Sunday Snippet: Tupac Shakur (1971-1997)

“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women.
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies.
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one.
So will the real men get up
I know you’re fed up ladies, but keep your head up.”

After attending a Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Tupac Shakur sustained multiple gunshot wounds and he ultimately succumbed to his injuries six days later. He was just 25 years old and, believe it or not, that was 17 years ago.

There are many people out there who will tell that Tupac Shakur was nothing but a thug. They will tell you that he encouraged illegal and anti-social behavior with his so-called “gangsta rap.” They will tell you that his role in the East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry glorified gang violence. While I certainly can’t and won’t deny the scale and severity of gang violence in the early 1990s, we also cannot deny Tupac’s talents as an artist, a lyricist, a poet and a social commentator.

He may have been caught up in a world of violence, but he certainly didn’t condone it. He was also raised in a culture of misogyny, but he didn’t agree with those views either. The lyrics above, from “Keep Ya Head Up,” can attest to that. When you dig deeper into the story of Tupac, through biographies like Holler If You Hear Me and films like Tupac: Resurrection, you learn just how complex and how mindful an individual he really was. He may have had a “thug life” exterior, but he had the heart of a lover and an artist.

“I’m tired of bein’ poor and even worse I’m black.
My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.
Cops give a damn about a negro?
Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares?
One less hungry mouth on the welfare.
First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal to brothers.
Give ’em guns, step back, and watch ’em kill each other.”

It’s obvious enough that I didn’t share the same struggle of “growing up in the hood” as individuals like Tupac, but he was and continues to be one of the greatest influences in my life. As a freelance writer today, I am constantly fighting to catch the beat. I tell my stories in the form of structured paragraphs like these, just as he told his stories of his life and his upbringing though his rap. Even in posthumous releases like “Changes” (above), he continues to touch and inspire us.

“Give me a paper and a pen
So I can write about my life of sin.
A couple bottles of gin
In case I don’t get in.
Tell all my people I’m a ridah.
Nobody cries when we die.
We outlaws, let me ride.”

Tupac left this world at far too young an age. He may be gone, but he is not forgotten. Imagine how much more he could have accomplished were he still around today. Indeed, even though he hasn’t written another word in these last 17 years, he continues to influence everyone in the music industry and beyond. MTV published an article commemorating the anniversary of his death, citing specific examples from artists like Rihanna and J.Cole about how Tupac continues to be “such an iconic force in pop culture in the year 2013.”

“I know it seems hard sometimes, but remember one thing. Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that. So, no matter how hard it get, stick your chest out, keep ya head up and handle it.”

It’s not that Tupac encouraged gun violence, drug use or a life of crime. He was simply documenting what he saw and experienced in the world. He was a poet and he is dearly missed.