Tupac Amaru Shakur was a real one.
Some years ago, I wrote for 4080 magazine, which was a Bay Area based Hip Hop magazine. While I was there, I pitched a piece about Tupac, who was at that time, tearing through the world kicking ass. He had recently been released from prison for rape, and before then, he’d been in and out of trouble. I really wanted to reach Pac. We shared a common history. Both of our parents were activists, and we were raised with similar values. Both of our fathers were incarcerated at one time in our childhood, and our mothers shared similar struggles. Like Pac, I had moved back and forth from coast to coast (Bay Area to Philly and back for me). Both of us knew how beautiful and mighty our people are, we both turned to writing, poetry and Hip Hop for expression and community. Both of us knew the system was rigged to enslave us and we saw similar solutions.
I wanted to reach Pac to pull his coattails, he was clearly on the wrong path, but in retrospect what I have come to understand is that he was a gift. No one embodied Black Struggle and duality more than that young man. He was at once a brilliant analyst and critic of the state of Black folks. No one person could reach into our hearts, pull out all the ugliness and disfunction we put on display and simultaneously show us just how much he truly loved us. There is no other popular rapper that I can think of who has the ability to simultaneously call on the beauty and ugly tragedy of being Black in this America, and make us love every bit of it. It is no surprise that he died so early. This world was too small and constricted for our beautiful brother, so he did what he was made to do and checked out at 25.
Death Row made me do a crazy juggling act to get to Pac. It took six months of negotiations that involved me writing my on bio and sending it to the label, sending my clips and pitch to be reviewed and all kinds of vetting. I had already interviewed Public Enemy, KRS1, Twist One, King Tempt, Richie Rich and a bunch of other people in our community. Tupac was special but not someone who should have been so hard for me to reach. In the end, I went through family to get to him. One of my mentors reached out to her people, who knew Mama Afeni. Somehow the word got through that I was okay. Pac was taken from us before I got the chance to build with him.
In the wake of electing this racist misanthrope and his cronies to office, I miss Tupac. He would have had something to say, he would have helped America make better choices. But he isn’t here anymore. We have his memories and our own common sense to rely on, but I miss him nonetheless.
Here’s some vintage Pac interviews to remind you.