After over 10 years of Tupac Shakur’s death, his legacy lives on. A thorough discussion on Tupac’s life and work supports the thesis that his socio-political significance is negative. With his mother’s link to the Black Panther Party at the forefront, the discussion about the work and murder of Tupac casts him as an icon of controversies, contradictions and realities of the children of the Black Power time. Although Tupac’s life is full of controversies, his poetry has influence on many people. Michael E. Dyson, author of Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, observes that Tupac evoked “Black gods-of pain, truth, and poetry-with a beauty and power that are straight into a mythic, spiritual, and saintly stratum.” (267) The thug image was one of the major cultural-media influences on the structure of Tupac’s character.
Like his mother, Afeni Shakur, Tupac too, saw the world with a different vision. As in numerous contemporary tales about the success or failure of African American men, the figure of the mother looms large in Tupac’s story. About one month after being acquitted on charges that she was part of a Black Panther Party conspiracy to attack public spaces in New York, Afeni gave birth to Tupac in June of 1971. “It’s a world in our head. It’s a world we think about at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I had to teach my mother how to live in this world like it is today. She taught me how to live in that world that we have to strive for. And for that I am forever grateful. She put heaven in my heart.”(Powell, http://www.vibe.com/archive/feb96/docs/tupac. html). Both mother and son were jailed on the charges of immoral activities and thus we are justified in saying that Tupac’s socio-political significance is negative.
Dyson in his work excellently provided a critical look at Tupac. In Tupac’s teenage years he was teased by his peers because of his “pretty-boy” and “artsy” image (Dyson, 2001). The attitudes bothered him so much that he began to take on an extra tough and manly attitude. Afterward, this pose was shown clearly through many of his songs, in particular, “Hit Em Up”. In the lyrics of this song he described himself as a tough, hard, fearless and imposing person. His viciously aggressive anger and hostile tone were intended to intimidate the members of Bad Boy and its affiliates: We do our job, you think you the mob?!, We the motha fuckin mob!! (“Hit Em Up!”). “Tupac Shakur could possibly be the most influential and compelling of all rappers” (Dyson 106) Motivations for bad behaviors in Tupac’s songs reflect his negative social image.
A lot of rappers, including Tupac, took on the glamorized gangsta description of The Godfather series and other Mafia movies (Tough Guise, 1999). The mobster culture strengthened Tupac’s hyper-masculine principles and formed his identity. The cultural-media forms such as mafia-type movies glamorize that particular way of life, Tupac too, tried to make marked efforts with his media reflection to glamorize and legitimize the thug life style, despite the fact that the urban dwelling gang elements are stigmatized by society. Through his music and videos, Tupac promoted a sense of “coolness” about enjoying this lifestyle. Tupac himself desired more than anything else, to be allied with the thug life: “When I die/I wanna be a living legend/Say my name/Affliated with this motha fucking game (No more pain).” It is time and again noted that the collective hardships of witnessing death and the continuous struggles poverty conditions tend to generate a tight and unified bond among gang members (Mason, 2000). Similarly, Tupac’s gangster friends or crew turn out to be a type of extended family to him, providing companionship, family, money, and security (Hasan, 1998): I hung around the thugs, And even though they sold drugs, They showed a young brotha love (“Dear Mama”). Michael Datcher notes: “Tupac had a very problematic relationship with women. He used them. He flattened them out, stacked them up and climbed them like stairs that led him nowhere. Tupac’s attitude towards women and his thug image gave him the negative social image.
Because Tupac was arrested and jailed on the charges of rape and sodomy and was shot five times before he was finally killed in a drive by shooting, because in his many lyrics Tupac called for black-on-black violent behavior, spoke about doing drugs, described making money a priority, and behaved in a way in which women are considered as sex objects, many conclusions about him in the Tupac discourse is that he remained unsuccessful to live up to the potential afforded him by the chances for African-American people in the United States for last about 50 years. Since in his lyrics and interviews Tupac offered his fans understandings about the link between the violence and nihilism in the world in which he was living and the general oppression of black people in the United States, the Tupac discourse, in the same breath in which it reprimands him, also hails him as a 1990s-style revolutionary.
In conclusion, the responses to Tupac as well as the reflections about him created after his murder are infused with varying degrees of displeasure. Equally the nostalgic and the disappointed answers to Tupac are insufficient to address the serious and urgent convergence of conditions and historical causes which conspire to make Tupac’s star text. By virtue of its understood expectation that today things will be better, disappointment subscribes to a vision of history as naturally progressive and linear. Homesickness, the longing for a time before when things were better, discloses the lie in disappointment’s view of history which anticipates that things will keep getting better. In every case, the trend is towards a romanticization of the history, here specially the Black Panther Party, which renders that past disconnected from the present and, prominently, closed to critique. In this way, the disappointed response to Tupac precludes the possibility that the Black Panther Party itself played a role in his production.
Datcher, Michael. Ed., Touch Love The Life and Death of Tupac Shakur, Appalachian State University, Volume 33, Numbers 3-4, Spring/Summer, 2006.
Dyson, Michael Eric, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching For Tupac Shakur (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2001).
Katz, Jackson, dir., Tough Guise (1999). Video.
Mason, J. R. “Pop Perspective: If Nietzsche Watched TV for Tragedy,” unpublished manuscript. (Eugene: University of Oregon, 2000).
Powell, Kevin, “All Eyes on Him: Interview with Tupac Shakur” in Vibe magazine, February 1996. (http://www.vibe.com/archive/feb96/docs/tupac.html).