Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2pac Shakur

A little bit ago it came out in the news what Tupac Shakur's last words were. A police officer asked him who shot him and he replied, "Fuck you." The officer said he had kept that a secret for so long because he didn't want those words to be used to turn Tupac into a hero, but two decades later he is a hero and for that reason, the cop saw no reason to keep it a secret any more.  This led me to think of writing this piece. Why is Tupac an idol? Why is he so lauded in the rap community? What was so special about him? He wasn't significantly more talented or raunchy or famous than other dead rappers. In fact, interestingly, there was a scientific analysis of the vocabulary of various rapper's lyrics. 2Pac scored on the lower end. Yet he has become a hero in the rap world - elevated to a mythical status. More so than other rappers who have been murdered. Why? It is because he was a leader in the civil rights movement.  Tupac Shukar was a revolutionary. A great man, who, like so many other great leaders, died far too early (at the age of 25).   Leaders of non-violent movements, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are considered the model of revolutionaries. Non-violent, Tupac was not. But the message he proclaimed, loudly and fiercely was admirable. He was the voice of the frustrated - frustration with poverty and black oppression.

Who was Tupac Shakur? His mother, (absent) father, step father and extended family were all members of the Black Panthers. He was born one month after his mother successfully defended herself and was found not guilty of more than 100 charges of  conspiracy against the United States. He was raised in an environment of discussion and learning. This was no ordinary ghetto childhood. He was active in the arts. He had a role in "The Raisin in the Sun", which performed at the Apollo Theater. He played the part of the mouse king in the Nutcracker ballet. He was a backup dancer for another rap-group. He was a voracious reader. He joined The Young Communist League when he was a teenager.
I didn't get that power from gunz..coz there's no gunz in jail..I got that power from books and from thinking and strategizing...... That's what I want little niggaz to see.
 He was raised to question authority, have disdain for The Man and not accept the status quo. Violence was considered an option because they believed that often there was no other choice. Tupac explained this point of view.
If you know in this hotel room they have food every day and I knock on the door. Every day they open the door to let me see the party, let me see that they throwin' salami, throwin' food around telling me there's no food. Every day. I'm standing outside tryin' to sing my way in- "We are weak, please let us in. We're weak, please let us in." After about a week the song is gonna change to, "We're hungry, we need some food." After two, three weeks it's like, "Give me some of the food! I'm breakin' down the door." After a year it's like, "I'm pickin' the lock, comin' through the door blastin'." It's like, "I'm hungry." You reached your level. You don't want any more.  We asked ten years ago, we were askin' with the Panthers. We were askin' in the Civil Rights Movement. Now those who were askin' are all dead or in jail. What are we gonna do? And we shouldn't be angry?!
And he had plenty of reasons to be angry!

  • His aunt was involved in a shootout in which she was shot in the back, taken to the hospital and tortured while questioned. She had a broken clavicle and a paralyzed arm. Despite the fact that forensic evidence showed that she had not fired a weapon, she was sentenced to life + 33 years in prison. 
  • Tupac's godfather served 27 years of a 25-to-life sentence, for murder and then was proved innocent and released.
  • Tupac himself was convicted of sexual abuse, a crime he always maintained that he did not commit.  At the sentencing, Tupac said to the judge, "I mean this with no disrespect, Judge -- you never paid attention to me. You never looked in my eyes. You never used the wisdom of Solomon. I always felt you had something against me." 
  • In 1991 he received a $43,000 settlement from the Oakland Police Department for a brutal beating he received for jaywalking.

And the raps that I'm rappin to my community shouldn't be filled with rage? They shouldn't be filled with same attrocities that they gave me? The media they don't talk about it, so in my raps I have to talk about it, and it seems foreign because there's no one else talking about it.
One reason the general public confuses him with your run-of-the-mill criminal is that his rallying cry was "Thug Life." Tupac and his mom thought that phrase up together. Thug life doesn't mean what it sounds like it means. It's not a rallying cry for illegal or violent behavior. From the Urban Dictionary: "Thug Life is the opposite of someone having all he needs to succeed. Thug Life is when you have nothing and succeed. When you have overcome all obstacles to reach your aim." TuPac wrote a Thug Life Code of Ethics that was signed by the heads of the Bloods and Crips at a peace treaty picnic called the Truc Picnic, in California in 1992. It was made up of 26 rules including: no drug dealing in schools, children may not deal drugs, parties are neutral territory, you are responsible for legal/financial payment commitments to crew members, your word must be your bond, harm to children will not be forgiven, senseless brutality and rape must stop. My personal favorite is "no [drug dealing] to pregnant women."  He calls it for what it is! "That's baby killing; that's genocide!" he says in the Thug Life Code of Ethics.

Was Tupak violent?  Yes. He was a product of his environment and because of that, he was. He was shot nine times in his life (two incidents). He was an angry proponent of the East Coast/West coast war.

Was he reckless or immoral? No.
Let me say for the record, I am not a gangster and never have been. I`m not the thief who grabs your purse.I`m not the guy who jacks your car. I`m not down with the people who steal and hurt others. I`m just a brother who fight back.
They claim that I'm violent just cuz I refuse to be silent.
I don't advocate senseless violence of any human being. I'm the one who's been beat down. But I will not be a victim again.

Was a he Christian? Well, he certainly had a strong faith in God.
When I was alone, and had nothing I asked a friend to help me bear the pain. No one came except God. When I needed a breath to rise from my sleep no one could help me except God. When all I saw was sadness and I needed answers, no one heard me except God. So when I'm asked who I give my unconditional love to? I look for no other name except God. 
I put the pistol by my head, and say a prayer. I see visions of me dead, Lord are you there?
Imperfection is inherited, therefore we all sin, but fighting the war of sin is the greatest war of all because we all die in the end no matter how hard we fight.
Let the Lord judge the criminals.
I believe that everything that you do bad comes back to you. So everything that I do that's bad, I'm going to suffer from it. But in my mind, I believe what I'm doing is right. So I feel like I'm going to heaven." 
 I truly believe I've been blessed by God, and God walks with me
Oh Lord, help me change my ways, Show a litlle mercy on judgement day, It aint me I was raised this way, Never let em' play me for a busta, Makin' hell for a huslter.

Was he racist? No.
They say it's the white man I should fear, But it's my own kind doin' all the killin' here.
The real tragedy is that there are some ignorant brothers out here. That's why I'm not on this all-White or all Black shit. I'm on this all-real or all fake shit with people, whatever color you are. Because niggaz will do you. I mean, there's some [foul] niggaz out there [in the streets]; the same niggaz that did Malcolm X, the same niggaz that did Jesus Christ- every brother ain't a brother. They will do you. So just because it's Black, don't mean it's cool. And just because it's White don't mean it's evil.

Who was the enemy then? Who was he fighting? Poverty and injustice.

If you are at all familiar with 2Pac you have heard this line from Keep Ya Head Up: "You know it's funny when it rains it pours, They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor."

The American dream wasn't meant for me, cause Lady Liberty's a hypocrite. She lied to me, promised me freedom, education, and equality never gave me nothing but slavery.
Everybody needs a little help on their way to be self-reliant...there's no way [someone] should have a million-thousand-triple-billion dollars... These people have planes and there are people with no houses, apartments, shacks, drawers, pants... It's not right.

In the middle of writing this piece, Maya Angelou died. It put an abrupt halt to it for me. It felt almost shameful to be speaking the praises of a violent leader when the most inspirational peacemaker had just passed away. But as time passed on I knew I must come back to this because there was a place for Tupac Shukur's message. There was a group of people that needed to hear his declarations and needed to hear it from someone they understood and admired. He spoke a message that Maya Angelou could not have gotten out. The world needed Tupac Shukar just as it needed Maya Angelou.  Those two great people's lives crossed paths one day when they were both shooting the movie Poetic Justice. Maya Angelou recounts the encounter. She heard a man on the set angrily swearing and fighting with another man. She walked up to him and said in her familiar gentle voice,  
"Excuse me, may I speak to you? ... Do you know how important you are?... Do you know that our people slept, lay spoon fashion in the filthy hatches of slave ships, in their own and in each other's excrement and urine and menstrual flow, so that you can live 200 years later? Do you know that? Do you know that our people stood on auction blocks, so that you could live? ... When's the last time anyone told you how important you are?" And he stood...the tears started to come out. I had no Kleenex or anything so I just wiped his face with my hands and talked to him. And Miss Janet Jackson came to me and she said, "Angelou! I can't believe you actually talked to Tupac Shukur!" I didn't know Tupac Shukur. I didn't know six-pack! I had never heard the name! Because in my life, in my age-group, you understand? I didn't know that. Tupac's mother wrote me a letter. She said her son had called her right after I had spoken to him. And she wanted to thank me. She said, "you may have saved his life. And I thank you Dr. Angelou."

Tupac was blessed with a talent to rap and spread his message in that medium, no different than others who preach or write or become politicians. "Though are hands are chained like they are, they haven't taken music from us yet. So that's how I'll fight." He rapped about the realities of the underclass. He proclaimed the frustrations of injustice. He preached a message of change and empowerment. My favorite line of his comes from the rap Changes: "We need to make some changes. We need to change the way we eat, the way we live and the way we treat each other."  This song came out in 1992. In saying this, he was a pioneer in addressing the problem of obesity and junk-food in the ghetto. He had big plans, interrupted by his assassination. He wanted to host concerts that would be free for students who got a C or above. He spoke of building community centers and starting baseball and football leagues for innercity children.

"Live by the gun die by the gun." Tupac, prophetically, uttered those words. His death alone is enough material for a separate blog post. But I'll leave that subject to Randall Sullivan who wrote the book LAbyrinth. This LA detective makes the compelling case that Tupac was killed by dirty L.A. cops and Tupac's own record producer Suge (pronounced Shook) Knight. Before reading this book I was convinced that his death was faked and he was living happily on an island somewhere. There is an uncanny amount of evidence pointing to it. (Here is a hilarious video joking about it.) And I want to believe that. But a man with such a powerful drive to lead his people would never just run away. I know he couldn't have done that. I'll admit I'm a bit of a sap. Easily emotional. Whenever I hear the song Changes I choke up when I hear the line, "We aint ready, to see a black President".  I always whisper in my heart to him, "you never got to see the day." You might think I'm obsessed with Tupac. On the contrary, he rarely comes to mind. I look up to him no more than I do Benjamin Franklin, Cesar Chaves, Dorthea Dix, Pope Francis, William Wilberforce and many more. I wrote this because Tupac Shukur is misunderstood by those unfamiliar with him and his story needs to be told.


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