I must’ve heard many of Tupac’s songs before I knew he was dead. About the time he died I was more into reggae, ragga and dancehall, than I was into rap. I think I got to know about his death after Biggie (Notorious B.I.G.) was killed, and that information I got at the barbers’ where I’d gone to do my hair Shabba-style.
My first information about the feud between the East Coast and West Coast rappers, of the BLOODS and the CRIPS came from the barbershop, many of which in retrospect were true while yet many others were outrightly ridiculous. The only impact this had on me was to draw my attention to him and a few of his songs, while I continued living like nothing or no one or persons significant in music had passed, despite the fact that back then I could hold my head up about things I knew about reggae, rock and other genres of music including a bit of rap. I wasn’t totally averse to rap actually, I got as far as CRISS CROSS, NAUGHTY BY NATURE, HEAVY D, QUEEN LATIFAH, and the likes from the days of the DISCO associated rap, but kinda entered into a hiatus when HIP-HOP began making inroads into popular music.It was in this hiatus that TUPAC AMARU SHAKUR came, saw and conquered and I noticed none of it while he lived.
The next time I encountered Tupac (via his song) was a year later in college when I was squatting with some senior students while waiting for my accommodation to be sorted and lectures had already ongoing. My hosts were devout Christians of the Deeper Christian Life Ministries whose radio was perpetually tuned to the shortwave to receive signals from foreign media outlets such as the BBC, VOA and a Christian broadcasting radio, the name of which I can’t remember for now (CBC or something that sounds much like the BBC) where they did great Christian rock music if I must quickly add though. But this isn’t about my hosts rather their neighbour, this fellow (now a medical doctor of repute in the United States) Gbulie by name (though I’ve never been able to establish if he is the son of a Biafran hero of the same surname) was a diehard Tupac fan back in the day. He played Tupac’s posthumously released tracks, especially CHANGES without let, all through the day and night when he was in, infact the song heralded his presence if he hadn’t been in all day, probably having spent the better part of the day in class attending lectures or studying. I doubt that throughout my squatter days (which was close to about three months) I heard any other beats from his room while he was around other than that of Pac’s. His roommate, whose name I can’t remember now, a studious one and president of KB Club at the time didn’t look like he was into music as such hence the room was quiet when he was around, though one could overhear muffled sounds that sounds like moans when his girlfriend came by.
Because, music wasn’t permitted at my hosts’ I couldn’t tune to the regular FM stations and couldn’t play tapes I had, but I could move to the Tupac music from next door not fully, but by tapping my finger against the bunk, or creating a club in my head with music selected by DJ “Gbulie”.
I managed my time well with my hosts for the period I was there without insulting their religious sensibilities by bottling up my craze for “worldly music” till the school provided me accommodation. After that baptism with Tupac, I became aware of some of his music and the brilliance and emotion he invested into his raps, but that remained the farthest I went with him for another two years till I became roomies with Bolaji (also now a medical doctor in the United States and a diehard Tupac fan). He bought the sound system and TV in our room at the time and kinda influenced to a large extent what the rest of us roomies listened to and watched, the others couldn’t care less but it fell to me to provide the alternative when I could.
Bolaji it was that instilled the consciousness of what Tupac represented to the fullest in me. Had he not been a good Muslim, I’d have said he worshipped Tupac. He had all of Tupac’s songs right from the time he was with DIGITAL UNDERGROUND, to the posthumous 2-CD album releases that followed after his death. From this period onwards I learnt about the man behind the name.
He wasn’t just like most of the other rappers. He schooled to be an artiste, he was even a poet and much of that showed in his lyrics. The summary of his life from birth he aptly described as that of a “Rose from Concrete”, his success however didn’t spur him to favour self preservation over a yearning for death and the abyss, for he rapped, spoke, gestured about his demise almost hinting to would-be assassins about areas of his vulnerability which they can explore to eliminate him, while promising them of assured revenge by no other hand but his, a factor that fueled the belief that he may have faked his death, in fulfillment of the lyrics (which many of his fans consider prophetic) in his MACHIAVELLI album.
Tupac’s life towards the end was very controversial, just like it was at his beginning. He’d had a stint in jail, the conditions of the bail at the hands of his benefactor Suge Knight was considered by not a few fans as a pact with the devil, as it meant that the next series of albums (arguably some of the best in his career) will be released under Suge’s label (much of the proceeds of which Tupac appeared to have been cheated out of). He had a charge of sodomy hanging on his head against his insistence of innocence pointing to some of his songs where he spoke glowingly about his mother, women’s pride and challenges women face as reasons that he couldn’t have possibly behaved to a woman in the manner his prosecutors would rather have him portrayed before the world. He even had to attend a court session in a wheel chair after he’d been shot multiple times hours back just so he could prove he didn’t orchestrate the shooting event to scuttle or delay court proceedings.
Though Tupac talked and rapped about gangsters like he was one and there was really no love lost between him and the police (his last words according to a policeman who was amongst the first responders after he was shot a second time fatally, were expletives directed at the police), there are actually no record of a serious criminal activity proffered against him mirroring any of the crimes he rapped about, though there’s no saying that he may not have known people or friends who may have indulged in such criminal activity, infact he once said that the only thing he does was “selling records”, and most of the things he said or rapped about where mainly not about him.
The beginning and end of Tupac for most of his fans was his feud with his former friend and later rival, Notorious B.I.G. Not a few of them feel that Biggie had a hand in Tupac’s death, even when evidence available overwhelmingly suggest otherwise, especially the theory that Suge Knight may have been responsible seeing that Pac had plans to quit his DEATH ROW label, to start his own EUTHANASIA record label, which he gave publicity by wearing an “Angel Of Death” pendant on his neck chain. Others also feel Pac’s death was orchestrated by the FBI in activities reminiscent of the CoIntelPro policy of the J. Edgar Hoover era which targeted supposedly strong voices amongst the Black American population, pointing to the fact that at about the time Tupac was killed his THUG LIFE activities towards encouraging Young Black Males, YBM to stand up, be responsible and demand their rights was beginning to resemble what may become as explosive as the movement led by leaders of the Black Panther Party in the late sixties and early seventies.
The Hate “U” Gave Little Infants Fucks Everybody, THUG LIFE was the acronym he formulated to draw attention to the plight of Young Black Males, and warning the American society of repercussions if the plight of young black people/males in the inner cities do not receive attention urgently. He and his crew even went as far as penning a series of codes by which even gangsters on the streets could/should live by, to reduce black on black violence, unfortunately this met with criticisms no less from established black leaders, cut off from realities that young black children faced then and still face now. The government also took note of his activities, with politicians on both sides of the divide denouncing the violence and celebration of same inherent in his lyrics, hence many felt that his killing might have been an attempt to silence him by government security agencies before he morphed to become the nidus of a brewing revolution (though in reality, a very long shot) amongst blacks voicing discontent at their untenable conditions of life and living.
When 2Pac was shot multiple times on the 7th of September of 1996, many thought that like before he would survive it, they may have considered that he was shot less times than at the last, but they easily forgot that his body may not have been strong enough to go through all of that just soon after the last encounter. So, when he was confirmed dead six days later on the 13th aged just 25, many of his fans (even foes) couldn’t believe it. Some simply latched onto conspiracy theories about him gone as far as the Caribbeans, on one desolate paradise island sipping Pina Colada.
But rather than his untimely death dimming his light, it rather pushed him and what he represented farther than he could’ve ever imagined, which was at the point many people including me had this encounter with this rap icon and legend. Initially, it seemed there couldn’t be an end to the release of already recorded music he’d made before his death, even Biggie who was killed months later (in what many saw as reprisal for Tupac’s death) and had posthumous releases of which “Life After Death” was phenomenal, couldn’t meet up as he hadn’t recorded as much as Tupac left behind at his death. Even with materials no longer available, younger and newer artistes began doing “collabos” with Tupac voicing over his lyrics on their songs, which was also going on at Biggie’s side as well though not in the same numbers or success as with those handling the Tupac posthumous bit. The urge to keep Tupac alive as long as the hip-hop community could may have been responsible for the cold shoulder and ostracism visited ‘pon JA RULE who appeared to have thought to jump on Pac’s fame to build his musical career by wearing a bandana in the exact way Pac held his, only to be greeted with condemnation from fellow rappers, several of which went as far as remixing a popular hit track just to denounce him, which if my records serves right will be the first and only time something of the kind has happened in the history of rap music.
A project featuring a compilation of Pac and Biggie’s lyrics made into several songs was conceived and executed into an album, and it met with mild success in the market, but if there was any intention on the side of the promoters to bridge the divide amongst the feuding camps, it met with little or no positive reception as black on black violence continued, between “bloods” and “crips”, rappers from different blocks and coasts; NAS feuded with JayZ, 50c against Rick Ross and the list continued, though no major deaths were recorded save for the spat between MAC DRE and FAT TONE which resulted into a Tupac and Biggie type situation, where both of them lost their lives, amongst a few less popular rapper deaths in like manner afterwards.
The many who are easily put off by the “explicitness” of Tupac’s lyrics end up missing the core messages that his raps bore, which were in the main, reservoirs of knowledge especially as regarding survival in an unkind world. Tupac wasn’t a saint (he was first to admit it), but largely he meant well, maybe if he’d had more time he’d have been able to change the negative widely held views about him, but alas he didn’t and couldn’t. He impacted music, especially rap music in a very special way that one may not always find the right words to express. Every September especially between the dates in which he was shot (7th) and the 13th when he finally succumbed to his injuries in 1996 serves for many who’ve experienced his work, as an opportunity to celebrate him, and wonder what could’ve been if he (and Biggie) hadn’t been felled. One top charting rapper two years ago at about this time on MTV said he’d have been waiting tables today had Tupac not died and still being in the game.
I was almost going to end this without mentioning Tupac’s acting career. It was top rated (like in JUICE), not the below par performance his contemporaries like Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion) put out back in the day, or worse still the lack lustre performance of “50cents” today. He easily interpreted the roles he was assigned in “ABOVE THE RIM” just as naturally as one playing himself. He was in the rare categories of singers/rappers who made successful crossovers into acting, just like Jennifer Lopez.
Most of what people know and talk about Tupac today are most likely gleaned from those six years between 1990 and 1996 forgetting easily that he lived even before that era, he aptly captured such people in the words, “No One Sees The Struggles, All They See Is The Trouble”.
Live Forever THUG ANGEL!