and LL Cool J) had sold millions before them, but with much safer fare. Biggie and ‘Pac were the first to do it with the kind of hard-hitting autobiographical street tales and storytelling styles that made masses of people stand up and take notice.
When you heard their lyrics, you literally pictured the vivid tales they portrayed. Both rappers’ cadences pulled you in because they were full of life and personality. Tupac was serious, intense, and, at times biting and sadistic. Biggie was funny, affable and more easygoing than ‘Pac. But both told of life’s underbelly, namely about what it meant to be poor and black and hustling in the ‘hood, and they told those stories from many perspectives, including that of gangsters, hood chicks and even mamas.
Their songs touched a collective nerve at a time when hip-hop’s expansion was at its greatest, and when fans were clamoring for more than just the music. More and more people wanted to be part of the hip-hop culture – which Tupac and Biggie aptly represented.
Put simply, both rappers have been considered by various trade publications to be the greatest of all time, and depending upon which camp you fell in, you were (and still are) likely to defend one or the other for that honor if you were around in the 1990s to experience their heydays.
But few personalities in music were as polarizing as these two, both of whom were unwitting chess pieces in a bicoastal rivalry that often transcended their music, while sometimes being the subject of it.
And even though the East-vs-West coastal hip-hop war was silly at best, proven by the fact that it ended immediately after both men’s demises just six months apart, Tupac and Biggie were the beginning of hip-hop fandom as we know it today.
Fans began to form unnatural allegiances to these rappers, often taking sides in their ongoing battles and serving as their de facto defenders whenever one ran afoul of the other or afoul of society in general.
In essence, the fact that young hip-hop fans to this day will practically fight you if you claim one of your favorite rappers is better than theirs is owed to Tupac and Biggie and the torrent they and their entourages created in the mid-1990s.
So there’s little question that ‘Pac and Biggie changed the rap game forever and deserve recognition for doing so. And while their music and rap flows and undying legacies certainly speak for themselves, there’s an even simpler reason the two of them – and not other eligible rap legends like Rakim, KRS-One, Nas, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube (both solo), and Snoop Dogg, along with the aforementioned LL Cool J and Kurtis Blow – are in the Rock Hall of Fame.
Tupac and Biggie are also in because they’re deceased. And it’s not just that they’re dead, but the tragic way in which they were taken out.
Face it, the Rock Hall of Fame loves its music martyrs. Put in rock-and-roll terms, it’s the kind of thing that unquestionably gets in an artist like Janis Joplin, whose body of work is far less accomplished and more truncated than, say, that of Pat Benatar, whose eligibility dates back to 2004 but who has yet to be inducted despite more than 40 years of contributions to the world of rock (maybe next year, Pat and Neil G.).
Over time, the legends of both Tupac and Biggie have only grown since their deaths, with ‘Pac even being elevated to near-Elvis status as fans have (falsely) reported sightings and disputed his mortality for the past 23 years. Both artists had multiple posthumous No. 1 albums (‘Pac had three, Biggie two), and both have been the subject of Hollywood movies made about their quick rises and falls.
The fact that they died so young (and, in some ways, predicted their own deaths – their music certainly showed a preoccupation with their own mortality) only adds to their legends, as their nominations and subsequent entries into the RRHOF were likely as much for what could’ve been as they were for what was.
There’s no denying that Biggie and ‘Pac changed the course of hip-hop and American music in general, but deep inside the hearts and minds of many a fan is the question of what hip-hop could’ve become had the two remained alive.
Would they have broken out from under the not-so-protective wings of their label owners and started their own imprints? Would different new artists have emerged under their tutelage (as Lil’ Kim and others had already done under Biggie)?
Would they have become the sage elder statesmen of rap that, say, Jay-Z and Nas have become today? Would mumble rap have ever even been a thing?
Okay, that last pondering was a cheap shot, but one still wonders.
Other solo rappers who deserve entry?
In the coming years, we will see if other solo rappers get into the Hall. Maybe LL Cool J is finally recognized (he’s been eligible since 2010). Or Rakim (eligible since 2013) gets the same recognition by the Hall that he’s been given by critics as one of the most skilled MCs of all time. And don’t forget Nas (eligible this year), who many in the hip-hop community placed right up there with ‘Pac and Biggie in the pantheon of ‘90s rap.
Or perhaps Jay-Z (eligible in 2022), Lil Wayne and Eminem (both 2025) get in on first ballots. Kanye (2029) and Drake (2034) are likely shoo-ins. Kendrick Lamar (2038) is on the right trajectory.
And Dr. Dre? He should at least be complete for the Musical Excellence category, one typically reserved for DJs, producers, backing bands and other behind-the-scenes types.
Whatever happens with those guys, it’s pretty clear that – of those who are already eligible – Tupac and Biggie stand above the rest, but they certainly aren’t alone in having majorly impacted the world of hip-hop and its acceptance in the musical mainstream.
And those others should be given consideration right along with them.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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