Tupac Amaru Shakur died 16 years ago today, September 13, 1996. We all know the story: he was shot in Las Vegas on September 7, after the Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand...and the mystery of his murder has yet to be solved.
It's a story of a hip hop legend. A timeless story of an intelligent rebel...constantly fighting to be heard, to raise social awareness, and staying true to self, true to his black nationalist upbringing, and true to his fans.
We loved Tupac because he was an original. In an era of 101 rappers talking loud and saying nothing...Tupac remains a classic artist. His passion, his energy, his lyrics, and his off-stage persona were always consistent. He was doing things his way, and he wanted everyone to know exactly who he was, and what he believed in.
I was a fan. Musically, I was a fan of the hits...admittedly, I never got too deep into the B-Side tracks and underground creations. I was definitely a fan of his acting. I watched the movie Juice (no word of a lie) every single day one summer durng high school, just because of how it made me feel. I loved (and continue to love) absolutely everything about that movie. The soundtrack. The lighting. The dialogue. And of course, I loved Tupac's character "Bishop". To this day, probably one of the most memorable movie roles anyone has ever played.
As as much as we felt the role of Bishop in 1992, we loved the role of "Lucky" in Poetic Justice...another classic favourite film of mine from 1993, where we got to see the bad boy get vulnerable. Tupac represented an era of our generation that we all remember fondly. The music. The colours. The dancing. The energy. The newness of "hip hop" culture as it truly exploded on the pop scene and began to infiltrate almost every aspect of society.
Tupac represented a leader of our generation. And while Will Smith and others were the family-friendly face of hip hop, and New Jack Swing and other pleasant elements of the culture were on the rise...Tupac stayed grimy. He stayed gutter, as he's often quoted as saying.
He would have been 41 years old this year. Crazy! Even crazier is that he was only 25 years old when he died. Now, with all due respect to the living rappers right now...can you really name ANYONE who has the same affect, intelligence, or presence that Tupac did? Especially at THAT age?
Sometimes it saddens me that he never lived to grow old. Never lived to see the first black president. Never lived to age with the culture, along with Jay, Diddy, Russell Simmons, and the other urban entertainment leaders. I remember watching his documentary "Resurrection" in the theatre back in 2003 and shedding tears for a lost leader. A potential revolutionary.
There aren't many people like him. And my radar remains high for those of intelligence, passion, and influence, and I enjoy seeing individuals in those positions take control of their opportunities and use their knowledge to improve public conscious, and to advance cultural standards.
Our culture needs leaders. We need academics. We need individuals with that special "something" to lead us, and be a voice for those who may not have the opportunity to speak...or be heard.
And yes, Tupac was "just a rapper" but he had the drive and the dedication to fight for what he believed in. He wasn't worried about being politically correct, or playing the fame game...he was what he was. He kept it real.
Tainted by a series of run-ins with the law, filing a civil suit against the Oakland Police, serving jail time, allegations of sexual assault, and suffering numerous shootings, his life was forever controversial. Always followed by some drama...and perhaps his persona often invited this drama as well.
But if nothing else, he was full of life...at all times. There was something electric about him, that even in the heart of trouble and in the middle of terrible misfortune, his albums still sold, and his singles still rose to the top of the charts.
He was that guy.
So on September 13, 1996 when he lost his life, the hip hop community lost a great soul. And it's not until days like this that I remember the life of Tupac, that I wonder what others are doing with THEIR lives. I wonder if other artists try to emulate him in character, in purpose, and in action. I re-evaluate what I'm doing with MY life, and what legacy I would like to leave.
I feel that the grimy-ness and authentic "thug life" of years past is totally lost, and that the key to success now in the hip hop game is commercialism, it's blending in with the corporate "other," and the road to influence is found by those who are quietly making business moves, wearing suits, socializing with dignitaries and business executives, and the street-level first-in-air activism is a thing of the past.
I can't knock anyone for their hustle. And I commend those who have far succeeded probably even their expectations of themselves. I realize it's a different era, and rappers and musicians aren't out there struggling openly, and stirring up trouble. I see the movements. I realize everyone's cool and collected, and bringing in the money same way. It's safer this way.
But all I AM saying is that I miss that about Tupac. The rawness. The authenticity. The transparency. I miss that he was a wild card, and you never knew what to expect. Not like Kanye West jumping up on stage wild card...or Lil Wayne wearing tights and teddy bears wild card...but like the true, 100% original gangster "anything goes" type of behaviour. Less calculated, more genuine.
We may never see that type of influence again in our lifetime from a hip hop artist. Times have changed, the industry has matured, and expectations are different now than they were before. We may never see a rapper with the same public persona as Tupac Shakur, as much as some may try.
It's unfortunate that we didn't get the chance to see what he would develop into, as an adult. It's a shame that we never got to see him have kids, and bring up the next generation of his family. It's too bad that we can't hear what he would have done for hip hop music, and how his sound would have changed.
I am still fortunate that we did get to experience him as an artist for the time that we did. The Coachella ressurrection was a little bit creepy to me, so I'll just stick to the images on my VHS tapes and online, and just be glad that he did leave such a strong mark...to this day.
One can only hope to have such a lasting effect on a culture like Tupac did. He was definitely one of a kind, and someone that will continuously be remembered every time September 13 comes around. That alone speaks volumes, that even 16 years later, his spirit is still felt this strongly.
"My mama always used to tell me: 'If you can't find somethin' to live for, you best find somethin' to die for." ~Tupac Shakur
Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.