When I heard Vince Staples comments and ensuing controversy about the 90’s getting too much credit I couldn’t exactly co-sign what he said, but I knew what he meant. I think the 90’s were a great time for hip-hop and produced so many classic albums and prominent figures we still love today. However, I heard Biggie’s verse on Ashanti’s “Foolish” before I heard “One More Chance”, and I like Ashanti’s version better (blasphemy right?!). I began to look back and realize I have much clearer memories of my favorite rappers posthumous work than I do of their work alive. My favorite 2Pac album is probably The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory and I didn’t love it until I was a teenager. 2Pac’s Pac’s Life album wasn’t even that bad, I loved the two radio singles. I loved Biggie’s Biggie Duets album, “Nasty Girl” and “1970 Something” were my shit in 8th grade! Before Vince made these comments, people were almost ashamed to say they weren’t hip-hop heads when they were 8 years old. Big Pun’s Endangered Species album is really good to me and was how I got introduced to his music. Big L’s verses never made me yell “yooooo did you hear that” until I was in high school. If you were born anytime in the 90’s you can’t possibly remember too much of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, or these rapper that you hold in such high regard, don’t front.
The unfortunate thing about being born in the early 90’s is that you probably were not aware of your favorite rappers until they were dead. If you were born in 1990, you can’t honestly say you vividly remember 2Pac alive, you were possibly only 6 in September of 1996. More likely than not at this point in your life you were listening to Radio Disney or watching Barney and Friends than actively listening to vulgar gangster rap music. When Biggie died six months after in March of 1997, you were probably 7. When Big L died you were no older than 9 and when Big Pun died 15 years ago, you could have been 10, but you probably weren’t listening to rap unless it was fully mainstream played on a loop at your local designated hip-hop radio station.
I was born in June of 1992 and I honestly don’t remember 2Pac, Biggie, Big L or Big Pun alive. At one point in my life, each one was my favorite rapper. When 2Pac passed I was 4 years old, and I don’t recall knowing anything about him before he died. I don’t even remember his death. I only discovered him after I watched the news report the night Biggie was shot where they referenced 2Pac in saying–this is the second time in six months a hip-hop artist has been gunned down. I remember my Dad being in disbelief, he said something to the effect of, “whoa, they shot and killed him” then I began to wonder why him dying was a big deal, then asked myself who they were; he then he picks up the house-phone (remember those?) and asks one of his homies, “did you hear Biggie got smoked?!“.
After both 2Pac and Biggies untimely deaths, I began to recognize their music and realized I had been listening to it all along. My parents grew up in LA during the 80’s and witnessed hip-hop on the west-coast grow and flourish, my dad had a ’64 Impala (still does), my mom loved LL Cool J (still does), so gangster-rap is what they played in the car. Biggie’s “Juicy” was one of my favorite songs, 2Pac’s “Keep Your Head Up” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” were too. But I never got to appreciate any of these artists before they passed.
However, it wasn’t until I was about 10, and found my Dad’s Makavelli, The Don Killumanti album in the garage and snatched it for my personal collection, that I really began to appreciate and be fascinated with not only 2Pac’s music, but his personality and movement. Pac’s eerie album that featured “Hail Mary” was instantly a favorite of mine.
Then I found my Dad’s old Ready To Die CD, which I was always looked at but never popped in my Sony Walkman (remember those?) when I was about 12 and really fell in love with it. I always found it hard to believe that Ready To Die was that good, but it really was, top to bottom a classic and worth all the praise it receives.
When I first heard Big Pun’s name it was shortly after his death in the yeat 2000, I was 8 attending a family party and heard one of my older cousins mentioned to another, “damn man, can’t believe Big Pun died“. Then we go into my older cousins room and they crowded around his poster, I was curious why this mattered. I didn’t understand until I was 13 in the music section of a Circuit City and picked up the posthumous Biggie Duet’s and Big Pun’s Endangered Species album. After listening Endangered Species I became a really big fan of Pun. The album was so dope, Banned From TV, John Blaze, Still Not a Player, were so fire to me. I began to thoroughly research Big Pun, his songs, his first album, his story, why he died and how he was right on the cusp of blowing up when he passed away. I was then muttering to myself the same phrase my older cousins did five years before, “damn man, can’t believe Big Pun died” and realized a truly great one was gone way before he reached his full potential.
Big L is a name I had always heard, and I always knew he was dead, but never listened to his music. I was always into Ma$e so when I was 15, I began to delve into his early catalog, then discovered Big L. I was blown away by his bars and flow, it was just so much better than everyone. When I heard his verse on Hell Up in Harlem and he said, “L is the n*gga you expect to catch wreck in any cassette deck, I’m so ahead of my time, my parents haven’t met yet” it blew my fuckin’ mind. I have no doubt he was on his way to being a big star.
We’ll never be able know if these legends would have completely fell off following their next album, gotten ethered in a battle, or silently declined for the rest of their careers. They died and are therefore able to live on with an unblemished record, they retired undefeated. They died going up the mountain, just short of the top, but never faced the perils of coming down. Would they have been the legends they are today if they didn’t die at that time in their life? Would they be some of my favorite rappers if they were still alive today? Maybe I should ask someone who remembers them alive.