Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Remembering Tupac Shakur, the Thug Life Poet

"What you feed us, as seeds, grows and blows up in your face. That's Thug Life."--Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur tattooed "Thug Life" on his abdomen and many people probably assume that he did this because he knew that he was a thug or at least he felt that being a thug was a basic part of his nature.

Tupac Shakur was a sensitive, fatalistic poet. He saw death all around him, he foresaw his own death and yet he spoke passionately about life. He was not describing himself as a thug or glorifying being a thug but rather he used "Thug Life" as an acronym meaning "The Hate U Gave Little Infants F---- Everybody."

Tupac Shakur was crude, vulgar and violent.

Tupac Shakur was compassionate, lyrical and someone who knew that violence was not the ultimate answer even though he lived a life of violence before dying a violent death.

It is so easy and tempting to apply a label to everyone and everything. This is good. That is bad.

Life is not lived in Manichean shades of pure light and pure darkness; while pure good and pure evil do exist, most of the world is bathed in shades of gray.

Who was the real Tupac Shakur? Is there even a simple, direct response to that question or is the only valid response complex and multilayered?

In "Dear Mama," Shakur paid tribute to the most important woman in his life:

To keep me happy there's no limit to the things you did
And all my childhood memories
Are full of all the sweet things you did for me
And even though I act craaazy
I gotta thank the Lord that you made me
There are no words that can express how I feel
You never kept a secret, always stayed real
And I appreciate, how you raised me
And all the extra love that you gave me
I wish I could take the pain away
If you can make it through the night there's a brighter day
Everything will be alright if ya hold on
It's a struggle everyday, gotta roll on
And there's no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated

In "Keep Ya Head Up," Shakur extended that theme to include all women:

And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it's time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don't we'll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies

Here is an excerpt from Shakur's song/poem "So Many Tears":

Lord, I suffered through the years, and shed so many tears...
Lord, I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears

Now I'm lost and I'm weary, so many tears
I'm suicidal, so don't stand near me
My every move is a calculated step, to bring me closer
to embrace an early death, now there's nothin' left
There was no mercy on the streets, I couldn't rest
I'm barely standin', bout to go to pieces, screamin' peace
And though my soul was deleted, I couldn't see it
I had my mind full of demons tryin' to break free
They planted seeds and they hatched, sparkin' the flame
inside my brain like a match, such a dirty game
No memories, just a misery
Paintin' a picture of my enemies killin' me, in my sleep
Will I survive til the mo'nin', to see the sun
Please Lord forgive me for my sins, cause here I come...

Shakur's pain is palpable; you hear it in your ears, you feel it in your throat, it pumps through your heart.

The lyrics express such raw emotion, stripped of any pretense, exposing his vulnerabilities, doubts and fears.

Yet...this sensitive poet inflicted pain on others and went to prison for his crimes.

Tupac Shakur was just 25 years old when he was murdered. If he had lived to be 35 or 45 or 55, would he have risen to become an even greater poet or would he have descended deeper into violence?

Or would his life have continued to defy categorization?

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