What Is Tupac Shakur’s Legacy for the Indian Hip-Hop Scene?

“He was like what Bhagat Singh was to the freedom struggle here in India.” On the 22nd death anniversary of the seminal rapper, we asked a few homegrown artists how Tupac's music informed their creative visions.
September 14, 2018, 6:24am
Image: Pexels.

You’re likely to have come across Tupac Shakur and Dr Dre’s monstrous, one-time-only collaboration ‘California Love’ at some party in your life. Defining the latter half of his the iconic artist’s career, ‘California Love’ marked the second coming of Tupac—more violent, slightly more reliant on gangsta rap tropes, and outright hatred for East Coast artists such as Nas, Mobb Deep and his erstwhile friend, Notorious B.I.G. His music is a mainstay in playlists and record collections across the world and it’s impossible to list your ‘Top Five’ without him being in consideration. However, there’s also been an airbrushing of his complex personality and history as an artist, especially when his music has travelled continents and influenced countless fans not aware of the complex socio-economic and personal issues that impacted him.

Recent documentaries such as The Defiant Ones and feature films such as All Eyez On Me, named after his seminal album of the same name, have sought to understand what changed in Tupac after his release from prison for a conviction for sexual assault and his subsequent link up with Suge Knight and Death Row Records. His music was a product and an extension of the Black Nationalist movement, and issues that he spoke of such as police brutality and the socio-economic issues plaguing the African-American community are still relevant today. In the run-up to the release of last year’s All Eyez On Me feature film, promoters tapped-up Mika Singh, a popular Bollywood playback singer, to compose a song in tribute to the late icon’s legacy. The song, titled ‘2 Shots’, was hilariously cringe-worthy and demonstrated Singh’s minimal knowledge of the Harlem-born rapper’s legacy.

Today, 21 years after Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in Los Angeles, we asked a few rappers from the burgeoning Indian hip-hop scene on how Tupac’s music impacted them, and how his legacy is being translated into the homegrown hip-hop movement.

Yungsta (Delhi)

Going through the process of becoming a rapper myself, I revisited Pac’s music and I found it to be influential as it always had a deeper meaning and the perspective he chose for his songwriting was in a league of its own. It made him stand out from the rest and that’s the reason he has achieved the status that he has.

More than just being a rapper, he was a visionary leader and proved time and again that we have the power to influence and lead an entire generation. More than just being a rapper, he had the presence of a leader.

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His music might not have had a direct influence on every artist but the top artists that we all listen to these days are all influenced by Pac’s music, so his message runs down the line and comes through to us as well.

Ahmer (Srinagar)

I could relate to Pac because he stood up for his people and himself. “I know it seems hard sometimes but remember one thing. Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that. So no matter how hard it gets, stick your chest out, keep ya head up and handle it.” Not just a rap icon, he was more of a leader, and he had this movement going on, empowering and inspiring people through his music and interviews.

They say that every hood’s the same. I could relate to Pac and him talking about police brutality, the injustices faced by the African-American community over the years. I’ve seen the similar shit—where I come from, we’ve been through fake encounters, war crimes and what not, and despite it being him against the world, he wasn’t scared to speak up. I think that influenced the authenticity of rap music a lot and people who look up to Pac want to keep it real, whenever they pen down a verse or two, and I’m one of many.

Sharan Jayan (Kannur)

“Tupac was not just a rapper, but he was outspoken about his personal and his community's struggles. As an actor, rapper and poet he was never lacking in passion. When rappers here are politically conscious both on and off the mic, it’s because Tupac helped pave the way.”

Shantanu Pujari (Mumbai)

I was 16 when I first saw Tupac’s resurrection (at Coachella) and it changed my life completely. He was the reason I was introduced to hip-hop. He was like what Bhagat Singh was to the freedom struggle here in India. I was inspired by his whole life and understood hip-hop on a deeper level and about how the Civil Rights movement was fully connected to the first generation of MCs.

He stood for something bigger than himself, a quality that most artists lack today. Songs such as ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’, ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ and ‘Changes’ were examples of how he stood up for his community and spoke about the issues they faced. He is immortal and his spirit will live forever in the hearts of those who wish to make a change in society.