Written by Mass Dosage
Respect where respect is due.
This final column for the year is dedicated to the person who every Hip-Hop head has been discussing this past month - whether they liked him or not. If the past tense in the last sentence hasn't enlightened you - it's Tupac Shakur. Tupac's name itself is a contradiction, which serves as a symbol for who he was as a person. Shakur - originally an African name, implying knowledge of his roots and where he came from. Tupac - as in "to pack a nine" (millimetre), implying that he was armed and that he didn't know exactly what his future held. His songs too, were characterised by contradictions, one message conflicting with the next, leaving the listener feeling that he/she was listening to two rappers side by side, mimicking one another's flows.
He started off by quoting "Words of wisdom", only to turn around and say "I don't give a f!!!" on his debut album, "2pacalypse now". This trend continued with "Keep ya head up" and "Dear mama" paying tribute to black women, while he was imprisoned for 8 months on sexual assault charges. Tupac periodically had working links with artists on the East coast, but then vehemently turned his back on them as soon as he became one of Suge Knight's adoptees out on the West coast. Lord knows it ain't easy out there, especially when you're one of Amerikkka's most wanted (by the law and the public). The only thing growing faster than the list of grudges and charges against Tupac (some still pending at the time of his death) are his record sales, increasing with each release and resulting in 'nuff platinum on the wall.
Many have said that the way Tupac went out was fitting ("you live by the gun, you die by the gun"). After all - what good did he do? He was violent, a lawbreaker, and a promoter of this gangster mentality which is threatening to destroy all that is creative and positive in Hip-Hop. Materialism and violence have perpetrated Rap music, and all but undone the positive image that Chuck D, KRS-One and the likes had managed to build up around the artform. It has turned from music with a message and the power to change existing social structures into music without causes or cares. The power now being redirected inwardly has led to a loss of unity, and the creation of enough controversy to allow the social power structures to carry on functioning unchallenged. Whilst the members of the Hip-Hop nation turned on one another, the rest of the world heaved a sigh of relief and returned to business as usual. No more attention - no more guilty consciences.
Having said this, why have I chosen to write about a man who played a part in the perpetuation of this gangster mentality? The title of this issue's column provides the clue - respect where respect is due. The focus is on who Tupac was and what he tried to do, before the media or Death Row got hold of him. He had talent - loads of it, and when he chose to direct it, it was on! This is what produced the eloquent words behind "Papa'z song" and "Brenda's got a baby". Take a listen to these two songs and then try step to me and tell me that Tupac couldn't write meaningful lyrics. It is this exact same talent that he used in less positive ways in some of his more commercialised works. The greatest disappointment for me was when he came out of jail, angrier and more defiant then when he went in, but apparently not much wiser. What this says about the present prison rehabilitation techniques is another issue altogether...
So, this column is dedicated to that part of Tupac that was intelligent, positive, and that wanted to uplift. It is a pity that his life was violently taken from him before he got a chance to redirect his energy and anger, so that he could have been an inspiration to listen to, not another soul to mourn. The message: the time is now, the place is here. One last thing - you gotta admit that he could rap his ass off!