June 16, 2022

2Pac "Lessons To Be Taken From 2Pac" (October 5, 1996)

Tupac Shakur passed away Sept. 13 (1996) from injuries he received in a drive-by shooting one week earlier. He was 25 years old, a talented rapper and actor whose death was met with various reactions ranging from sadness to apathy. "He had it coming, he was a victim of his own hype," was one of the many comments heard. For sure, the performer was a deeply troubled young man with an apparent death wish. He harbored a lot of pain, and when he put his mind to it, he was capable of writing vivid, introspective lyrics that made those private tensions public spectacle. According to people who knew him, Shakur was also a sensitive brother who was sometimes prone to tears. Meanwhile, fellow rappers praised his generosity and professional work ethic. So while the world-at-large recognized him as only a thug, a closer look shows him as a much more complex person. His records--at one moment he could be positively righteous, the next completely inane--reveled in his myriad moods, and the TV news reports and published articles that only discussed his violent side did him a disservice; it did what much of the press does regularly to black males in America: position us as simple, one-dimensional creatures. When media organizations glorify gangsta images without providing balance or context, it's no wonder why so many lost teens easily embrace and internalize those very false images. Certainly Shakur was a wild child swiftly running out of control, but he was also a human being who didn't deserve to die. Shakur's situation begs the question, Does one choose one's role models or are one's role models chosen? He was born to black revolutionary parents who lived by the gun. And when he drifted into homelessness for a while, the people who embraced him were street dwellers. Naturally, he adopted their codes of street behavior. It would be wrong to blame social conditions for Shakur's lifestyle and ultimate fate. He may have been a victim of circumstances growing up, but later he did have access to information and opportunities necessary to exercise more positive options. He had choices--about who he hung around with, who he did business with, etc.--but over and over he made the wrong decisions. We hear that at the time of his death, Shakur was on the verge of turning his life around. He had plans to marry and release "One Nation," an album that is about unity. Whether or not Shakur was actually going to change the course of his life, we'll never know, but we can all learn something from his mistakes. Cont'd below...

One of the larger lessons is that real g's do die. In their lives, they just drift aimlessly, uncentered. As a cultural figure, Shakur symbolized the sort of values (hypermaterialism, nihilism) that fuels much of the new-jack generation. In the absence of any solid political structure within inner cities, props and cream (money) have come to represent power. Shakur sold--and other artists sell their fans--the lie that they can overcome their poor surroundings and become somebody by doing whatever to acquire luxury items and designer duds. The fact is that going that route only wastes one's life while eroding the surrounding community. In the wake of the Skakur shooting, every adult should actively work at creating spaces where young people can feel vital without falling prey to "Big Willie Syndrome." We must all ask ourselves, Are we doing something to stir developing minds and rescue them from the abyss? There needs to be more people and organizations teaching structure and discipline, as well as instilling values, such as spiritulaity and conscience, in young folk--or they are doomed.... There needs to be more on people's minds than getting paid. Increased attention needs to be focused on long-term goals like staying paid. Since the music industry holds maximum sway with adolescents, it must bear much of the blame for the state of young black culture. It's the industry with a hole in the middle that created the format called "gangsta rap." It has sold artists' Gotti dreams as reality without regard for how the aesthetic gets absorbed into the community. With fewer and fewer veterans working in black music, interacting with fledgling acts, the information needed for growth isn't being exchanged. Today, many executives and managers are the same age as artists and are not properly delineating rules of conduct for the talent to follow. When artists are signed, there needs to be artist training at the same levels as pop and rock acts. Practitioners of hip-hop must no longer be viewed as disposable. - Billboard Magazine (October 5, 1996). Rest In Peace, Tupac Shakur. Today would have been his 51st birthday! We mourn.