“My mama always used to tell me: ‘If you can’t find somethin’ to live for, you best find somethin’ to die for.”
The first moment I had the urge to write about 2Pac was in 2016, twenty years since his death. I didn’t manage to do that then, but I didn’t want to wait for his 25th or 30th death anniversary. Both because I don’t want to wait and it is pointless to do so. Because no matter how many years have passed and will pass, a few words for Tupac must be said even if they add to the pile of so many articles, books, documentaries and movies. I am not an expert in rap music, neither a fan, although there are quite a few songs that I liked through the years. But Tupac Shakur is a different case.
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in Harlem (NY) on June 16th 1971. His parents were members of the Black Panthers, but when Tupac was born his mother was single, poor and an addict struggling to raise him and his sister. Since there is enough information about this part of his life, I will try to narrow my view on his persona to its core. Tupac Shakur was a misunderstood human being who found himself trapped in a world of social prejudice, racism and inner conflict. Tupac Shakur was beyond race, social status and religion. Tupac Shakur looked the world in the eyes and saw its true colors. If someone interprets his life and actions through the spectrum “born-and-raised-in-the-ghetto young black male”, allow me to say they are wrong. Because this point of view is only the beginning for Tupac. And this shows in his five albums in which he unfolds his short life. While in the first two albums he deals with the black community of the ghettos with a generally social commentary, delivering the lyrics with passion and anger, in the next albums things get more personal. However, I think we must be careful there because it was not that Tupac suddenly considered himself the best of all and wanted to talk about himself. He rather chose to bear the world’s sins on his shoulders. As he said many times in interviews, he didn’t consider himself the greatest rapper, he didn’t claim that he is god. But he understood how broken the world is and how misled the people were. It was this realization that made him a martyr.
‘Me Against The World‘, as the experts say, is a solid album regarding production and flow. There are very nice melodies even for the “untrained” ears. This album manages to be popular and tell a significant story. Not only the story of Tupac, but the stories of many more as well, even if they couldn’t or didn’t want to see how right his points were. In this album Tupac talks about his agonies and fears (‘If I die 2Nite‘, ‘It Ain’t Easy‘), his anger (‘Me Against the World‘, ‘Heavy In the Game‘, ‘Fuck The World‘), the young black people who risk their lives in the ghettos (‘So Many Tears‘, ‘Young Niggaz‘, ‘Lord Knows‘, ‘Death Around the Corner‘), the life in the streets past and present (‘Old School‘, ‘Outlaws‘), the desperate pursuit of love (‘Temptations‘) and the empathy and respect to women who are trying to survive a hard life (‘Dear Mama‘, ‘Can U Get Away‘). The album was released while Tupac was in jail for something he hadn’t done. That was the point in his life when he felt the anger, the pain and despair caused by the feeling of betrayal and prejudice. You can feel it in an inexpressible way in the track ‘Lord Knows‘ where his delivery is fed-up and desperate.
As far as I am concerned, Tupac never gave up. He was an idealist and a revolutionary. He realized that the only color dividing people is green. As his bodyguard said, it wasn’t only the whites who were upset with him, but the upscale blacks, too. This realization didn’t defeat him; on the contrary, it made him angrier and more determined to fight for a collective community. His “big mouth” never hesitated to speak of the social injustice he was witnessing. As the professor Mark Anthony Neal of the State University of New York at Buffalo claimed, he was an “organic intellectual” (in terms of Antonio Gramsci’s theory). In Tupac’s words: “Heart of a soldier with the brains to teach your whole nation” (“No More Pain” – ‘All Eyez On Me‘, 1996).
In conclusion, if from the experts’ point of view Tupac Shakur shaped gangster rap and invented “Thug Life”, from my humble point of view he is a folk hero who fought to transform all that he saw was wrong, awry and unfair for the better.
“I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”