If it’s one thing that Mike Brown’s death and the chaos in Ferguson has taught us, is that hatred is real and institutional racism is alive. But of course this isn’t news, and we are all aware of how deep this ugly history lies. What struck me about this was how much this deepened our division as a society in 2014. When the news was released that Darren Wilson would not be indicted for Brown’s murder, I remember being intrigued by the amount of quotes I saw circulating across all cultures on social media from rapper, Tupac Shakur. I realized how relevant the lyrics and interviews he spoke twenty years ago were at this time.
At the time of his death, Tupac was arguably one of the main forces that allowed rap music to crossover into mainstream through his ability to paint the picture of his reality through his words, which allowed those that look like him to identify and those that didn’t look like him to empathize. I’ve always admired his honesty and unique way of looking at social justice and how often he said “We” have to deal with it. I remember when the song “Changes” was released, and how it was almost voted as our graduation song. I remember thinking at that moment, it was possible that we could be a part of the generation that could really make a change.
“I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world” –TUPAC SHAKUR
Tupac’s interpretation of Bruce Hornsby’s 1986 hit “The Way it Is”, “Changes” was the first single released posthumously on his Greatest Hits album. This song is an excellent example of Tupac’s work, as it includes much of his ideology. What made it unique was the theme of unity, on a larger scale through his attempts of reconciliation between black and white communities. In addition to providing his insight on police brutality and institutional racism, he does not shy from criticizing the black community as a whole as well. He tackled his anger with the youth and chastises his own experiences for failing to see the larger social implications of his actions, and thinking only about his own well-being at the expense of others. It was that type of balance within this specific song as well as his entire body of work that reignited the passion of critical thinking to our youth.
Those who see him as a pure criminal miss out on a great deal, as to those who see him as a flawless martyr. He was far from perfect, and by his own admittance he was vain and stubborn person who has made a lot of mistakes. He was, as we all are, a living contradiction. If his songs appear to diametrically oppose, that’s because he did, as we all do. We tend to fixate on the bad, and when an opportunity to stereotype pops up, we take it. It’s easier to look at the frustration and anger of these young men and call them bad people, rather to actually analyze it, and attempt to figure out what’s causing it. What makes Tupac the legend that he is, is the fact that he was willing to expose all sides of him, the good, and the bad. Those who ignore either side do themselves, and all young, black men; all young men; all men; a disservice.
When Shakur died twenty years ago at age 25, he was quickly elevated from star to legend. In this trajectory, he joined other celebrities who died in their prime. While his words still have value, is there anyone going to attempt to take his place and help us implement the changes that we need to see to allow us to move forward and not backwards?
“Ultimately, it’s about self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-motivation on a community scale” –TUPAC SHAKUR