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Kurt Cobain vs. Tupac Shakur: Who defined the ’90s?

Today would have been the the 46th birthday of legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who took his own life in April of 1994 after years of struggling with depression and heroin addiction. The pressures of fame proved to be too much for the reluctant Generation X icon and the global adulation his band garnered was hard for his sensitive and fragile mind to accept.

Since his tragic suicide, Cobain has been elevated to mythic status. Much like other fallen musical legends, his work has been pored over and picked apart, his personal life has been endlessly scrutinized, countless books, documentaries and even a fictionalized feature film have surfaced—helping to explain (or exploit, depending on your perspective) the troubled genius from Aberdeen, Wash.

Cobain’s devoted following, self-destructive behavior and untimely death invite comparisons to another Generation Xer who was viewed as the voice of the people; fallen rapper Tupac Shakur. Shakur emerged in the early 90s as a fiery, young rhymer inspired by both the “Fight the Power” ethos of Public Enemy and the “F—k the Police” nihilism of N.W.A. Like Cobain, Pac’s sensitivity and passion resonated deeply with a generation, and after he was gunned down in September of 1996, his life, art and story have taken on added gravity for those who were touched by his work.

Now, 19 years after Cobain’s suicide and 17 years after Shakur’s murder, both men stand as twin martyrs of the Clinton years. The fallen heroes of the 1990s. But whose music and persona most define that decade?

Let’s take a look at these two troubled young men’s musical and cultural legacies …


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  1. pac amaru on June 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    2pac god of music !!

  2. Dan on November 5, 2013 at 12:06 am

    ???? lol, why some of the factors that were discussed are even in this article is beyond me. It’s this simple; Tupac, though great and very influential, is a footnote next to Corbains’ legacy. I, as well as all my friends (including my urban friends who were huge Tupac fans) can remember the day Kurt Cobain died like it was yesterday. We know where we were, what we were doing, so on and so forth. Not even half of us could remember when Tupac died. Ironic, we actually just had that discussion not long ago.

    • driko on December 13, 2013 at 2:22 am

      your opinion is biased!that’s simple, you love & relate to kurt more than you do 2pac. doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a better artist though.
      Tupac goes straight for the jugular and his life was much harder & colorful
      than Kurt’s.what I loved about kurt is that he loved and respected ‘hip-hop’,when most of his rock n’ roll peers shunned it!.he was a phenomenal artist,which is why i’m not going to
      say one was greater than the other one.

  3. Idiot on March 23, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    this is a stupid article they shouldnt be put against each other even if (which they didnt) go against the other. they are both just a small fragment in the picture of the 90’s as everyone else who live during or prior to anytime. Heck the beatles and elvis had an effect on the defining the 90’s.

  4. Left Lane on April 14, 2014 at 4:58 am

    2 MOTHER F**** PAC!!!!!!

  5. Wickedpedia PHil on July 18, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    who’s Kurt Cobain ?…i’ve seen a 2pac graffiti in a bus station in freaking Tunisia years ago

  6. DaSouth_Stayonmyd!ck on February 21, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    They’re both the same to me, different genres different cultures but the same soul, if you can switch souls to each others body, it’d be the same legecy…idk if i made sense