“Changes”-Researching & Rethinking Tupac Shakur

 The Rose That Grew from Concrete

Tupac Shakur’s most intimate and honest thoughts were uncovered only after his death with the instant classic The Rose That Grew from Concrete .

His talent was unbounded, a raw force that commanded attention and respect.

His death was tragic — a violent homage to the power of his voice.
His legacy is indomitable — remaining vibrant and alive.

Here now, newly discovered, are Tupac’s most honest and intimate thoughts conveyed through the pure art of poetry — a mirror into his enigmatic life and its many contradictions.

Written in his own hand at the age of nineteen, they embrace his spirit, his energy…and his ultimate message of hope. 

After Tupac and D Foster

The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. Suddenly they’re keenly aware of things beyond their block in Queens, things that are happening in the world–like the shooting of Tupac Shakur–and in search of their Big Purpose in life. When–all too soon–D’s mom swoops in to reclaim her, and Tupac dies, they are left with a sense of how quickly things can change and how even all-too-brief connections can touch deeply.

I’ve spent a lot of time during the last half of 2016 transfixed and surprised by the relevancy of interviews with Muhammad Ali and Tupac Shakur, respectively. I sought these out when Ali passed in May and on the twentieth anniversary of Shakur’s death in September. I kept watching because I was largely ignorant about each man, and they both possessed such charisma used to carry an insistent obsession with truth-telling. In her elegy for the rapper/actor/poet “All Eyez On U”, Nikki Giovanni–who also penned the introduction for The Rose That Grew From Concrete–wrote of how this played out in the media and in living rooms…

there were those who called it dirty, gangsta rap, inciting
there were those who never wanted to be angry at the conditions but at the messenger who reported:
your kitchen has roaches your toilet is over flowing your basement has so much water the rats are in the living room your house is in disorder
and 2Pac told you about it

I started recognizing and admiring Tupac as a youth advocate when I heard a 1995 phone conversation released in 2014 with Sanyika Shakur, reformed member of the Crips and author of Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, which was written in solitary confinement. During the call, Tupac spoke of his idea to have the era’s famous rappers sponsor and support youth sports leagues for boys and girls throughout American inner cities. He suggested the men in the community act as security and churches could sell food; rappers would play free concerts at block parties to promote community spirit. They would register voters so the neighborhoods could pool their power and ask mayors for necessities like community recreation centers. Tupac also voiced his idea to prop up neighborhoods by having rappers tour America, figure out who the leaders of criminal activity were, and sit them down to ask for safe streets for the kids from 6 AM until 11 PM.

I had not known that Tupac was a “movement baby,” as he called himself in this conversation until I started researching him more this year. His mother, Afeni Shakur, was the only member of the “New York 21” who chose to be her own attorney in court; she was pregnant with Tupac when she secured her own freedom during the longest trial in New York state history. In After Tupac and D Foster, Jacqueline Woodson weaves the rapper’s complicated and loving relationship with his mother into the story using the coming-of-age thoughts of the girls and a touching scene in which D Sings his emotional hit “Dear Mama.”

Tupac was also an avid reader who was moved by an objective to learn, speak, and act; this is demonstrated in this goodreads list in which The Catcher in the Rye seems like fluff compared to the other titles. I’m reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X at the moment, and the parts where he talks about his voracious appetite for reading reminded me of this list. Malcolm–who developed an astigmatism from reading through the night in prison after studying and copying the entire dictionary–said he spent any free time he had looking at pages that would benefit the black community. It is also important to remember Tupac died at 25; I don’t know any millennials who have read both The Art of War and Moby-Dick.

I think it’s advantageous to re-asses public figures–especially after death–on your own terms with a variety of sources and in relation to others. Especially in our current conversations about fake news and skewed media portrayal, teens can use the library for their extracurricular curiosities and to help educate themselves into the type of characters they wish to be. What follows is further listening and reading relevant to this post and our times…

  • NPR’s Code Switch podcast is run by “a team of journalists fascinated by the overlapping themes of race, ethnicity and culture, how they play out in our lives and communities, and how all of this is shifting.” In 2016 they discussed the polarizing traits of Tupac Shakur and Muhammad Ali.
  • I think that interested teens who have a regular reading habit can handle The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but another option is the YA title X: a novel. It was co-written by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and YA author Kekla Magoon. It is a first person narration of his childhood and years until imprisonment, and it delves more into Malcolm’s feelings about his father’s early death and his mother’s institutionalization. Both books are candid page-turners.
  • Political activist Assata Shakur was Tupac’s step-aunt and godmother, and I was surprised when I read her autobiography by how well I think teenagers would receive it. It’s poetic, witty, and painful; I would recommend it to both quiet and outspoken teenage girls.

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