Tupac Amaru Shakur: June 16, 1971-September 13, 1996
(From my AND Magazine article on the 15th anniversary of Tupac’s death in 2011)
“When I was a little baby, I remember that one moment of calm peace, and three minutes after that, it was on.” — Tupac Shakur
Wait a second…I’m the guy who usually writes about Presidents, or reviews really stuffy political books. What am I doing writing about music?
Well, I’m sure that some of you know that today is the anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s 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 and older readers just don’t get it — 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 even buy Biggie’s albums until after he was killed. My friends and I believed in the beef — as silly as it might sound now — 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 the 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 of my generation.
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 so 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 seven 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 in Northern California 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 rapped died sixteen 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:
Now, I understand, what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know now
Perhaps they’ll listen now
And, if you’re out and about tonight and want a drink, here’s what you should order: one part Alizé, one part Hennessy — Thug Passion. But don’t pour it out for ‘Pac; he wouldn’t want you to waste it.