Biggie and Tupac: Hip-Hop’s Dr. King & Malcolm X or Nah?

The legendary martyrs of my Hip-Hop generation Tupac Amaru Shakur and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace were/are two of the greatest entertainers who ever picked up a mic.  Their stories, roots, and unfortunate demises are common knowledge to even those who are not necessarily real Hip-Hop heads.  However, to us born into this culture they were our everything, our role models, and more importantly, our representatives to a world who had not yet accepted Hip-Hop as what would soon to become America’s most dominant modern culture.   Barbershop and late night stoop debates about who was better and the ever speculated “Who Killed BIG/Pac?” conspiracies are many. We have all done that and it’s cool.  I have no problems with this despite how dumb some “theories” sound to me.  Meaning, in my opinion some opinions sound stupid, however each person is entitled to feel how he feels, so I’m cool with almost everything; almost.


Perhaps the most absurdly dumb commentary about BIG & Pac centers around assassination folklore and asinine comparisons with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. & Malcolm X.  Without wasting much time detailing the alleged secret government backed up operations to kill two rappers, the nonsense is based around a perception by some that our Hip-Hop “martyrs” parallels those two men who shifted the attitudes and way of living of an entire nation.  These rappers were supposed to be destined to evolve into great leaders who would spark the revolution.  How rappers are equal to social activist escapes me.  Is a doctor comparable to a lawyer in any stretch of the imagination?  Is an athlete something like a police officer?  I do not think so.

This troubles me greatly.   My pops, 69 years old, remember Dr. King and Malcolm X just as my generation remembers Pac & BIG.  My pops also remembers the careers and early deaths of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Frankie Lymon.  The aforementioned were very popular entertainers who died tragically during the 60s just like Dr. King and Malcolm X.  The difference here is our parents’ generation clearly saw the difference between entertainers and activists. To be fair, an entertainer can also be an activist which is the case with many actors and artists, but BIG & Pac weren’t no damn activists.  For all of his socially conscious rants Pac was not just as his militant roots were.  No he was not like Geronimo Pratt, Sekou Odinga or any of the others whom Pac himself called “The Real OGs”.   Pac was an incredible rapper and entertainer who in between talking thug shit, flashing money and guns had socially conscious commentary.  Let us leave it at that.

My reason behind NOT putting Pac & BIG in the same breath with true martyrs, who actually fought for a cause, is that it lessens the status of those like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Steve Biko, Marcus Garvey and the countless other freedom fighters and champions.  If the gold medal is given to everyone in the race then the value of that prize becomes cheap.  It’s not special anymore.  Considering entertainers and social activists are not in the same arena, much less the same race, the notion becomes even more ridiculous.  Jesse Jackson does not win championship rings just as Lebron’s accolades do not add to a Nobel Peace Prize.  Fruits are not vegetables and pastries aint poultry.  Let us think people.

Yes, my generation is lacking an equivalent, in goals and exposure, of the likes of Dr. King, Huey Newton, Malcolm X, etc. and maybe this is why some of my peers have a problem recognizing a real one.  This troubles me.   Also, it must be noted that the level of social consciousness in the urban community is dead compared to our parents’ generation.  As my 69 year old pops told me one day, his generation wanted to be like Dr. King or Malcolm X while mines wants to be BIG, Pac, Kobe or Lebron.  The overall awareness and urge to participate in actions aimed at making a difference has lessened greatly today.  While I am only 33 years old, I only have knowledge of this because my elders and OGs have unanimously stated the same.  It’s just a different age.  Today’s youth do not have the same overall awareness of what is going on around them.  Judgment is passed.

I was 16 when Pac and BIG were killed. Being from Bed-Stuy and sharing mutual friends with BIG’s clique made his death hit close to home, moreso than Pac who I was mildly a fan of at the time of his death.  As I grew older and began to appreciate Pac’s artistic range and his ability to touch on so many facets of life, not just “Party & Bullshit”, I began to realize his genius.  As a Hip-Hop head I appreciate their contributions to the culture and I will never discount that.  However, it must be stated time and time again that they were just entertainers.  They were not healers, soldiers, builders or teachers.  Entertainment obviously has its place in our lives, but when we look it in comparison to other arts, sciences, and fields then we should see.  Jay-Z is probably the greatest rapper ever and Jordan is the best basketball player ever but neither changed the world the way a Nelson Mandela or even a Steve Jobs did.  Fruits are not vegetables and pastries aint poultry.  Build on that.


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