"People Die but Legends Live Forever": Reflecting on the Life of Tupac Shakur
By: Kayla Pasacreta
This weekend, “All Eyez on Me”, a movie finally telling the story about the life of Tupac, will be coming to theaters. As a Tupac lover, I’m extremely excited for the release, and hoping the movie will highlight the political activism that ran through his veins. Tupac was more than just the face of West Coast rap, he fearlessly talked about issues like racism (his mother was a Black Panther!), police brutality, and the afterlife. With a simple Youtube search for a Tupac interview, you’ll find several videos of the rapper, with his brown skin, stud nose ring, infectious humor, and captivating voice talking about life’s struggles.
The product of a single mother home and having to deal with his mother’s crack-cocaine addiction when he was just 17, Tupac faced first-hand how difficult life could be. Still, he said, “Just cause you live in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow.” Though I was just a little baby during Tupac’s era, his words resonate with me now, and I’m sure they inspired many others who lived in the hood and didn’t see any possible way to make it out. And this, was certainly what Tupac wanted to do: inspire people. In one of my favorite Tupac interviews, he says, “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will.”
Tupac kept it all the way real throughout his career. He had “Thug life” tattooed across his chest, but still loved his mama. Many have often critiqued Tupac for “glorifying” the gangster lifestyle, but he didn’t do that. In his song called “Trapped”, Tupac raps:
You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion
Happiness, living on the streets is a delusion
Even a smooth criminal one day must get caught
Shot up or shot down with the bullet that he bought
Reflecting on this song now, my mind can’t help but bring to me back to trap music, in which rappers boast about selling drugs, doing drugs, and the fast paced lifestyle. But in this song, Tupac brings a brutally honest and critique about the trap life. It literally traps one into stagnancy, the life isn’t so sweet as many people make it out to be. No matter how smooth one is on the streets, the tolls of the life can heavily weigh on the individual.
This is perhaps why in Tupac’s interview with the LA times, he says, “I am not a gangster and never have been.” Do you think Tupac was selling crack because he wanted to? Nah, it was because it seemed like the only option he had. Tupac made it his mission to tell his story, no matter how raw or dangerous it may be, he felt the duty to tell the truth about life. It’s not glorifying drugs or violence, but revealing the reality of life on the streets. And to be frank, Tupac didn’t give a fuck whether that made you comfortable or not.
And even back then, Tupac was educating people on the government's involvement in the gangster lifestyle, saying "There's war on the streets & the war in the Middle East, instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me," and "Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare." He didn't hold back on his beliefs (which is backed up by a lot of data) that the government intentionally put drugs into black communities and then pursued a War on Drugs, which disproportionately hurt communities of color. Tupac was keeping it real about life issues and making direct connections between topics that no one else wanted to talk about.
And that’s what makes Tupac’s music so beautiful - it honestly confronts the complications of life. In “Dear Mama”, probably the most classic Mother’s day song, Tupac raps, “even as a crack fiend...you always was a black queen.” The rest of the song is a beautiful tribute to his mama, who raised him on her own and faced much adversity. He disappointed her many times, her addiction was tough on him. But however dysfunctional their relationship may have been, it’s clear the two loved each other with all their heart. No matter how difficult the cards dealt to Tupac were, he somehow still found a way to see the positive aspects of life
Tupac was more than a rapper. He was a poet, who told truths no matter how uncomfortable they might be. He understood people had different experiences, but still wanted to bring people together, “Its time for us as a people to start making some changes, lets change the way we eat, lets change the way we live, and lets change the way we treat each other.” He didn’t think he was perfect by any means, he constantly addressed his flaws and hopes of making it into Heaven. He didn’t have to say he was real, everyone knew he was. Tupac is a legend, and his legacy will live on forever. I encourage y'all to head to the theaters this weekend and watch "All Eyez on Me" to enlighten you even more about how much of an incredible, spiritual being Tupac was.