On April 7th, something unusual happened at the 32nd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction: a solo rapper was inducted.
That rapper was Tupac Shakur, the platinum-selling star whose legacy still lives on 21 years after his death.
The induction was carried out by one of the biggest legends of the hip-hop industry, Snoop Dogg, who gave a moving speech that humanized Shakur rather than listing the rapper’s many achievements.
“While many remember him now as some kind of thugged-out superhero, Tupac knew he was only human,” said Snoop in his induction speech. “I’m here to make sure that Pac is remembered the way he would have wanted to be: a strong black man that stood for his. Not simply an actor or rapper, but as a human.”
The son of Black Panther activists, Shakur was raised by his mother, who was incarcerated on bombing charges while pregnant with the future rapper. He didn’t know his biological father until he was an adult, and had a difficult childhood marked by his mother’s substance abuse and radical politics.
As a teenager, he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, taking ballet and acting classes. It was while living in Baltimore that Shakur discovered rap, and began performing as MC New York, but later moved with his family to the West Coast, joining Oakland-based hip-hop group Digital Underground, appearing in two of their songs before embarking on his solo career.
In 1991, Tupac became the performer we know him as today—2Pac—and came out with his debut album, 2Paclypse Now. His second album, Stricktly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., made it on the pop charts, going platinum and selling
It was during this time, in 1992, that Shakur made his film debut in Juice, and later, Poetic Justice and Above the Rim.
Shakur lived a live that reflected his, at times, violent and explicit lyrics that details fights, gang activity, and sex, and was arrested several times for violent offenses in the 1990s. He became the victim of an offense, himself, when he was shot five times in a recording studio during a mugging.
His third solo album, Me Against the World, debuted in 1995 to critical acclaim and a number one spot on the album charts. Notably, the theme of an early death permeated much of his work during this time—a foreshadowing of his eventual fate.
After a stint in prison, Shakur released All Eyez on Me in 1996, again to critical and popular acclaim. It seemed nothing could stop this rapper.
Shakur became involved in a feud between East and West Coast rappers, and made a habit of insulting his enemies through the lyrics of his songs. On the way to attend a Las Vegas boxing, he was shot, dying 6 days later on September 13th, 1996 at the age of 25. His murderer was never found.
From Shakur’s life has sprung a number of theatrical productions, including the 2012 musical, Holler If Ya Can Hear Me. The rapper also made a posthumous appearance as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the form of a hologram, accompanied by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
Tupac Shakur’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not without controversy—Gene Simmons once told the Rolling Stone that he was “looking forward to the death of rap”.
Rapper and actor Ice Cube, responding to Simmons’s statement, had this to say.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll is not an instrument. It’s not even a style of music. It’s a spirit that’s been going on since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock, and yet, hip-hop. Rock ‘n’ Roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and life.”
Ice Cube went on to assert that where musicians like Tupac “invent” rock ‘n’ roll, Simmons and his type “reprint” it.
According to the rock hall institution, “factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique are taken into consideration.”
If these are the criteria, then Snoop Dogg is right—Tupac has surely earned his place.
Following the moving speech, Snoop performed a medley of Tupac’s greatest hits along with Alicia Keys, Naughty by Nature’s Treach, T.I., and YG, memorializing and celebrating Shakur’s life and work as only they can.
Tupac now joins a very short list of rappers who have made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but his induction may open the door for more rap artists to be included in the future. Rap is still a relatively young form of music, and those who took it to the heights the genre now enjoys are only just now becoming eligible—to get into the hall, nominees must have released their first album or single at least 25 years before they can appear on the ballot.
Snoop Dogg expressed his appreciation at the inclusion of Tupac, telling Rolling Stone that “The Hall of Fame has come a long way and we appreciate them for appreciating us for what we do. And hopefully there will be many more to come, because there's a lot of greats in hip-hop that deserve to be here.”
Tupac couldn’t have had a better send-off than this—more than two decades after his death, his immense contributions to not only rap, but to the rebellious, self-inventing, ever-changing spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, itself are forever officially recognized as such, and officiated by none other than one of the rapper’s closest friends.
Snoop gave Tupac Shakur—both the rapper and the man—the perfect final words.
“He was much more than you probably think. I’m not talking about ‘Pac the rapper, I’m not talking about Tupac the actor. I’m talking about Tupac the human being. So with that said, we’d like to officially welcome Tupac Shakur into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Legends always do. They can’t take this away from you homie. And since my brother is not here in the physical form, I’ll accept this honor on his behalf. I love you Tupac, welcome to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”