On this day we are not only celebrating the late Tupac Amaru Shakur’s 39th birthday but also commemorating the advent of the hip hop saga that Tupac played an essential role in during the 90’s. We must clarify and look into the shorthand criticisms surrounding Tupac because regardless of hip hop partisanship, the cultural influence of his work is undeniable.
Tupac is notorious for his bipolar image as a correspondent of the gangster life and also an advocate of socially relevant issues in the community such as poverty, violence, and gang related troubles. Before we criticize Tupac for highlighting such violence and explicit imagery in his lyrics and videos, we should ask why he wanted to rhyme about those subjects in the first place. Gang violence, single mothers, and poverty are issues that have afflicted him and his entire community.
His mother, Afeni Shakur was a part of the Black Panther Party and politics aside it is safe to assume that Tupac ultimately wanted positive change for the Afro-centric community both east coast and west. It’s easy to toss the hot potato to the rapper with “thug life” emblazoned across his abdomen, who in a horrific version of serendipity got killed by gang related violence. But isn’t this evidence enough of the accuracy of the trials and tribulations of living in his reality? Audiences get to sit safely at home and vicariously experience this alternate universe. Through Tupac we can comfortortably join a voyeuristic tour of disenfranchised peoples while doing nothing to help them.
Tupac is also criticized for increasing friction between East Coast and West by taking regional loyalties to an extreme. However, this is arbitrary in comparison to Tupac’s larger mission of building self sufficient communitites in every part of the nation for African Americans. There are many cunning linguists out there but Tupac was vigilant about articulating socially and politically relevant issues to bring light into the dead entrails of the ghetto.
A lot of rappers are accused of glamorizing poverty and the gangster lifestyle, but that was not Tupac’s intent. He tells the stories as he remembers through poetic narratives as a remedial gesture to reflect upon his past transgressions.
Tupac felt the need to provide a thug lens to understand hip hop because it is a true reflection of adversity people were and still are facing in the African American community. In more than one way, he provides encouragement to his audience especially in songs like “Keep Ya Head Up” as a reminder that the act of making something from nothing to articulate oneself is like pulling out Excalibur from the stone.
The profanity in his lyrics are aggressive and proof of his anger towards many injustices but from his book of poetry, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” it is clear that there is a thinker behind the thug. &