Not sure you heard, but today is Tupac Shakur’s birthday; were he still alive, the wildly talented and equally controversial performer and recording artist would have turned 45 years old today. The first trailer from his upcoming Benny Boom-directed biopic, starring Demetrius Shipp Jr. as 2Pac, dropped today.
As we often tend to do when an artist generates discussion around everything but the music, we decided to reflect on 2Pac’s music. He released five studio albums (including The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, recorded as Makaveli and finished just weeks before his death), but has had more albums (and bootleg mixtapes) drop after his death than while he was still alive. His prolific recording habits, and what that meant for his posthumous output, will forever be a part of his legacy.
Whether you know him as a loud-mouthed gangsta rapper with “THUG LIFE” tattooed on his belly, or a sensitive social justice warrior worried about the pregnant 12-year-old prostitutes in the ghetto, or even just a mama’s boy, one thing made clear from looking at 2Pac’s recorded output is that the dude contained multitudes. A trained actor and gifted storyteller, he so deftly wielded fictional narratives and characters that it’s foolish (and arguably, undesirable) to attempt to pin any of it to his actual life. But it also means his records are a rich tapestry of stories and people, filled with as much hope and joy as hate and cynicism.
So how do you sift through all the bootlegs and deep cuts to get to the essential 2Pac? Well, if you’re here, you simply click through for the definitive list of the 25 most essential tracks from one of hip-hop’s all-time most influential icons. Disagree? Fight me (on Twitter).