Today marked 25 years since Tupac Amaru Shakur, born Lesane Parish Crooks met his maker. Makaveli, as he is fondly revered by his legion of fans across the globe, died in his early youth at the age of twenty-five after suffering from a bullet wound during the night of the Tyson-Seldon fight at the infamous MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. The shot was fired on the 7th of September, 1996 and Pac succumbed six days later. While his untimely demise creates shivers in the spines of aged and young hip-hop followers, it is his influence within a very short space of time that distinguishes 2Pac from his peers. To a few critics, Pac’s reflected a thug life of a wayward black rapper from the West Coast endowed with an insatiable appetite for engaging in criminal stints. To the majority of the universe, Makaveli depicts a symbol of black consciousness and a protest against racial bigotry in the United States black communities of the nineties.
A brief background on Shakur’s life
Tupac’s activism would not come as a surprise given the environment that shaped his growth in the violent streets of Harlem. His family background was no stranger to the struggle for equality. Shakur’s mother, Afeni Shakur was a former member of the 90’s Black Panther group whose activities came under the security spotlight for fanning civil unrest. Among other reasons, the group would go on to get indicted for threatening peace and order. Around 1971, Afeni Shakur and fellow Black Panthers were arraigned for a staggering 156 charges related to national security threats. In the song, Dear Mama, Tupac’s mother introduces the circumstances in which young Pac was born. It was a period of victimization of black people who raised their voices against systemic racial discrimination. Albeit, theirs was a genuine call for jobs, social service delivery, and equality in the policing laws. It is amid these social inequality realities that Tupac committed himself to tell the African-American story in his illustrious music career.
The lyrical activism in Tupac’s music
For anyone who religiously traces the history of hip-hop and its long-time big names, Tupac’s name inevitably pops up. The Rolling Stone emphasizes that Tupac is one of hip-hop’s most iconic figures and its most powerful enigma. One would be charged for being economic with the truth if they deny that Shakur was a genius lyricist who addressed the social inequalities of his time but was often not extensively researched.
The Journal for Black Studies affirms that Tupac’s career carried distinct political ideas and identifiable activism. From racial discrimination in colleges to a general lack of equal opportunities for the black children in their communities, Shakur castigated the segregation that the black community suffered at the hands of the political authorities. The song Trapped presents the selective application of the law that was associated with the policing methods applied in New York.
In Trapped, Tupac bemoans the lack of liberty to roam around the streets without being asked to produce his identity particulars and being ‘trapped’ in his community. Suffices to mention that, the policing mechanism had resorted to police brutality motivated by white superiority complexes. Owing to Tupac’s lyrical activism and pro-equality poetic lines, the fortunes of the black community relatively shifted, at least, to some extent.
Music and its influence on societal realities
Unlike Martin Luther King Jnr who used sermons and speeches to provoke racial sentiments, Tupac made use of poetic lyrics on the mic. Even his life as an African American youth presents an antidote for human rights violations in the post-civil and political rights epoch. Tupac often used the symbol of Latasha Harlin to depict the institutionalized racism that characterized the American judiciary during his time.
Tupac lamented how the life of the black people was of no importance to that of dogs as one would get a much stiff criminal penalty for butchering a dog than murdering a black individual. His black consciousness invoked some sense of nationalism that inspired the younger generation. His social responsibility for his community vindicates him of his weaknesses to which he admitted as just being human and flawed. Modern-day rappers from West Coast such as Kendrick Lamar and TIP T.I Harris often address these seemingly unending inequalities with yesteryear hits such as Alright. The #Blacklivesmatter after the police brutality leading to the death of George Floyd is a subtle reminder that more musical activism is key towards attaining an egalitarian society that knows no racial disparity.
Musical influence can go a very long mile in righting societal wrongs such as slavery and relentless neoliberalism. It is usually through art that people can easily resonate with their lived realities while experiencing some form of entertainment. Thus, it is trite that, any learning experience can work best where the environment merges critical issues while entertaining at the same time. The likes of Bob Marley and Lucky Dube made use of music to prop up nationalist movements in Africa and an end to apartheid. Further, one can also link the idea of socialism and socialist movements to John Lennon in his song Imagine. Music, therefore, assumes a dual effect, that of enlightenment and entertainment. At a time when hip-hop was taking the streets of Miami by stardom, Tupac took the opportunity to convey the message of equality and non-discrimination.
Even though Tupac died amidst several foul play speculation in the gangsta circles, the FBI, and personal enemies from East Coast, his murderer has not yet been confirmed. This also applies to his contemporary and fierce rival Notorious B.I.G’s death, leading to logical suspicion that, even twenty-five years down the line, justice for Tupac is something that the police department of Nevada is not willing to invest or revisit. This thereby presents a clear case of justice denied in the phrase, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.
It could be that he was also perceived as a threat to national security and his demise presenting good riddance. While this may be debatable as his controversies such as premonition of personal fate in The Don: Killuminati, Shakur’s legacy as a doyen of black emancipation through art goes without reproach.