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What If Tupac & Biggie Were Still Alive?

VO: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
Tupac Shukar and Biggie Smalls were such prominent figures in their day, and such pop culture icons now, that sometimes it hardly even seems like they’re dead. Welcome to and today we’ll be discussing what music would look like today if Tupac and Biggie were still with us. As two of hip hop’s biggest names, their legacies have stood the test of time, but with so much change in the music industry since their departures, we can’t help but wonder what they’d make of the hip hop game today. What would they make of Donald Trump? Or the new era of so called ‘mumble rappers’? Join in as we explore and relive the career of these lyrical legends

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What If Tupac / Biggie Were Still Alive

Between September 1996 and March 1997, the world lost two of the most famous and influential artists in music history in a pair of officially unsolved drive-by shootings. First, Tupac Shakur was shot to death by unknown assailants on September 7th, dying less than a week later. Then, on March 9th, the Notorious B.I.G. suffered an almost identical fate. Both were best-selling rappers at the heights of their careers – with Biggie about to release “Life After Death” and Tupac making waves in Hollywood – and both were in the middle of a sensationalized hip hop feud, so naturally, imaginations were captured by their unsolved murders. The murders have been plagued with conspiracy theories; tabloids have frenzied for decades at the smallest rumor that one or both of them may still be out there, with Tupac allegedly being spotted in places from Somalia,to Cuba, to on Beyoncé’s arm. As for Biggie, people think they’ve spotted him in Greece, or even in grainy, old footage as he walks away from the scene of his own murder. But if the two rap legends really were alive today, and not in hiding or under the radar, what kind of scene would they be a part of?
For a start, they would have continued to be best-selling artists. In fact, they have continued to be best-selling artists. Posthumous album releases for both have been stacking up over the years, with Biggie having three platinum albums released after his death and Tupac having seven. Despite boasting discographies and sales figures that many living artists could only dream of, however, there are some out there who speculate that their murders were catalysts for their fame. Sure, they were undeniably superstars while they were alive, but the idea that their legacies are so enduring only because of their murders persists even among fans.
But when the artists who list B.I.G. and Tupac among their inspirations continue to make music in their spirit and even use their voices – like the Pac interview samples used in Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man”- it’s hard to deny their wide-reaching influence and merit as musicians rather than just martyrs. However, some of their enduring success surely does come from their inability to progress; while artists are often put under pressure to conform to the genres and styles that are most popular at a given moment, Tupac and Biggie are free from these pressures, and their releases survive, frozen in time. Faced with this ‘adapt or die’ industry mentality, they may have either changed their music with the times, or floundered while still making money off early successes. Of course, with many more places available for artists to release music – such as YouTube – it’s possible they wouldn’t have to change their style or bend to a record label’s will. There’s also the possibility that Pac, at least, may have side-stepped away from music altogether and prioritised his acting career, which was burgeoning at the time of his death after starring in films like “Juice" and “Gridlock’d”.
The other large issue encapsulating Biggie and Tupac’s murders was the East Coast-West Coast Hip Hop Rivalry of the mid-90’s. With B.I.G. and Bad Boy on one side, and Tupac and Death Row on the other, their musical feud developed into actual bloodshed. Their deaths went a long way to ending this rivalry, though the violence could have been a lot worse had they survived. More blood may have been shed on both sides due to escalating tensions, though close friends of both B.I.G. and Pac disagree. Lil’ Cease and Treach have both said in interviews that they believe Biggie and Tupac, who were friends once upon a time, would have reconciled. If that were the case, it’s possible they would’ve released a collaboration album, a la “Watch the Throne”, to capitalize on their renewed relationship. Alternatively, if their rivalry continued, we could’ve expected more scathing diss tracks.
However, even if they didn’t change with the times to stay relevant as artists, as political commentators Tupac at least would still be incredibly vocal. Pac was very politically outspoken when he was alive, doing everything from talking about the importance of voting, to rapping about police brutality and other issues that still affect young black men. There’s no way that Pac would be quiet today. When faced with dominant Republican administrations like those of George W. Bush and Donald Trump, Tupac would continue his legacy of being an outspoken and unapologetic critic of America’s political landscape. In 1992 he even criticized future president Donald Trump, and rich people in general, for not using their wealth to help the people in society who really need it.
Ultimately, both Tupac and Biggie were such prominent figures in their day, and such pop culture icons now, that sometimes it hardly even seems like they’re dead. When old recordings keep surfacing, dozens of documentaries are released, and people who knew them talk about them as if they were still here, it’s difficult to accept that they’re gone. But if they were alive, they would surely be gigantic figures in both music and culture – which is really saying something considering the tremendous success they’ve already seen from beyond the grave.

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