*Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be read by sensitive individuals. The purpose of this article is an attempt to explain the popularity of the given rapper from a marketing perspective.
If a video game had a rating system for rappers, two of the most important categories would be lyrics and flow. Tupac would have probably failed to achieve a rating higher than 90 in either category, yet it is without a doubt his face would be on the cover of such a very game. He is by far hip hop’s most beloved hero.
How would you describe Tupac’s music? Don’t try to do it, you will just end up contradicting yourself. Tupac’s music is in many ways just that, contradictory, and that is perhaps the greatest explanation for his ability to reach the masses. On one extreme, there is the socially aware Mr. Shakur telling us about Brenda’s Baby, on the other extreme, Makaveli had Ambitionz Az A Ridah. No matter how confusing Tupac’s messages were, the listeners accepted him because he was human. When Pac goes in on Troublesome 96 and shows us he is better at not giving a fuck better than all the virgins in the world, we know we are listening to a pissed off man. At the same time, he spoke with insight and logic in Changes and To Live And Die In LA that we would never be able to string into words.
For those that understand brand identity, you would know that a product with multiple images confuses a user. Mercedes Benz does not try to market to your everyday blue collar worker, they are targeting the wealthy businessman, that is their image. At the same time, Toyota has no intention of selling Corollas and Camrys to doctors and lawyers (they have Lexus for that), Toyota advertises its cost efficiency and reliability. If either Mercedes or Toyota attempt to step out of their target circles, the effects can be disastrous as consumers are no longer sure what they are being sold. The same thing applies for music artists. It is often a risky move for rappers to switch up their subject that has bought them success. Yet, Tupac completely disregarded this memo and found listeners in every corner of the world regardless of race, gender or social status. Can you name a situation, a mood where a Tupac song will not be appropriate? For every emotion, every scenario that presented itself, this one author was able to describe it all for us. Tupac was Me Against The World, he was Keep Ya Head Up, he was My Block and he was Letter To My Unborn Child. Simply put, his diverse subject matter helped him appeal to everyone.
Hip hop artists are authors that tell their stories through music. In that respect, Tupac was the Mark Twain of hip hop. He told captivating stories and as previously stated, no matter how they contradicted, no matter the errors in judgment we witnessed, Tupac like any great author was able to invoke sympathy for the main character. From the listeners’ perspective, Tupac was a victim. He was a victim of our unjust society fighting back as his only option. He doesn’t claim to be perfect, rather he openly admits his shortcomings, a human aspect that anyone can relate to. Furthermore, he is stuck in a struggle against sin and poverty, something that most of us can relate to.
“Yall dudes with nine lives got one life left, and controversy sells but it ain’t like death”. Stealing a line from a rapper who is about to drop an album soon (hint hint), Pac received more attention from America and the FBI than Bin Laden did. In and out of jail, robberies, shootings and eventually death, Tupac made himself known. The fans soaked in his real life events and applied them to his music. When Pac died, there was no need to question the validity in his rhymes (as is so important only in hip hop), no one intentionally dies to promote their music. While most rappers will receive one last hurray from the nostalgic, the media refused to let Pac rest in peace. Who killed Tupac? Is he really dead? These were some questions that led to multiple theories and conspiracies which were only fueled by Las Vegas Police’s inability to track down a murderer. Less than half a year later, East Coast rival Biggie Smalls was gunned down. It was a tragic story that Hollywood could not have scripted better, two heroes leading an urban rebellion killed in the battlefield. As the media ate up the tragedy, more and more young adolescents from not only the U.S. but from all over the world showed interest in learning the ghetto life. There was something honorable, something respectable about the “thug life”. Though Tupac had admitted to never been much of a thug, his music, his portrayal by the media and his death has cemented him as the epitome of the struggle, the struggle between right and wrong, the struggle to overcome poverty and the struggle to survive.