As Decades — our retro-themed nightclub — inches closer to its three month anniversary of opening, we’ve decided that it’s time to maybe put to bed one of the most frequent arguments that has been had in our fair club since its opening. No, not “less filling” versus “tastes great,” but rather, who was the better rap artist, The Notorious B.I.G. or 2Pac. Yes, if you come up to our “Decades of Hip Hop” floor, there’s epic photos of both of them in our “Bling VIP” area. As well, if you hang out on the 90s floor, their songs have an undeniable popularity. However, once and for all, we’re going to solve the question. How? Well, with facts and data, of course. Plus, we might throw in some opinions, too, just to make sure all of our bases are covered.
2Pac’s career as a mainstream artist started three years before Biggie’s with his guest appearance on Digital Underground’s (of Humpty Dance fame’s) single “Same Song.” As well, it has also continued long after his death with well over 100 verses recorded before dying appearing on numerous other projects. However, for what Biggie lacked for time in the spotlight prior to his untimely demise, he roughly matched 2Pac in overall album sales (Biggie hovers at 22 million while Tupac sits pretty at 24 million overall) over a career that was, while alive, three years and three albums shorter.
Biggie was a juggernaut built for pop mega-stardom from the start. By comparison, Tupac Shakur was far more of an “artist” in the sense that he was, at the time of his demise, in the third stage of a career that had evolved from party rapper, to sensitive thug, to outlandish gangster emcee. Sean “Puffy” Combs produced BIG, so, as is the case surrounding Diddy, he rapped over massive party-rocking soul samples that endeared him to pop listeners. “Juicy” samples James Mtume’s 1982 hit “Juicy Fruit,” while “Big Poppa” samples the Isley Brothers’ 1983 R & B smash “Between The Sheets,” “One More Chance” uses DeBarge’s 1983 song “Stay with Me,” while “Hypnotize” samples jazzman Herb Alpert’s 1979 hit “Rise.”
Samples were a part of Tupac’s rise too, but largely his career was based much more around words than the interplay between words and music. Biggie’s easily one of the best rappers to ever rap, but ‘Pac’s one of the few rappers to ever have a book of their poetry made available for worldwide release. There’s something for more orchestrated about Biggie’s rise that’s ultimately important. Biggie’s debut single was the aforementioned “Juicy,” which came out on August 9, 1994 and was slain on March 9, 1997. This means that BIG’s mainstream career ultimately lasted UNDER 1000 days. The level of talent and execution it takes to go from selling zero records to being able, with 1997’s “Hypnotize,” to sell 1.4 million singles on a number one Billboard album is astounding.
For as much as we laud Biggie’s 1000 day supernova rise to fame, there’s equally enough room to discuss 2Pac, who had 20 top ten singles in six years and also was such a charismatic figure that he had critically acclaimed roles in seven films including Juice, Above the Rim, and Poetic Justice. Ultimately, what Biggie did for rap music, 2Pac did something similar for hip-hop culture. Famously, it was KRS-One who said that “hip-hop is something that you live, and rap is something you do.” While yes, Biggie’s lifestyle affiliation with hip-hop culture is important, there’s a great argument to be made that 2Pac’s development into a braggadocios rapper-ternt-actor in mainstream movies likely introduced so many non-stereotypical music fans into rap music and hip-hop culture fanatics.
There’s a great conversation to be had that 2002’s Jay Z and R. Kelly’s 2002-released Best of Both Worlds album would’ve been 1000x better than that lukewarm-recieved venture had it been a Tupac and Biggie collaboration. By 2002, ‘Pac could’ve been an Academy Award-winning actor and Grammy winning rapper. As well, Biggie could’ve been a mega-star MC and the CEO of a spinoff of Bad Boy Records, and more. The two of them meeting for one mega-release in an era in rap that coincided with the production wizardry of Dr. Dre. Just Blaze, Kanye West, and more…along with the Bad Boy “Hitmen” crew that piloted Puff Daddy’s success following Biggie’s death, is amazing to consider.
So who’s the best, Biggie or Tupac? In under 1000 days, the Notorious B.I.G. accomplished the same level of hit-potential musical output as 2Pac, plus directly aided in launching the careers of Puff Daddy, Lil Kim, Jay Z, and many more. Comparatively, 2Pac literally embodied the pop ego of rap music to pop culture for roughly the same amount of time that BIG had a career, and set a standard that could easily be met by the likes of 50 Cent, Ja Rule, and an entire generation of charismatic and muscle-bound rhymers with swag to burn.
Ultimately though, this is a conversation about music and culture, which both of these artists affected worldwide, forever. For the purposes of nightclubs, the answer, though worthy of deeper and greater argument, is Biggie. As Canibus says on his 1998 LL Cool J diss track “Second Round KO,” “the greatest rapper of all time died on March 9th.” Given that he had only merely scratched his creative and artistic potential before his death, and the idea that he could’ve easily succeeded in the same artistic realms that 2Pac already had, we have to give the nod to the Notorious B.I.G.