By: Ming Ding Weng
The film documentary Biggie and Tupac (2002) chronicled the story of two legendary hip-hop and cultural figures in the 1990s. Far from the usual East Coast vs. West Coast mentality that’s centered on gang violence and retaliation, this film focused on the back story of Biggie and Tupac and how these two former friends became perceived enemies. It was a refreshing new perspective that went beyond a rap feud that engulfed pop culture in the 90s and ultimately took the lives of two of the biggest rappers to ever make music.
I thought that the documentary was a very objective piece of art in the sense that the filmmakers didn’t focus on who was at fault. The film was presented in a way that equal attention was paid to both Biggie and Tupac. What there was clear bias on, however, was the filmmakers’ belief that the death of Biggie and Tupac were much more that what was painted and believed. Based on interviews and questions asked, the filmmakers lead the viewer to believe that the murder of the two rappers were interconnected and not isolated events with hints of conspiracy that revolved around the associates of Biggie and Tupac.
In a story that is so complex with so many false leads and trap doors, it is difficult to distinguish what really happened between the two former friends. The film shows too many perspectives and quite frankly, they can all be viewed as correct. Ultimately, if we are to discuss the true nature that surrounded these two moguls, we must move beyond what is said and truly analyze the hard information that we have. If not, it all becomes a he said she said affair. I refuse to write about potential facts and thus this blog post will focus on who these two individuals were as people, not just rappers and how it circumstances outside of individual control changes who you are as a person.
One of the best things that I thought the film accomplished was to paint Biggie and Tupac as real human beings with feelings and families. It has come to a point that if you talk about rap, you talk about Biggie and Tupac. Their identities have become rap and vise versa. The film was able to showcase Biggie and Tupac away from rap and really showed them as people and not just as rappers. For example, in the film, Biggie’s mother was talking about the song Juicy and the lyrics that were on there. Contrary to what the song said, there was always food on the table. Another story that was highlighted in the film was the interview that was filmed with the manager of the Met Supermarket that was Biggie’s friend. When asked about the lifestyle that Biggie rapped about, the interviewee basically said it was all just talk. It was needed to sell records. Biggie’s mom said it best, Biggie created an alter ego for rap. This fact is rarely talked about. Another fact that is rarely talked about is Tupac’s love for acting and how he viewed one of his teachers as a surrogate father. The film also depicts how charismatic Tupac was, telling us how people wanted him to like them, how Tupac had a stunning smile. All these humanistic and personal attributes allow the viewer to see a much different side of these two rappers.
Tupac’s passion for rapping, I believe, was a factor of what became the eventual events that led to what we know now. In the film, we are shown how Tupac became so consumed by rapping and making music that he slowly became more and more isolated. To quantify, he recorded 67 tracks in 11 months. The isolation and sheer focus led to be easily manipulated by Knight, which was an interesting perspective. They were considered brothers but Knight bought out the worst in Tupac by endorsing violence. Tupac eventually became transfixed on who shot him; eventually being convinced that it was Biggie and his associates that attempted the murder.
In the attached clip below, Biggie seems pretty genuine in the concern of the passing away of Tupac. There was a hint of sadness and grief that was being masked by humor of how Tupac would make some records about it. If Biggie was so shocked by the murder of Tupac, I honestly do not think that the malice was present to have an attempted assassination.
Eventually the relationship between Tupac and Knight went sour. Tupac was about the leave the record and sign with competitors, taking with him millions of potential dollars. In addition, Knight also allegedly owed Tupac a substantial amount of money. This is where the controversy starts. Some believe that Knight orchestrated both murders. Tupac’s murder was for the reasons stated above and Biggie’s murder was to put attention away from Knight and have it perceived as a gang related retaliation. I bring this up not because I believe this theory of events but to prove a point of how things external of your control can change your life. In Biggie and Tupac’s case, this could have easily been seen as the event that led to their eventual murders.
It wouldn’t be a fair blog post talking about rap and hip-hop in the 90s if the government wasn’t bought into the discussion. The government was scared of hip-hop and its influence on the general population. Part of the fear stems from the Black Panther movement. Part of the fear was the fear of unrest in urban poor areas where simply ignoring the problem will no longer suffice. This hostile atmosphere, I believe also effected Tupac and Biggie and put the two parties into a single loop of logic where fear of another exasperates the response from the other party creating more fear.
I come from the inner city. I’ve listened to rap talking about cop killings, drug, money, and rape and yet here I am at Rutgers earning a degree. The fear that music can somehow manipulate the population is urban myth and quite frankly, pathetic. Of course there are some that do believe in the lifestyle however, many fail to understand it is not because of the music they listen to. Relative to everything else, music is nothing but a small drop in the bucket of poverty and missed opportunities. If the government truly feared the inner city, the solution was and still is to invest in the inner cities to improve the lives of the residents and not bashing and isolating their personal choice of music. This also goes to show how music goes beyond just words and a rhythmic beat. In this case, music gave politicians a prejudice of a huge minority population.
Biggie and Tupac is the perfect example of how music is not a compartmentalized event in space and time. Rap and their identities became one. They lived to rap. Everything that they did was because of or for rap. From Biggie exaggerating his living conditions to Tupac obsessively making tracks, they were the living examples of how music helps forge identities and helps shape who you are.
I think many people, when talking about and researching this era, become so consumed by the music that it’s hard to get an objective view that encompasses the full picture. If I was to do more research on the topic I would dive deeper into the social and economic climate at the time and definitely try to marry those findings with the music that was made. The aftermath I think can also be taken in a different direction. The vibrations from that era still ring to this day. It would be amazing to get a contemporary view of how 90s rap influenced modern day beyond music.
I would like to end this blog post by directing your attention to the beginning of my piece. I started this post with a picture of the documentary movie cover. It shows Tupac and Biggie in the same picture and this was a constant frame in the film. I wonder if there was a purpose to that. In my opinion, I believe it’s because the filmmakers are trying to tell us that Biggie and Tupac were equals and probably never should have ended the way they ended. I leave the floor to others to judge what they think.