November 15, 2003
Kashei on rap (yeah, that's right).
I went to see Tupac: Resurrection, a movie about the life of dead rapper Tupac Shakur, last night. Like most people my age who grew up in Brooklyn, Tupac's songs, whether I want them to or not, define part of my life. I was never a fan but songs like 'I get around' were always playing somewhere in the background, at parties and out of people's cars. My ex-boyfriend was a big fan so my exposure to Tupac was pretty constant. Additionally, my brother fell for rap when he was pretty young and has been subjecting me to this music for years. I know a lot more than most people should about the rivalries between Tupac and Biggie (and these days between Jay Z and Nas and 50 Cent and Ja).
I say all this because I want to make it clear that I know a thing or two about Tupac. But there was something that I didn't know that I learned about him in the movie yesterday: he's a total fraud. How anybody listens to what this man said is beyond me. His words are preachy, contradictory and fake. He blames everyone in the world for his problems. He became a thug (complete with the marketing tag 'thug life' which he inked not only on his stomach but like any good capitalist also on merchandise like hats and t-shirts) only when he realized it was the track to selling more records. His own website notes 'in Baltimore at age 15, he fell into rap. He started writing lyrics, walking with a swagger, and milking his background in NY for all it was worth. People in small towns feared the Big Apple's reputation; he called himself MC New York and made people think he is a tough guy.'
The movie starts out with him telling the story of how his mother and father were both black panthers. This story is recounted proudly, of course, because as we all know white supremacy bad, black supremacy good. His mom raised him mostly on her own. He went to a performing arts high school where he learned to sing and dance (there is a shot of him in a ballet outfit at which the audience released a loud groan). He talks frequently of 'the street' but admits that he really didn't have much to do with it though he 'saw it'. Well, I saw it just the same. I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I saw drug dealers and hustlers and hookers and faded drunks raising children and girls having babies at 14 and fights between rival gangs (they're called 'crews' in Brooklyn though) and young kids getting drunk and high on the corner and guns and crack vials in the backyard (read: a cement space behind the building) and yet I know that I'm no thug and that what I lived was no thug life. I was tenously involved. So was Tupac.
Who does Tupac blame for what he 'saw' in his neighborhood? Why, the goverment, of course. There are clips of Reagan saying 'the problem with homelessness is that people don't know where to go for help and that help is available to them.' There are clips of Nancy saying 'just say no'. There's a shot of Pat Buchanan calling racial preferences 'un-American'. The movie theatre crowd shouted its obligatory 'yeah right' or whatever at these scenes. It's so clever to blame the government for your problems. That way, you can insure that they will never be solved and that your children's children will still be singing about 'the struggle' and coming up through the ghetto. The government will never be able to solve someone's mother smoking crack. I'm sorry, it's not in their power to do so. What can they do, short of take her away and jail her and you know that is not the solution Tupac is looking for.
He sings these preachy songs about respecting women (is there anything faker than the guy who sings 'the underground just don't stop for hos, I get around' in 'I get around' singing 'I think it's time to kill for our women, time to heal our women, be real to our women' in 'Keep Ya Head Up') but, of course, we all know he spent time in prison for sexual assault.
The story of the 'beef' between him and Biggie Smalls, currently also a dead rapper, is covered in the film. Tupac makes videos with a Biggie look-alike and raps about sleeping with Biggie's wife. Every time there is a camera in his face he makes sure to spread the word of the trouble between himself and Biggie (after all, this is how albums get sold). His label honcho, Suge Knight, shows up to an Essence award dinner and makes comments about Puffy (Biggie's producer) and Biggie. Tupac then seems stunned (stunned!) that the media is turning his rivalry with Biggie into a story. He blames the media for instigating tension. It's always someone else's fault.
Tupac's story is one of a guy who had a reasonable background and a fairly comfortable life, and made it big in rap only to discover that the way to superstardom is to be a 'thug'. It's an amazing feat to become a thug after you become a multi-millionaire, but Tupac manages it. In the movie, he slips in and out of ebonics. One minute he's speaking in full sentences, with what you can tell is the weight of a good education behind his thoughts, and the next he's 'yo, yo, niggaz be comin' up through the streets yo and they be being held down'. I looked at my brother and his friend to see if they were noticing the act but they completely weren't. To them, Tupac represents some romantic struggle made all the cooler because he was, eventually, killed in it.
My advice, if you want to see Tupac act, see one of his movies where they admit he is playing a character. Don't see this movie if you're looking for someone real to tell you about 'the streets'. Tupac had no clue.