September 13th, 2006 marked the 10 year anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s Las Vegas slaying. All these years later Tupac still remains a cultural icon, a modern legend. I have at times been a fan of rap music, but I always took a disdain for Tupac. I usually take a disdain for anything that a large group of people praise so highly, but this was different to me. In my eyes, Tupac Shakur was nothing more than a promoter of reverse racism, violence, and a misogynist. I thought that Tupac’s apparent attempt to “enlighten” black people and arouse black empowerment was hypocritical, as he often acted foolish and immature. I thought that people who admired him were ignorant, and should instead focus on other great people, like Bob Dylan and Albert Einstein. But today I finally think different.
On the 13th of September, Yahoo featured an article on Shakur, summarizing his life and career, but also related an interesting look at his profound affect on American culture and millions of his followers. The one thing that changed my entire perspective on Shakur was a simple sentence. A sentence in the article stated that Shakur was indeed flawed, but that made him more relatable and made him even more of a hero and a legend. That makes sense. After all, aren’t some of the most beloved literary romantic heroes flawed and have dooming traits, like King Arthur, Romeo, and Beowulf?
Maybe because of the fact that it is rap, and most rap has come from uneducated gang member wannabes, mainstream society is unwilling to keep an open mind to any rap artist. But Tupac is different. His work has inspired many musicians and writers, and even had enough merit to create college courses from. This puts Tupac among the ranks of J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote an entire Elfish language just for his Lord of The Rings story. Tolkien’s created language is now taught in college courses also.
Shakur’s lyrics did deal with drugs, discrimination against certain women, and promote the gangster life style. But his music was so much more. Tupac’s songs spoke of a yearning to be more than he was, to be a better person and escape the troubles of “the hood”. His “Thug Life” message was not about violence and crime, but about standing up for what you believe in and transcending the obstacles put in front of you. The son of a Black Panther activist, he was raised to be aware of cultural issues and make a stand. I believe that Tupac’s message was largely misunderstood, even by most of his fans, as he did not want the streets filled with violence and bloodshed. He did not endorse criminal activity. Even though he didn’t always live by what he preached because he wasn’t perfect, he was a modern poet who saw a better future.
Tupac wanted people to fight for their rights and get what they deserved. He promoted education and opened a lot of doorways for racial discussion. Some think he is a prophet because he predicted his death so many times throughout his albums. That is also a reason that many think that he is still alive and is hiding for some reason. While I don’t think that he laid out a huge plan to fake his own death, I do think that looking back at his lyrics, he had a very scary and correct knowledge of his future. In his songs he said that he would die and even recorded a song for his unborn child because he knew he wouldn’t see the day that his child was born.
Ten years later Tupac is still releasing albums from the grave and still inspiring the masses. Current rappers use his songs to mix with their own in post mortem duets. Almost every rapper lists him among their greatest influences and inspirations. No other rapper in history has been so deep and so real in his lyrics. He was not a character, he was a larger than life figure that is still a mystery to this day. Even though I have a newfound respect for Tupac Shakur, I have still not figured out whether he is overrated, or he is immensely underrated. Perhaps he was the last true poet, not far off from the likes of Bob Dylan. What makes me have doubts about how genuine Tupac was, is the fact that towards the end of his life he became seemingly ignorant, engaging in a feud with his once best ally Notorious B.I.G. I feel that if he was really serious and so wise, he would not stoop to such low levels. But then I come back to how he was flawed, and no one can always be who they want to be. And maybe because his life was cut so short at the age of 25, we will never know what he was truly capable of and how great he could’ve been. And I finally understand why he is so appealing to African Americans. They can relate to a black man from the ghetto more than they can a folk singer like Bob Dylan or a president like Abraham Lincoln. Tupac Shakur stands as a black icon in our time. Tupac was not a role model. He was someone with a message to be heard. We must make our own inferences based on what he gave us, and use it wisely to improve our society.