Deuteratagonist: the second most important character to a protagonist that may switch from being with or against the protagonist, depending on the plot or conflict. There is no better word to describe the dynamic of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace in their individual Greek tragedies.
Today marks the 20th year that many of us remember where we were when word was widely publicized that Tupac succumbed from his gunshot wounds (Slow clap for that alliteration). No one thought twice about Pac dying from the drive-by that occur ed on September 7th. Like he did two years prior, everyone thought the rapper would survive from his wounds; until it actually happened. September 13th has become a day of remembrance for generations x and y, as we universally and collectively play tracks from Shakur’s extensive catalog.
This morning, I watched the newly-released trailer for the upcoming biopic of Shakur, All Eyez on Me. In the less than two minute clip, the producers included a dialog between contemporaries Pac and B.I.G., portrayed by actors Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Jamal Woolard. I immediately switched from my Spotify playlist entitled “Pac,” and opted to listen to The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die.
Two September 13th’s before Makavelli’s passing, Frank White’s debut album was released. Ready to Die hit New York City like a typhoon. There was no such thing was being anywhere within the five boros and not hearing one of its 17 tracks-or one of the remixes-blaring from a tape deck, radio, or a lyric being quoted in everyday conversation. I won’t delve into this anymore; there are hundreds of thousands of words dedicated to the greatness and impact of the album with the chubby baby with the afro on the cover.
One can’t tell the story of the Thug Poet and King of New York without heavily mentioning the other. Their careers and legacies have been intertwined since their respective beginnings. The majority of the public was introduced to both emcees between 1991 and ’92. When Heavy D and the Boyz performed on In Living Color, Tupac-who was well known in hip hop circles but not a household name-can be seen dancing on the stage right next to Puff Daddy, who had already signed the Brooklyn emcee. There were a few issues of The Source magazine and see pictures of the two as they stood side-by-side and grimaced for the camera with middle fingers up.
Both rappers heavily alluded to dying young. They either spoke it into existence or inherently knew their life’s work wouldn’t have their significance until they left earth.
While revolving around the use of words, rap is a competitive sport. In time, the closest allies become almost always adversaries. In just about every era, there are two that stand out more than the rest of the pantheon. Collaborative freestyles with “My nigga B.I.G. right beside me” become “If Fay had twins, she’d prolly have two Pacs.” There could only be one king and both knew it.
In spite of being ready to die, both Shakur and Wallace are proof that there’s life after death. Their words and influence have lived on 20 years after both were gunned down. In less than six months, we will all play “Hypnotize” repeatedly, just as the kids did on the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn during B.I.G.’s final ride through his neighborhood. And on March 9, 2017, there will be some written words about a connection between these two deuteratagonists as well.
So on this day, throw some ice for the nicest emcees. *cues “I Get Around” to follow “Unbelievable”*