In the event of my demise
When my heart can beat no more
I hope I die for a principle
Or a belief that I had lived 4 ~Tupac Amaru Shakur
A rebel. Violently Passionate. The rose that grew from concrete. A black man combating inner demons. Methinks he made Shakespeare proud. Made Geronimo proud. Set the standard. Exceeded expectations. Deliciously Complex. My older cousin's and her friends' imaginary baby daddy (Yes, he was just that fine). Ghetto Poet Laureate. Piccolo. The Hip Hop Generation's Trouble Man. The Hood Prince. Constantly in revelation. Consistently pushing to be better. The laughing, Shining Serpent. Self-eulogizer. Gone too soon.
As I tried to write this post, so many thoughts raced through my head about the man, the myth, and the legend of Tupac Amaru Shakur, a lost cub of the Black Panther Party. I was only twelve at his death, an awkward seventh grader who only spit common knowledge trivia questions about Tupac to fit in: he was with Death Row, beefed with Biggie, He was T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., from Baltimore, wrote "Dear Mama," and ran with Digital Underground early in his career. Saw him a few times in movies that I snuck to watch at my cousin's house like Poetic Justice, Juice, and Above the Rim. At that time I couldn't appreciate Shakur's complexity, his open battle with inner demons, his struggles to maintain an identity that both fed into and separated from expectations of black masculinity in American (popular) culture. For many, Shakur provided the bridge between the black nationalist thought of the 1960s and Hip Hoppers of the 1980s and 1990s. This was especially prevalent in his poetry, with poems like "Lady Liberty Needs Glasses," "When Ure Hero Falls," and "How can We Be Free."
What's fascinating to me as a scholar and as a Hip Hop enthusiast is the pulsating presence Shakur maintains in a frivolous rap and black American culture. Even more intriguing about Shakur's perceptions of life and death was Shakur's spontaneous and often inexplicable laugh at horrific situations sprinkled throughout his creative catalog. Shakur's tragicomic outlook dictated not only his performance but interpersonal relationships. Many of his interviews show not only a lyricist but a waxer of philosophy, often working out ideas and theories while answering questions.
I'd argue that Shakur's life and influence in contemporary black culture serves as the metanarrative (master narrative) of Hip Hop post those stories waxed after 1996. What is most striking about Shakur's narrative is his desire to openly connect audience to his innermost battles, critiquing the same temptations and corruptions that he embraces as a young African American man. While exposing his insecurities and shortcomings, Shakur maintains control of his stories, both in reality and imagined mediums like his movie roles. He borrowed from difficult situations (i.e. the relationship with his mother or his rape case in 1994) to serve as the undercurrent for much of his creativity.