CLAIMING THE BODY OF TUPAC
As we prepare for another cinematic installment, “All Eyez On Me,” on the deceased rap legend that was Tupac Shakur (scheduled for release on his birthday, June 16th), I think it is time that descendants of slaves, claim Tupac’s body. While the legend has been gone for 21 years, those persons born between 1965 and 1994 known as the Hip Hop Generation (Kitwana, 2002), came of age with him and his music. More importantly his body was shaped by the same experiences that characterizes descendants of slaves’ lives during his life time and into the 21st century.
According to Biography (2017) found that Lelia Steinberg (who would become Tupac’s manager) was not only an “older white lady (Biography, 2017),” however described Tupac as having “ fan-like eyelashes, overflowing charisma, and the most infectious laugh (Biography, 2017).” Yet, behind those “fan-like eyelashes, overflowing charisma, and the most infectious laugh (Biography, 2017),” was a body that had endured much by the time both Steinberg and the world, would encounter him. Tupac’s body was filled with bullets that were political, from poverty, and from incarceration. A body that in terms of bullets as experiences to the bodies of Black folk, 38% are in poverty (Patten & Krogstand, 2015), 72% of Black children are born into single-parent households (Jacobson, 2013), political at 100% and 7.7% are Black men incarcerated (Gua, 2016) while 30% of incarcerated women are Black (Gaston, 2015).
Tupac’s body was born into poverty. Biography (2017) found that his mother, Afeni Shakur moved the family often, to shelters, before landing in Baltimore, Maryland with him and his sister. On this issue of poverty, Kirk (2017) found that more than 1 in 10 children in the United States spend much of their life in, however, specifically for Black children, the poverty rate remains stable at 38% (Patten & Krogstad, 2015), of which there are 40M African American households (Moore, 2017). Today, there are 4.2M impoverished Black children of which they are overrepresented in the population of 27% of Black children overall (Patten & Krogstad, 2015).
While all descendants of slaves are born into a political economy, in which they inherit, participate and attempt to change, Tupac was an outlier, in that he was a child of two Black Panthers. The Black Panther Party (now defunct) advanced social justice programs and uplift for Black and poor people (Hine, 2000). Further, they encouraged connecting in global ways to similarly situated people (Hine, 2000). Biography (2017) found that his mother Afeni Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party and as we know, she was pregnant with Tupac, while incarcerated for alleged bombing in New York City of which she was acquitted and a month later, Tupac arrived. One can only imagine the political indoctrination, stories, and the like Tupac had access to about the ideology and behavior of a Panther, as he was growing up. However, it is also possible that this political education was spotty, as a result of Afeni’s moving the family around and eventual drug use and absent father, whom Biography (2017) found Tupac thought he was dead and did not meet until he was 23.
Tupac’s body only received the nurturing of his mother. His father, Billy Garland also a Black Panther, “lost contact (Biography, 2017)” with Tupac at 5 years old. Today, we know that 72% of Black children are living in single-parent households (Jacobson, 2014). This reality provides the cover of poverty, as one income, for example, Tupac’s family of 3, is not going to be enough. Imagine the type of security that Tupac felt, which is implied according to this Biography (2017) statement about his father, upon meeting him at 23, in an interview to then Vibe Magazine’s Kevin Powell, “ I felt I needed a daddy to show me the ropes and I didn’t have one.”
Thus, when Steinberg met Tupac at 17, his body had undergone much. Specifically, Biography (2017)found he had undergone a name change from Lesane Parish Crooks born in New York to Tupac Amaru Shakur, a mother that had to constantly move, finding stability of some kind in Baltimore, Maryland, a father that he thought was dead, the realities of poverty, the stories of the Black Panther Party, and a mother that had fallen to crack while living in Marin City, California. All of which, had to be serving as his muses, by the time Steinberg met Tupac, in Marin City, California, as he according to Biography (2017) was “ obsessively writing poetry (“The world moves fast and it would rather pass u by / than 2 stop and c what makes you cry,” is one verse from around that time.”
Kirk (2017) did find that those in poverty “a small percentage manage to escape their circumstances and become economically successful (p. 1).” A feat that Tupac, was able to garner, with the help of a white women, with a Jewish last name, and according to Biography (2017) “ who had no music-industry experience” yet Tupac trusted to become his manager. Through this time, 1989–1996, Tupac’s body found fame, incarceration, and a violent death.
Steinberg did not remain as Tupac’s manager, as Atron Gregory took over (Biography, 2017). As we all know, Tupac went on to make albums and secure movie rolls, however, Tupac made his way to jail, a feat accomplished by his mother while pregnant with him. Tupac’s body endured several stays in jail or 15 days to one and half to four years (Biography, 2017). Tupac went to jail for a gun possession charge and a sexual assault conviction, to which the sexual assault charge, before which his body had been shot 5 times in New York. As to the sexaul assault charge, Biography (2017) found that “ Tupac maintained that he had not raped the girl, but confessed to the Vibe magazine journalist Kevin Powell that he could have prevented others who were present in the suite at the time from doing so. ‘I had a job [to protect her],’ he said, expressing his sorrow, “and I never showed up.” While, Tupac was convicted on a violent charge, most Black men are going to jail as a result of the War on Drugs. Black Demographics (2017) found that 6% of working age Black men from 18–64 are in State/Federal prison and municipal jails of which there were 21.5M Black men, as of 2013. The New York Times (2015) found that Black men ages 24 and 54 are missing due to death and and jail. Specifically, Moore (2015) found that low level drug offenses have captured 745,000 Black men and rolling, which would take 9 countries to still not even catch, at 742,000.
It is time that descendants of slaves claim Tupac’s body. We know all too well, what happens to Black bodies, as they make their way into American popular culture, in which they become white-washed. Claiming Tupac’s body, has to mean accepting that since before the time Tupac entered the world to his violent death, his body had been taken from him. Afeni, his mother, was incarcerated, he inside of her, experienced the trauma in the womb, only to be birthed into the trauma of poverty (which hunger was often, irregular dental care, unseen, and feelings of inadequacy among other things) that in both situations were partly brought on by decisions of his parents and the political economy of the time. However, the experiences were set and by the time Tupac met his first manager at 17, he had an absent mother and thought his father was dead. Thus, Tupac’s body could not experience love and nurturing from his mother, during her crack-addiction and most certainly had no father to turn to for balance. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that despite the fame and money, inside of Tupac’s body was an insecure spirit, who too often had to make sense of his world by himself and for himself with noone to correct him along the way, while projecting an unevenness in thought and behavior, which is cataloged in his albums (Biography, 2017). Yet through this, his first manager’s experience and encounter was with a 17 year old that had “overflowing charisma, and the most infectious laugh (Biography, 2017).” On September 7, 1996, 13 shots were fired, hitting Tupac’s body, specifically, in the hand, pelvis and chest (Biography, 2017). Tupac’s body ceased to exist 6 days later, as his spirit flew away and his mother decided to cremate his body. According to Biography (2017) “ his mother announced she would scatter her son’s ashes in Soweto, South Africa — the “birthplace of his ancestors” — on the 10th anniversary of his murder. However, she later changed the date to June 16, 1997 (Tupac’s 36th birthday as well as the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising), citing personal reasons.” Lastly, to claim Tupac’s body by descendants of slaves has to mean adopting social justice policies that will prevent the types of traumas that Tupac experienced in his short time on earth. This could mean that we will never experience another Tupac and the music that emerges from such a body, however, the collective body of the race is better off this way because in adopting such politics, the collective body of the race gets to live past 25, doing so, in a first-class fashion within the richest nation on earth. If we, the descendants of slaves claim Tupac’s body in this way, he can finally rest in peace.