Greetings fam! Hope all is well with everyone on this Saturday evening. Today is the day that the majority of hip hop fans spend celebrating the birth of Tupac Shakur. If he had lived, he would be 47 years old, which seems crazy to me. Maybe it is because I was so young when he was alive. Or because we have been nearly suffocated with tons of t-shirts, mugs, memes, artwork, multiple album releases, and so much more.
I was sitting in my house thinking back on my first encounter with his music. I first saw him with Digital Underground (Yes, I used to do the “Humpty Dance”). But, when he emerged as an artist and I saw the video for “Brenda’s Got a Baby”, I became somewhat enthralled with him.
The message and images in the video were things that I knew all too well myself. I had a close friend who had been molested by her own father for years, young girls being pregnant was commonplace, drugs were prevalent, and social workers decorated many a doorstep. But, the way that he weaved the story was special and I had found a new rapper to follow and music to consume.
Tupac spoke on topics that had not been displayed so openly which appealed to me greatly. I seemed to always be on the lookout for music that spoke to my own tortured soul. “Keep Your Head Up” gave us hope, encouraged us, and solidified the fact that he loved us. I followed him closely, listening to “If My Homie Calls”, “I Get Around”, and more but, then he began to change a bit and I began to fall back.
That thug shit was a theme that although very familiar, was absolutely exhausting. His roughness bristled my nerves and I found myself tuning out when his music was played. But, as soon as I was going to throw him away, he dropped his “Me Against the World” album, and I was rocking with him again. The album displayed his feelings towards his mother, the revolutionary Afeni Shakur, displayed his sexuality on “Temptations” and highlighted vulnerability on “So Many Tears”. I was impressed and once again captured.
I remember when he died very vividly. I was almost 16 years old, living in a place that I didn’t want to be, selling dime bags of weed, struggling to adjust once again. I was sitting on the stoop in my projects when news broke across the radio airwaves. One of my homeboys stopped by as they began to play Tupac’s music. Tears ran down our faces but neither of us spoke. He was gone just as so many young black men had. Our spirits sagged.
I often sit and listen to Pac and reflect on the state of hip hop today. Lyricism is not as highlighted as in decades before and at one point, I honestly felt like throwing the whole culture away. Then, I recall some old heads talking about Tupac in similar ways that some speak on artists today.
He was a thug and a revolutionary talking about gangs, pussy, struggle, drugs, and more. They didn’t know what to do with him. There is a difference between him and some of these untalented, new school rappers– he had a message. He was like a hood prophet, politicking on the state of affairs. So, I hang in there, as an unofficial hip hop ambassador. I feel a sense of responsibility to preserve a culture that rocked me, nourished me, fed me, and kept me in some of the most difficult times of my life.I have said before that hip hop saved my life and that is not an understatement. Tupac is another artist that played a part in my evolution.
It seems redundant to say that Tupac’s memory will never die, but it is so true. He will forever be remembered for his substantial contribution to the culture, for his influence on so many people, for the indelible mark he made upon this earth. Peace to his spirit.
Rest on Tupac,
Ashaki Omikunle Ali
Photo Cred: https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/tupac-shakur