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Tupac Shakur’s Timeless Appeal: ‘He Is Our Muhammed Ali’

Rap Radar's Elliott Wilson discusses the legendary artist on the eve of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

By Brian Ives 

Tomorrow night (April 7), Tupac Shakur will be the first solo hip-hop artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other inductees in the genre to have been groups: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and N.W.A.

Shakur is being inducted in his first year of eligibility; artists are eligible 25 years after their first commercial release under their own name (as opposed to being a featured artist on someone else’s record). And he’s being inducted ahead of some other legendary artists, particularly LL Cool J and Ice-T, both of whom have been eligible for years.

Related: Tupac Shakur’s Biopic ‘All Eyez On Me’ Gets New Trailer

Rap Radar co-host Elliot Wilson offers his reason for why Tupac was inducted so quickly. “I think the reason that ‘Pac can get in in his first year and maybe LL can’t is because ‘Pac transcends music, ‘Pac transcends culture, ‘Pac was a revolutionary, a spiritual leader. To a certain audience, he is our Muhammad Ali, he is our Bob Marley, our Marvin Gaye. He is a figure that you put a picture up in your room, and it means something, it doesn’t just mean hip-hop music. He’s an icon that transcends, the way Ali transcended boxing.”

The fact that there’s also a finality to his career may actually help his case with the Rock Hall’s voting body, as does the fact that he never released a disappointing album. “When he was alive, no one put him in a historical context. He happened to be the biggest rapper at the moment when he got killed. He was the top rapper of that year.”

Part of his appeal was his passion, whether he was looking at his subjects with empathy or with anger. “He could be venomous: ‘Hit ‘Em Up,’ to me, is still most important diss record, the most venomous diss record, and I think that that showed that that passion can play out both ways: with ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby,’ but in another way with ‘Hit ‘Em Up.'”

What made him so unique? “He was the first great hip-hop artist that broke the tradition of this east coast based MC thing. Pac was a more traditional poet; his rhyme schemes and vocal techniques didn’t fit the mold, and that speaks to his greatness. And once he was gone, how much of his influence was there, and how much other artists were making music inspired by him. It’s still going on now, but for the first five to ten years after his death, he was still one of the top artists just because of his influence.”

Even decades after his death, he’s still seen as one of the greats: “He’s one of the top five [MCs of all time]. And I think his success, and his being non-traditional, will lead to breaking down the door one day so that they will recognize Kanye, they will recognize Drake, they will recognize Nicki Minaj, artists who didn’t follow the blueprint.”

Listen to Wilson on the Rap Radar podcast with his co-host Brian “B-Dot” Miller; their recent interview with Common is below.

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