Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tupac and Biggie

With the onslaught of homework this semester is beginning to bring me, I have slipped back into my routine of packing a delicious bowl of shisha in my hookah, opening my books, and bumping to old school rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. This often prompts me to think, while avoiding a difficult problem, of what the world would be like had Biggie and Pac not been killed in the prime of their careers. What would rap music, and music in general, look like with these two hard hitters? Listening to some of their greatest hits, a longing to know regularly drives me to contemplate this.

I can think of numerous rappers who would not be nearly as popular, T-Pain and Soulja Boy to name two. The beats in the late rappers' songs are usually fairly simple, with few electronic distortions so common in modern rap. The case can be made that Biggie and Pac would join the trend, but I argue that they would not. Their raps told stories, something most rappers today, with notable exceptions such as Eminem, find unusual. Turn on the radio currently, and you would be hard-pressed to find songs that exhibit such raconteuring, if that is even a word. For example, Soulja Boy, an artist who for the life of me I cannot figure out how he remains popular, raps about his "pretty boy swag" in a methodical, slow, one-word-per-beat fashion that even the most unskilled could follow. Again, there are notable exceptions: much of Eminem's rapping comes from personal experiences of his from his life in the slums of Detroit, Immortal Technique's song "Dance With The Devil" tells of an initiation into a gang and the combination rape-murder of his mother, etc. These songs exemplify the fashion that Biggie and Tupac were so famous for.

How many Notorious and Tupac songs have a repetitive autotuned voice over similar to that of T-Pain? I personally cannot think of any, though, to be fair my music knowledge is lacking. To be fair, the technology was not as readily available during the mid to late 90's. That being said, the fashion does not seem to match up to how the two conducted their music. As stated above, relatively simple, hard hitting beats with meaningful lyrics were the norm for these two. Yes, they both used repetitive chorus verses in their raps, but most artists do. However, they entirety of their songs were not simply a four to eight line verse with a minute long chorus; they seem to be the inverse of that. One song in particular that demonstrates this is "Want That Old Thing Back" by Biggie. There is indeed a chorus, "Oh, Biggie, give me one more chance" with proceeding lines, but the majority of the song is pure rap.

While the two rappers do have different styles, Biggie's being much more methodical and in rhythm to the beat while Tupac sang much more from the depths of his stomach, they both rapped about subjects that they knew. Much of Notorious' work dealt with selling drugs, carrying firearms, and his sexcapades. Tupac, similarly, sang about his "homies", drug usage, his location at the time, etc. These are not unheard of subjects to write about as many of today's songs also exhibit similar properties. I feel as though they were forerunners in this regard, ushering in a new era of rap music.

I have to end early because of class, but I'll leave on this note: I feel that if Biggie Smalls and Tupac were still alive today, rap music would be almost unrecognizable from its current position. Rappers would be much more real than they are now, and these two heavyweights, one literally a heavyweight, would still be reigning kings of rap.