RIP 2Pac, The Most Overrated Rapper in History

Well, folks, it's been a little over ten years since a pretty New York theater kid who reinvented himself as the ultimate West Coast thug solidified his iconic status by dying beautiful and young. Like seemingly everyone with a serious passion for hip hop I love 2Pac. But at the risk of speaking ill of the dead I also feel the need to point out that, with the possible exception of Eminem, 2Pac is the single most overrated rapper in history.

2Pac reigns unchallenged as rap's preeminent martyr, easily beating friend-turned-rival Notorious B.I.G, an infinitely better rapper and writer but a far less irresistible icon. Like most icons 2Pac's appeal is inextricably linked to his mutability. 2Pac was everything to everyone. Wildly antithetical groups and demographics could each claim him as their own. To teenage girls he was the fantasy boyfriend whose thug-life exterior hid the sensitive soul of a guy who grooved to the cornball drama of Don McLean's "Vincent" and filled spiral notebooks full of earnest poetry.

To feminists willing to look past the often virulent misogyny of his lyrics he was one of rap's few strongly pro-choice voices and the creator of uplifting pro-women anthems like "Keep Your Head Up" and "Dear Mama"

To backpackers and black nationalists he embodied in his tattooed and sculpted body and often pot and liquored-addled mind the lost promise of the Black Panthers and rapped eloquently about politics and the everyday struggle.

To gangstas, aspiring, studio, fake and otherwise, he was the realest thug around, an O.G who died living the dangerous life he rapped about. As is far too often the case in hip hop his violent death was seen as proof of his authenticity, not a grim sign that his life and ethos had spiraled dangerously out of control.

2Pac made some great music but he often seemed less interested in making great songs than in simply making lots of songs. He pioneered the quantity-over-quality sensibility that still functions as a malignant tumor decimating rap from inside. Even before his death his albums were loaded with filler and horrifically bloated. And though it's tempting to imagine what a 2Pac album produced entirely by Dr. Dre might sound like, 2Pac couldn't stand Dre and never would have tolerated Dre's perfectionism and impossibly high standards. So instead of working with the good doctor himself 2Pac settled for an endless parade of generic Dr. Dre soundalikes only too happy to crank out beats by the pound.

2Pac was capable of greatness but his work was hindered consistently by cheap sentimentality and even cheaper narcissism. He plagiarized himself to an almost comic extent, working endless variations on only a few stock themes. His adolescent glorification of gang life and facile thug fatalism both left permanent stains on an art form that still cranks out wack 2Pac wannabes at an alarming rate.

But then 2Pac's martyrdom and strange afterlife have a lot less to do with his inconsistent, repetitive and clichéd creative output than with his personal magnetism, physical beauty and early death.

Unlike so many of his peers 2Pac will never grow old or get fat. He'll never see his street credibility wane after starring in a UPN sitcom about an aspiring musician saddled with three wisecracking kids. He'll never embarrass himself by picking up a quick paycheck in Soul Plane 2. No, he'll live on forever as a beautiful young man whose potential had barely been tapped. People mourn the 2Pac that might have been as much as the imperfect creature who spent a mere twenty-five years on planet earth.

Ten years on we're still wrestling with 2Pac's formidable, contradictory legacy but the halo of perfection we give our dead heroes as a parting gift does a disservice to the lives they led and the music they made.

What do you guys think? Was 2Pac (or Eminem) the most overrated rapper in history? What do you think is behind the cult of 2Pac? Who do you think is the most overrated rapper in history?

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