-- by Soren Baker
Even though Tupac Shakur was labeled the "James Dean of hip-hop" during the final turbulent years of his life, it seems the iconic rapper may have more in common with Elvis Presley.
Besides the fact that conspiracy-theorist fans of both artists believe their fallen heroes are still alive, Presley and 'Pac have become legendary in their respective genres, inspiring conferences and tributes and enthralling fans with their music years after their deaths.
And now, a fourth posthumous Tupac album, the double disc Until the End of Time, continues to build on the rapper/actor's legacy, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week (see "Tupac's Until The End Of Time Debuts At #1").
Tupac's first three albums after he was killed in Las Vegas in 1996 by unknown assailants 1996's The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (under the name Makaveli), 1997's R U Still Down? (Remember Me) and 1999's Still I Rise (with the Outlawz) have sold nearly 7 million copies, while the four albums he released while he was alive have sold 9 million. Add to that a triple-platinum greatest hits album released in 1998 and dozens of bootlegs of his material, not to mention assorted songs on various other releases, including Death Row Records' Too Gangsta for Radio. Another two-disc Tupac set is scheduled for release in November.
"Now that he's gone, people are embracing him more than ever because he was really saying something," says producer DJ Hi-Tek. "He's a real role model because of his strength and his I-don't-give-a-f--- attitude toward bullsh--. He died too early, right at his peak. That's why I feel people can't let him go."
Other rappers, such as the Notorious B.I.G., Big Punisher and Big L, have also had material released posthumously, but none of it has enjoyed the critical and commercial success of Tupac's posthumous releases.
Many industry insiders say that's because Tupac was seen as more than just a rapper.
"He was like a leader, not a rapper," said Trick Daddy, who is on the long list of rhymers accused of adopting Tupac's thug aesthetic. "He was like [Nation of Islam leader Louis] Farrakhan. People believed in what he said and they took it to heart. Other people just make music. Pac couldn't make a bad album, a bad song. Biggie was good too, but he [only] had good music. Pac was like a visionary."
Added Big Boy, a radio personality for Power 106 in Tupac's adopted hometown of Los Angeles: "Tupac was so far ahead of his time. I haven't heard the entire [Until the End of Time] album, but he is right on target about things happening today."