Held captive 4 your politics
They wanted 2 break your soul
They ordered the extermination
Of all minds they couldn’t control
4 u the fate was far worse
Than just a brutal homicide
They caged u like an animal
And watched u slowly die inside
As u Breathe your first air of freedom
On the day u become a free man
Raise your Regal brow in Pride
4 now you R in God’s Hands
The life of many were given
So that the day would one day come
That the devils in Power at Pretoria
Would pay for the evil crimes they’ve done
— Tupac Shakur, “Just a Breath of Freedom: 4 Nelson Mandela”, a poem from “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”
Oh man, I’m not sure. There are a lot of rap songs that mention Presidents that I really like! And that’s not even counting songs that just mention the word “President” like Eric B. is President from Eric B. & Rakim or Jay-Z’s Dead Presidents.
I really like the whole song Mr. President from 2Pac — the version from the Happy Home single, not from the Still I Rise album (which was retitled Letter to the President). It’s not really specific to an individual President, although it’s a song about the dangers and difficulties of life in the inner-city and addressed to President Clinton.
And because I am, deep down, a 19-year-old punk, I still enjoy these lyrics from Eminem’s Criminal:
"My morals went (fart noise) when the President got oral
Sex in his Oval Office on top of his desk off of
His own employee, now don’t ignore me, you won’t avoid me
You can’t miss me, I’m white, blonde-haired and my nose is pointy”
However, the best history-related rap song ever is the song from the Hamilton Mixtape that Lin-Manuel Miranda performed at the White House:
"The ten-dollar, Founding Father without a father,
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder/
By being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter,
By fourteen they had placed him in charge of the trade and charter/
And every day while slaves were being slaughtered or carted
Away across the waves, our Hamilton kept his guard up/
Inside he was longing for something to be a part of
The brother was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter”
Actually, I’m not listening to music. I’m catching up on episodes of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Maron’s podcast is one of the best things broadcast on any platform, and you should totally check it out for some awesome interviews. I am currently finishing up a live episode from Brooklyn featuring Ira Glass, Morgan Spurlock, Elna Baker, Wayne Kostenbaum, Joe Mande, Nick Griffin, Nick DiPaolo, and Artie Lange. I’ll probably listen to the Chris Rock episode next.
(Oh, and I totally interviewed Marc Maron for 45 minutes at SXSW in March and haven’t done anything with it. Sorry, Mark. I’ll hopefully get an article written sometime before you retire. Either way, Maron is a genius. Go listen to the podcast, and go buy his new album, This Has To Be Funny.)
As for music, earlier I was listening to 2Pac Live at the House of Blues and Kurupt’s classic Kuruption! All I have to say is “West Coast”.
“When I was a little baby, I remember that one moment of calm peace, and three minutes after that, it was on." — Tupac Shakur
Many of you are probably wondering why I posted something about 2Pac on Dead Presidents. I’m sure that some of you know that today is the 15th anniversary of his death. I’m sure many of you have heard ‘Pac’s music and appreciate a few of his songs.
For me, however, Tupac Shakur was a big part of my adolescence. I’d guess that many of my readers are either too old or too young, but Tupac was what I listened to throughout high school. My younger readers just don’t understand — the East/West thing was huge when I was a teenager, and it was real. I didn’t own a Jay-Z album until 2002. I didn’t buy Biggie’s albums until after he was killed. My friends and I believed in the beef — as silly as it might sound — and for impressionable teens growing up on the West Coast in some of the rougher neighborhoods in California, my friends and I were 100% in 2Pac’s corner.
Now, of course, we know that the whole West Coast vs. East Coast thing was silly, even dangerous. The two best rappers of that time ended up murdered. Nothing good came out of the rivalry besides some great records. What’s most upsetting about that beef is all of the things we missed out on — Tupac and Biggie maturing, evolving, and becoming better at everything that they already did so well.
Why did I identify with Tupac? I don’t know exactly, but I did. I still do. I still listen to All Eyez On Me constantly. I still am mesmerized by his words. There was poetry in everything that Tupac did. Even when he was frustratingly stubborn and acting like a crazy man, there was always a twinkle in his eye that said, I know what I’m doing.
I don’t think ‘Pac was a gangsta. I think he was an artist who went to extreme lengths to evoke an emotion from everyone. Somewhere, in those last months of his life, the line became blurred. I think Tupac had lost his way, and he was just about to find it when he was shot in Las Vegas. I wish ‘Pac was still around. I miss his music. I miss the words that he was able to weave together in such a unique way. Maybe 2Pac wasn’t the best rapper of all-time, but he was the best poet in the history of rap.
It’s strange — my generation was short-handed in heroes. When we found people we looked up to, they either fell back to earth quickly, or they died. I won’t go as far to say that Tupac was a hero to me, but his words helped guide me through some pretty rough formative years. He made me realize that, even if I couldn’t get out of the place I was in, I could at least do something to fix the place.
Tupac Shakur was gifted and frustrating, and I guess I relate to that because that’s probably how my friends and family would describe me. I am now six years older than 2Pac was when he died on September 13, 1996. I remember where I was when I heard he had been shot after the Mike Tyson fight in 1996, and I remember that I immediately thought what many of ‘Pac’s fans thought: “He got shot again? It’s ‘Pac…he’ll be fine.” I remember being at a high school football game on Friday the 13th when I found out that he wasn’t going to be fine — that he was dead.
Tupac Shakur was 25 years old when he died, and I wish he had as many years as I have had. I wish a 40-year-old Tupac was making music, writing poetry, filming movies (remember, he was an amazing actor), and playing with the kids he never had. I wish I could explain in a better or more eloquent manner why it matters to me that a rapper died fifteen years ago. I guess it’s just this: he wasn’t a rapper. This wasn’t Lil’ Wayne or Drake or even Kanye West. Tupac Shakur was a philosopher and he made my life better. I wish his life had been longer, and since it wasn’t, I’ll play his music (as I normally do) and cap the day off with Tupac’s personal favorite — Don McLean’s "Vincent”, which is filled with lyrics that could have described ‘Pac himself.
And, if you’re out and about tonight and want a drink, here’s what your order: one part Alize, one part Hennessy — Thug Passion. But don’t pour it out for ‘Pac; he wouldn’t want you to waste it.