Hip hop beginnings
12 November 2021-
30 years and 25 years ago today, 2pac and Eminem released their respective debut solo albums. What the world could not envisage — although they perhaps did — was how seminal those two LPs would turn out to be...
We will not attempt the impossible task of proposing a definitive Hip Hop Top 5 or anything of the sort: radio host Charlamagne Tha God regularly tries just that, usually triggering mixed emotions. But, if we had to list out the most influential hip hop artists of all time (to date), that list would have to include Run DMC, LL Cool J, the NWA supercrew, Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G., Wu Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Outkast, Kanye, Drake… We’re leaving out many names (don’t shoot the virtual messenger) but one thing is for sure: 2Pac and Eminem would have to be on that list as well.
Much has been said, heard, written, filmed and produced about the historical tragedy surrounding the parallel deaths of 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G., representing the best of West and East coast hip hop in their 1990’s prime respectively. The point of this article is neither to rehash these stories, nor suggest any new theory on those terrible deaths (there are already too many to choose from), but instead focus on one of those two icons: 2Pac. This is no implication that he was in any way greater than his West coast counterpart either: as it happens, the man released his first solo album 30 years ago today.
2Pacalypse Now explores the harsh realities of many young African-Americans living in the ghetto, facing racism and police brutality alike, as well as young women experiencing teenage pregnancy (and molestation for that matter) as highlighted in one of the album’s breakthrough singles, “Brenda’s Got A Baby”. Now considered a classic, the straightforward nature of its subject matter and powerful lyricism of 2Pac’s flow were met with various reactions then. While the album sold and music critics generally noted this early work, society at large judged the artist more harshly after a connection was made between the LP’s influence and the murder of a Texas state trooper. Then-Vice-President Dan Quayle famously remarked that this album had “no place in our society”… Luckily, things have — somewhat — evolved.
5 years to the day after that seminal release, another young talent published his first solo work: that would be Eminem and his debut Infinite. Hailing neither from the West or East coast but instead from the Midwest by way of Detroit, Eminem was clearly out of the usual hip hop loop. Also, he was white. The last white musician to try out a career in hip hop was Vanilla Ice and we know how that turned out: Queen did much of the work (note: this may sound like a cheap shot because it is). The point is, young Marshall Mathers was very much exploring new grounds there, and Infinite was a textbook independent, back-of-the-truck kind of release. Although it did not really sell much (or at all: reported figures vary), it did inspire Eminem to come up with the persona that would define him in later works.
And make him the first major white hip hop star that African-American hip hop stars readily agreed to work with, famously including NWA’s Dr. Dre himself. The beginning of a new era…?