One of the most misunderstood serious contributors to pop culture, Tupac Amaru Shakur would have turned 36 on June 16 hadn't bullets cut his short life shorter on the glitzy streets of Las Vegas 11 years ago. One reviewer wrote in a column about Christopher Wallace aka Notorious BIG that 'he died in the innercity that he has both glorified and tried to escape'. It suits Tupac like a glove as well. Tupac was relatively young, at just 25 but his exploits in the music and film industry are unmatched and are setting the benchmark for how this artform and genre will be interrogated in the future.
However through all the years of his absense, between speculations and allegations of him being spotted in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica sipping decarees and suspected messages hidden in his songs about his impending comeback like Jesus, very few people have taken time to understand what made him tick. What made him different from an average rapper and young man in America? Tupac was very vocal about his poor upbringing with a crack fiend mother who he was unfortunate to see deteriorate from a proud Black Panther into an overly dependent Black woman who ended up mothering two children with unsuitable men after many failed pregancies. 'U Taught me 2 be strong/ But I'm confused 2 C U so weak/U Said never 2 give Up/And it hurts 2 C U welcome defeat', he wrote to/for his mother.
In the acclaimed book biography, Rebel for the Hell of It by critical author Armond White you get closer to a churchgoing Tupac who as a teenager did not have a happy home to go to and opted to sleep in recording studio couches. You also manage to get closer to an Afeni Shakur who wanted what was best for young Tupac that she took him to some of the best schools she could afford like the Baltimore School for the Arts. Somehow you start to understand why was Tupac forever acting since it looked like the only life he ever had.
White is optimistic that the stage plays and his MC New York days as an aspiring rapper with a jerry-curl was the making of Tupac the 'revolutionary rev'. His meeting of beautiful Jada Pinkett and striking a friendship that was cut short by his untimely death is explored. Through the book you get to understand that for the better part of his career and life Tupac was surrounded by powerful women who helped him one way or the other. That is why he always remembered to mention that he has never said all women were bitches because he'll be lying. This is what Tupac said about Jada, the young woman he used to play on stage with and who he once formed a music group in Baltimore, "When i think of what a Black woman should be/ It's U that I first think of.../ U R my Heart in Human Form/ A Friend I could never replace". Such a friendship transcended what Tupac later came to be known for.
However there are a lot of contradictions in how Tupac lived his short, often turbulent life, from his Digital Underground days as a roadie, his recording of an album that still has to be released, his first mainstream 2Pacalypse Now and his role in the controversial Juice. In the recording titled after his famous The Rose that Grew from Concrete there is a poem where one rapper remininsces about how Tupac wanted to be accepted by the mainstream when he came out as Bishop, the 'don't give a fuck' thug that came from a broken home and shot a Korean shopkeeper in what was not supposed to even result in a shooting. The big eyed mama's boy with a nose bud.
White argues that at the time Tupac fitted the Hollywood stereotype, 'Young black, angry and not giving a fuck'. He states that after the success of his second Strickly for My Niggaz album and Tupac started roughing some people up Hollywood was reminded of the Bishop from Juice and felt the need to regulate his madness. Tupac might have been accused of going beyond the mandate in Juice but in real life he made Juice look like a comic strip as his brushes with the law became legendary.
Tupac, who told MTV he aspired to play different characters and not just blaxploitation roles teamed up with academy award nominated John Singleton for the Poetic Justice film that did not demand him to gangbang or be a thug but a post office worker on minimum wage. He executed the role so well that instead of encouraging naysayers to welcome him into the fold, they panicked. Pairing him with newcomer Janet Jackson didn't dissapoint either. His outplaying the role was a scary sight for greyhaired Hollywood chiefs. They were intimidated by his talents and saw a Sydney Poitier-Geronimo Pratt-Malcolm X-Louis Farrakhan-Denzil Washington all rolled into one in him, a bad combination.
Remember, here we are talking about a man who claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigations had a plan to exterminate his whole family, from his uncle Dr Mutulu Shakur, his uncles and his aunt who is wanted in the US and exiled in Cuba. His closest family members were shot and killed by police in unquestionable operations and they were not rappers or beefers. Thus when such a man, who, according to White once tried to bring a lawsuit against the Marine County Sherrif's Office for crimes against the Panthers looked to be in a position to take over the world, white America had no sleep. He openly spoke about how the CIA flooded South Central Los Angeles with drugs to keep black people focused on hallucinations while President Ronald Reagan (RIP) recruited the fresh ones to fight secret wars in Nicaragua and Grenada.
Here's a man who after being accused of sexually molesting a 'black' woman would come out and blame the system of finally coming after him instead of reading between the lines of his own temptation and his questionnable treatment of black women. "That's why I'm gon' say I'm a thug that's because I came from the gutter but I'm still here", he pleaded with reporters outside the courtroom during his trial. But where was he when he claimed to be in the gutter? Okay, he was refused roles in films, former US Vice President Dan Quayle was lambasting him in the media, the late senator Delores Tucker was making a habit of using him as the voice of black violence. Old senators who have lived through the madness of Woodstock '69 like Bob Dole were making career comebacks calling for radio stations to ban his music and for retailers not to sell it. And what was Tupac's response, he told a judge that he did request to be treated special in any way but his only crime that he knew the judge was going to punish him for was that he was born black. Crazy heh?
Don't miss The Passion of Tupac Amaru Shakur Part II tomorrow.