Tupac vs. Biggie: who was the better rapper?
- Tupac Shakur, born Lesane Parish Crooks, was a hip-hop artist representing West Coast gangsta rap. Born in 1971 in Brooklyn, NY, he received formal training as he attended Baltimore School of the Arts. Tupac died at the age of 25 in 1996 when he was shot in a drive-by in Las Vegas. He has sold 75 million albums making him one of the top-selling artists to date.
- Christopher Wallace (aka “Biggie Smalls,” “The Notorious B.I.G.”) was a hip-hop artist representing East Coast gangsta rap. Born in 1972, he died at the age of 24 in 1997 when he was shot and killed in Los Angeles. Biggie first named himself after a gang leader character featured in the film Let’s Do it Again (1975) but was forced due to copyright law to go by another name, in which he chose The Notorious B.I.G.
- Biggie was discovered by Sean “Diddy” Combs in 1992, who arranged Biggie’s first record deal before leaving to start his own label, Bad Boy Records, to which Biggie followed him
- In 1992, Biggie first met Tupac and the two became friends before their infamous rivalry. Biggie even asked Tupac to be his manager, but Tupac told him to “stay with Puff [Sean Combs]. He’ll make you a star.”
- Tupac’s song “How Do You Want It/California Love” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in 1996. His second-highest hit, “Dear Mama/Old School” landed at No. 9 in 1995.
- Biggie’s songs “Mo Money Mo Problems” and “Hypnotize” each reached No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997.
Historically, rap originated from ebonics (or language primarily used by Black people in Black communities), which was once connoted as 'bad English,' according to Geneva Smitherman's book 'The Power of Rap.' The book stated how rhyme, sound, and poetry was later emphasized by the speakers and was ultimately used to express the stance on Black Oppression. Rap transcended from a language to poetry and, ultimately, a musical style that is a part of Hip-Hop. Tupac and Biggie influenced this generation of rappers, and when the argument about the greatest rapper starts, it's no surprise these two iconic rappers surface.
Biggie was a better rapper than Tupac; technicality, lyricism, freestyling, storytelling, and versatility—he had these features present more than Tupac, which is evident in this video rappers were freestyling. Although Tupac is called the greatest rapper of all time—even when the Notorious B.I.G. tops most lists of the greatest rappers ever to live—many of the top rappers of this generation call Tupac a role model. That status he achieved was due to his influence in the industry and the Black community, not because he was the best of the two rappers.
Speaking about influence, Biggie left a mark on female rap. Biggie mentored Lil Kim, the revolutionary female rapper whose style most female rappers of this generation adopt. Her raunchy and vulgar style was the focal point of her career, an effect of Biggie's mentorship, sometimes, wrote for her. With lots of tracks from both artists, listening to both will cement that Biggie was a better rapper than Tupac.
From a business standpoint, Tupac edges Biggie by having sold 10 million more records than him. Tupac's last album 'All Eyez on Me' was certified Diamond by the RIAA, while all 5 of his posthumous projects later reached platinum status. Currently, Tupac has allotted 73 million more streams on Spotify than Biggie. In an interview with Vlad TV, rap legend Snoop Dogg recalled a time where Tupac calmly recorded three full-length songs in one hour.
Tupac's cultural impact on the genre of hip-hop paved the way for a new generation of artists. His insightful, yet combative interpretation of social issues like mass incarceration, police brutality, and concerns with the country's distribution of power and wealth served as a blueprint for young people to begin informing themselves about the society in which they live. Grammy Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar described the time he met Tupac as 'inspiring' and divulged that he was filled with joy. In an NPR interview, music journalist Kevin Powell compared Shakur's effect on popular culture to the impact made by Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, and Bob Marley.
During a time where the most prominent forces in hip-hop primarily hailed from the East Coast, Tupac played a crucial role in establishing the West Coast as a dominant region in rap as well. Tupac and Biggie's rivalry fueled the East Coast-West Coast dispute that is still commonly regarded as the most polarizing feud in the genre's history. After Tupac helped put the West Coast on the radar, artists like Nipsey Hussle, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar expanded on his growing legacy.