We don’t talk everyday. Hell, we don’t talk every month. Yet my older stepbrother, Ryan, is the person I credit with my love for rap. Three years older than myself, he always had a firmer grasp on the music and harbored the unique ability to explain songs, their meanings and the current state of the music. One of the most unique conversations we ever had centered around 2Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up.”
Ironically, Pac’s “line-in-the-sand” battle record turned 16 years old this week. To this day, the song is remembered under two lights. One being arguably the most scathing diss song record in Hip-Hop’s four decade existence. And two, one of rap’s blackest eyes. Where battle records previously teetered the line of artistic and abnormally violent, Tupac’s ode to his former friend and anyone within six degrees of separation bled personal vendetta.
There’s no turning back from openly boasting about having sex with a man’s wife. There’s no turning back from joking about another man’s sickle cell anemia. And there was there was certainly no turning back from shooting a video to add gasoline to a fire already blazing out of control. Ryan – a Pac fan – specifically told probably a year or so after its release “Hit ‘Em Up” was the first song he heard where he knew an artist was going to die. When I asked why, all he said was, “Pac took it too far. Some stuff you just can’t say.”
That was Pac, though. The hook on “How Do You Want It” defined him; his lived life in the fast lane and accepted the end would come violently. Remembering the softer and sensitive side of Makaveli is critical to keeping his image alive. The world afforded him more knowledge in 25 years than it offers in 70 or 80 years to most. Yet, the vindictive, immature and, for lack of a better term, ignorant side of Shakur is equally vital.
He was everything the media painted him to be while at the same (damn) time, he wasn’t. Sixteen years later, Pac’s bold proclamation of, “That’s why I f*cked your b*tch, you fat mother*cker…” still creates a queasy feeling in the pit of stomachs. Whether there’s an artist alive with the venom, tenacity and enough “IDGAF” to create a record as Earth-shattering as “Hit ‘Em Up,” the only answer that comes to mind is no. Times are different, as are attitudes. Depending who’s asked, that’s for better and worse.