As great as Tupac was and as popular as he was, and still is, there are some things he never did. Tupac released albums frequently, but he was unable to release an album each year and have a long run. Initially, Tupac was viewed as a socially-concious rapper and was not very popular. But, over time, he became a gangsta rapper and earned fame. One thing remained constant and it was the fact of him being critically-acclaimed.
Jay-Z, on the other hand, came into the game and gave himself a record deal. When Jay-Z was trying to break into the game, it was being dominated by Tupac. The only way to land a deal was to try and be Tupac. Many gimmick rappers were signed, but none of them ever made it, but Jay-Z did. He released his first album independently and it would be met with critical success. With hardly any promotion, the album nearly went gold. Realizing the star emerging, Def Jam tried to sign Jay-Z, but he turned them down. More than anything else, Jay-Z was a businessman and he was not going to sign an artist deal, instead he signed a distribution deal.
Under the Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam partnership, Jay-Z forever changed the game and he would release seven more albums on the heels of each other. Out of his next seven albums, two were undeniable classics, while the other albums were met with positive reviews. Even the album he released on behalf of Roc-A-Fella Records was a critical and commercial success. Most rappers who try to also run labels have to give either one or the other. It is rare that an artist remains on top while his crew also gets exposure. But, with Jay-Z, he made every artist on the label into a moderate star. Each time Jay-Z released an album, he was nearly assured a platinum plaque. Each time any other member of the crew released an album, they were nearly assured a gold paque.
Now that he has passed on, it is rarely mentioned about Tupac and his crew. Before he signed with Death Row, Tupac ran his own label. The only artists signed to the label were his crew, Tha Outlawz. The group was signed to a deal and each artist was signed to a solo deal. Tupac had hoped to use his fire to light their candles and he tried with the Thug Life, Vol. 1 album. The album did enough to cross Tupac over into the mainstream, but his crew was left behind. While Tupac will forever be known as the best rapper to ever touch a microphone, he could not handle both being the franchise player and the owner. Aside from being bailed out of jail by Suge Knight, Tupac signed there because he knew Death Row had great management.
Of course, no one knows both the insides of Jay-Z and Tupac's career, but from the outside looking in, Jay-Z has accomplished more in his time than Tupac. The argument is there, Jay-Z had more time than Tupac to build his legacy, but it was clear Tupac would have probably retired to build his crew. The only way they could have ever had the success of Roc-A-Fella Records was if Tupac could devote all of his time to the project. Where Jay-Z is a great multitasker, Tupac Shakur was a single-minded man. Then, of course, Jay-Z had Dame Dash in his corner for most of his run. In the time since he sent Dame dashing, his career has fallen off and his comeback has been met with mixed reviews.
Regardless of position, Jay-Z and Tupac will go down as all-time greats, but the impact of Jay-Z goes much deeper than Tupac's.