Popular Musicians Of The Twentieth And Twenty-first Century: Tupac Shakur

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Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century, many new types of music and artists emerged. The music produced during this time period was completely different than the music of the previous centuries. During this time period, music styles such as Rock and Roll, Country, Grunge, Hip-hop and Pop surfaced and took the music scene by storm. There are a few very key artists that come to mind when we think of who pioneered each music genre and who influenced music as we know it today. These musicians include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Madonna, Tupac Shakur, and Nirvana. These artists changed and influenced the music scene by being unique and speaking out against things in society that other people were to afraid to address. These are artists that are key elements in the way that music has developed over the last hundred years.

The first artist that has influenced and changed music is the king of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley has influenced today’s music because of how he defied the normalities of the music industry and society. Elvis Presley was born on January 11th, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi and grew up in an area where he was heavily influenced by the black musicians. As a result, many people in the music industry and society rejected his music at first. Presley’s music showcased classical Blues elements as well as new modern elements that gave him a unique sound in the music industry and it was unlike anyone else’s. Because Elvis was influenced by black artists, it brought up a problem with race relations. DJ’s would not play Elvis’ music because it sounded “black”, even though he was a white man. In a book titled Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, the author wrote, “On July 28, 1954, ten weeks after the initial Supreme Court Brown decision integrating public schools, Elvis sang “That’s All Right” in the Overton Shell in Memphis. It was a black man’s song, and white women went wild at the sight of Elvis’s body—this beautiful young white male body—in motion as he sang.” (Williamson, Joel, et al 15). This showed that even though he was playing “black mans” music, people, especially the women, still loved his music. Elvis sang songs that broke out side societal norms and tried to break down the color barrier and safely awaken youth influences on the music industry.

Elvis Presley quickly became known as the “King of Rock and Roll” and got really big in music industry after World War II. Presley became a symbol of “counter- culture” and helped take what was traditionally considered “black music” and transform it into Rock and roll. In doing this, it allowed Presley to bring the music to the public and start to change the face of music as it was known. Most people did not enjoy Presley when he came onto the music scene, but all of the young women are what made him sky rocket in the eyes of the public. One of the things that Elvis Presley was known for is the way that he danced. In his trademark dance, Presley would shake his hips about in a wild fashion. This led to television and news stations on filming him from the waist up because it was to sexual in the eyes of the viewers, who were mainly young females. In an article titled “Elvis In the Heart of America” the author states, “One unexpected benefit from the postwar boom was rising disposable income. Teenagers were able to consume the product that Presley was offering” (Meacham and Rumer 42). Young females and even some males loved what Elvis was bringing to the music scene. In a way, he was teaching the teenagers that it was okay to be different and that they did not have to follow certain aspects of society. On August 16th, 1977, Elvis Presley tragically passed away at Graceland. The doctors said it was because of on going health problems with his heart and that he passed away due to cardiac arrest, but Presley actually struggled with drugs for a long time, and they are believed to be his ultimate demise. Even though Elvis has passed away, he still remains ranked number 5 on the Billboard top 100 for the artist with the most singles in the top 100, even though he hasn’t released new music in over a decade. Elvis’s number one hits include the songs It’s Now or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, Stuck on You, Suspicious Minds, A Big Hunk O’Love, Good Luck Charm, and Surrender. Some of his more popular songs like Burning Love and Can’t Help Falling in Love have only topped out in the number two spot. Throughout his career Elvis Presley had 109 songs make the Billboard top 100. Elvis’ music has changed the way that Rock and roll was shaped forever and taught many young teens that it was okay to be different and have different opinions that everyone else in society.

The second artist that influenced music during the twentieth and twenty-first century is Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was born on February 26th, 1932. Cash was a very influential artist because of the fact that he had a music career spanning over fifty years, mostly influencing Country and Bluegrass music. Johnny Cash started out wanting to be a Gospel singer and went to Nashville in hopes that someone would sign him. When Sam Philips signed Johnny Cash, Philips had also just signed with Elvis Presley as well. Sam Philips did not like Cash’s Gospel songs but he did enjoy the Country/ Rock and roll music that he had. Johnny Cash was a significant figure after World War II simply because he would explore themes that no other artist would dare to touch. Cash touched on subjects such as divorce, murder, and other taboo topics such as opposition to prison policies and the unfair treatment of the Native Americans. In an article titled “Johnny Cash’s Family Condemns White Supremacist: Read Cash’s 1964 Letter to Radio Stations”, the author states, “In 1964, Cash made the then-controversial career move to release Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, an entire album dedicated to advocating for the rights of Native Americans. It included the now-famous single ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes,’ originally recorded by folk singer Peter La Farge, which chronicled the story of the Pima Indian who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II” (Cirisano). Johnny Cash made the decision to release a song solely about the rights of Native Americans, and this was not a popular topic at the time of its release. Cash’s main goal was to give a voice to the hopes and concerns of problems all over the nation, and he wanted to use his platform for good.

Johnny Cash finished his music career only ever having one top ten hit in the Billboard hot 100. His song “A Boy named Sue” topped out at number two, and another song called “The Ring of Fire” topped out at number 17. Overall Johnny Cash had a total of 42 songs make the Billboard top 100. Johnny Cash is one of the most influential artists of the century in the fact that he was not afraid to use his platform for the good of other people and did not back down from the backlash that he faced in society.

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The third artist that influenced the twentieth and twenty-first century is Madonna. Madonna was born on August 16th, 1958 and she has been known as the “Queen of Pop” since the 1980’s when she burst onto the music scene. Madonna has been known for the way that she pushed the boundaries of mainstream music, and how she also laid out the template for most Pop Icons, like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, in today’s music industry. In her years of work Madonna helped to make the modern music video, she helped normalize female sexuality, she also paved the path for modern concert tours and reality television. One of the other most important things that Madonna did was break down social barriers. She frequently had black, Latino, or gay/lesbian characters in her music videos. In fact, her song “Vogue” was inspired by gay culture. All of these things were very controversial topics in the 1980’s and a young girl used her platform to speak out on these issues. One of the most impressive things that Madonna did was that she fought the double standard that men could express their sexuality and that females had to suppress theirs. In an essay titled “The Madonna Experience.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, the author wrote, “Madonna provided a means of addressing the contradictions that young women were facing in society, for Madonna was a load of contradictions herself. Her name, Madonna, meaning “virgin,” represents the ultimate image of the Catholic, devoted, submissive, and nurturing woman, an image that we knew too well from our upbringing and culture” (Lugo-Lugo 124). The author wrote that Madonna herself was a walking contradiction, so it should have been no surprise that she wanted to fight against all of these things in society. Madonna may have been viewed as controversial but she gave a voice to all the females to afraid to speak out in society.

Madonna broke records as far as her music goes, as she had twelve number one hits on the Billboard top 100. Madonna also had 38 top 10 hits, and she did all this only having 57 songs make the Billboard top 100. Her earliest number one hit was the song “Like a Virgin” in 1984 and her most recent one being the song “Music” in the year 2000. Popular song “Material Girl” only topped out at number two in 1985. Madonna’s music really spoke out against norms in society, but she used her platform for the good of all the other girls in the world.

The fourth artist that really influenced music was Tupac Shakur. Tupac was a black Hip-hop artist that was born on June 16th, 1971 and he was raised by his single mother. Before Tupac went to prison in February 1995 for sexual assault, he finished his first album, his pre-prison album. While he was in prison, he signed with the most dangerous record label, Death Row. While Tupac was with Death Row, he wrote songs about the inequalities that black people faced as well as single mothers. Within the months of Tupac being at Death Row records, he developed a rivalry with ex-friend Biggie Smalls. On September 13th, 1996, Tupac was murdered in a drive by shooting that people think was connected to rival Biggie Smalls, but they were never able to connect the dots. In a article titled “Tupac Shakur: Understanding the Identity Formation of Hyper-Masculinity of a Popular Hip-Hop Artist” the author wrote, “The hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur was a tragic example of a talented young black man, beautiful and damaged, who combined some of the worst excesses of the society that produced him with an acute awareness of the corrupt nature of that society” (Iwamoto 49). Despite his music that showed the corruptness of society, he only ever finished with one song in the Billboard top 100 and it was nine years after he died. Tupac really shaped the way that Hip-hop music was written and from then on it started focusing on the real problems of society and not just drugs and women.

The fifth and final artist that influenced music from the twentieth and twenty-first century is the rock band Nirvana. The band formed in 1987 with lead members Kurt Cobain, and Krist Novoselic, they later landed on their final drummer Dave Grohl who joined the band in 1990. The band brought Grunge and Alternative music onto the scene with their first hit album “Nevermind” in 1991. In the reference titled “Nirvana (American Rock Band).” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia” the author wrote, “Its startling collection of songs went beyond structural boundaries—notably with its distinctive slow verse/fast chorus format—and almost single-handedly brought the grunge subculture to the mainstream surface. It topped the charts and won many Album Of The Year polls. The opening track, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” reached the US and UK Top 10” (Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia). Nirvana developed a sound that was different than the popular Rock and roll and it created a whole different genre of music. The band ceased to exist in 1994 vocalist and guitar player Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Cobain had a huge issue with drugs and had many trips to hospital for heroin abuse/ overdose, as well as many foiled attempts to commit suicide. When Cobain killed himself the rest of the band was faced with having to find new careers as well as dealing with the loss of their close personal friend. Nirvana finished their careers with one top ten hit on the billboard top 100, and it was the song “Smells like Teen Spirt” that finished at number 6. Even though Nirvana did not have much success on the Billboard top 100, their music influenced many bands and alternative artist today.

Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century there have been many artist and music styles that have emerged and had a huge influence on the music industry. These styles were Rock and roll, Country, Grunge/ Alternative, and Pop music. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Madonna, Tupac Shakur, and Nirvana were among the few key artists that changed how music was forever. Even though it might not have looked like it on Billboard top 100 charts, many of these artists excelled in using their platform to speak out against issues in society and trying to change the norms. These are the artist that have influenced the twentieth and twenty-first century the most when it comes to the way that music has developed.

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