What if there was no reward in the end? By no reward I mean- No money. No fame. No accolades. You just create, and that’s it. Just you and what you’ve created; and knowledge of your work only exists between you, the creation, and God?
Would you still be doing it, or would you feel like it’s no longer worth the time and effort?
Earlier this year I was watching a documentary on a writer named Fran Lebowitz. Fascinating film. I highly recommend it. At one point Lebowitz is speaking on a 2 person panel. Her, and Toni Morrison. At one point she addresses the audience and says:
By the way…When Toni said “Write the book you want to read.”, she didn’t mean everyone.
As Lebowitz speaks further, she says that this idea of self esteem has morphed into something much larger, where people think they can do anything well.
For about a week the Hip Hop entertainment and online community has been abuzz about the recent shut down of 3 Hip Hop sites. A lot of theories have been thrown around regarding what this means for blogs and internet sites in the future, the business of music, and the government involvement in what we can see and hear. This may be hard to accept, but I think it’s true.
Blogs are disposable. That means, this is not a big deal.
It’s really true. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, and I was too young to really understand just how impacting Tupac was and would be after his death.
I know we already talked about remembering and pining over fallen legends, but today, I was particularly struck to write about Pac on his day of passing. In an industry so inundated with characters and untrue artists, it really is something to note about someone who was so real with the world. So complex and layered, that 14 years after his death you still uncover aspects of his character that make you wonder if he was hiding them on purpose.
I wish I had an actual deeper interaction with Tupac than what I did. I was between 8th/9th grade, driving in the car with my mom. Another Toyota Camry pulled up next to the driver’s side where my mom was, and I was reclined passenger side, taking my usual nap in the car whenever she was driving. She tapped me on the leg and said “Yogi (my nickname)…is that Tupac?”
I rose up, and looked over, halfway interested, and nodded, yeah. That’s him. He was riding shotgun in the car. 2 homies in the back, another guy driving. They all seemed rather quiet and in their own world, not talking to one another. My mom rolled down the window and asked…
“Hey, are you Tupac?”
He looked over, and seemed to analyze the car and who was speaking to him first before answering. You could tell he was on alert. He nodded yes.
“I really like your music!” my mom said.
He said a respectful “Thank you.” I’m sure he figured that my mom wasn’t his normal demographic, and he appreciated the words. The light turned green and they went off.
Another friend of mine’s brother didn’t have such a nice encounter with Tupac. His brother was in a store buying some CDs. Apparently Pac took whatever album was in his hand while he was in line, bought it himself along with some other stuff, and kept on walking. But what do you expect from a fearless 20 year old who’s famous, has a lot of money, and grew up like he did? He could really care less.
When Pac just got out of jail, my mom bought two of his albums. I knew she liked Keep Ya Head Up, Dear Mama, and maybe a few others, but she never was known to really play his stuff THAT much. All of sudden while driving to school, she’s bumpin “Wonder Why They Call ya Bitch”. And singing along with “I wanna be ya N.i.g.g.a…” Slightly traumatizing for a 13year old like me who was all into his “conscious” underground stuff like The Roots, Ras Kass, and stuff…but hey…what can ya do? For surely I had some respect for him though. So Many Tears was my favorite song by him. Anytime Dear Mama came on television I would change the channel. It was too emotional for me to stand hearing too often.
When I heard Hit Em Up, I knew there was about to be a problem. To me, that actually was the day Hip Hop died. I mean that. I seriously sat in my bed, worried, like someone I knew had been put in the hospital. I don’t know if it was a premonition, but there are certain things that were understood in Hip Hop. And it was almost immediate to me that this was going to turn ugly. See, when you made a diss record then (dating myself, right?), there was a certain line you didn’t cross, especially when dealing with street mentality. You cross that line too far, someone is gonna get hurt. That was just an understood fact. You diss on wax, keep it lyrical, don’t involve women and children, and don’t get TOO personal. Pac not only crossed the line, he walked all the way over it, planted a flag, set up a chair and kicked his feet up, invited friends over, had a BBQ and an orgy, left trash all around, and then kept on walking further into that territory that was labeled “DO NOT CROSS”. Once I heard Hit Em Up I already knew repercussions were gonna come. It was during that whole East vs West nonsense. This was just going to make it worse and someone was gonna get caught up if no peace was kept. So when I heard he got shot, it wasn’t surprising. I already felt the death coming before it happened.
The day he died, my mother walked in, looking distraught. We had our conversations before about Tupac being contradictory to me and what he stood for in comparison to everything that he spoke and his music. It didn’t make sense to me how you could do Keep Ya Head Up, and Dear Mama, then do How Do You Want it, Hit Em Up, So Many Tearz, and stuff like that. Part of it didn’t sit well with me. Some of it still doesn’t. But I didn’t really know what Tupac was about til years later. When I read his poetry I felt like there was apart of him that was pretending almost. Like there was a side of him that he knew people wouldn’t understand so he kept it tucked away. And once I saw that otherside, then I got it. Then it all made sense.
Every song was him being himself, but different perspectives of himself, in the fullest sense of expression possible.
I wasn’t really interested in seeing documentaries on him. Partially because I felt like it was eulogizing too much, partially because I didn’t feel like they were going to tell me anything I didn’t already know, and partially because there was so many of them coming at one time that it felt like they were exploiting his death for money. It seemed like all kinds of Tupac documentaries and albums were all coming out at once to the point where it never really felt like he died at all. Every other day I was hearing his voice or seeing his image.
He was a Gemini, just like me. We’re hard to understand to others, but I get it. He saw and felt things that were hard to put into words. He studied great literature. Had he grown up upper class who knows what he would have ended up doing. But he was also too rebellious to be caged in and would have refused to walk a path he didn’t set for himself.
Aside from Me Against the World I never got that deep into his music, but lately I have studied his flow and his lyrics much more. That, combined with his explosive delivery, and you can’t get much iller. I guess I was spoiled by all the great stuff I had around when I was younger.
One cousin of mine came to stay with me. He was 16. I asked him who his favorite rapper was, and he said Tupac. Pac had been dead at least a good 11 years already. He had some of the more recent releases of Tupac. Compilations and the more “recommended” albums. I gave him all of Tupac’s albums. I told him, “Whenever an artist has a lot of albums, be sure to get ALL of them, not just the ones people tell you to get. You see how they have grown and changed.”
I asked another girl I was tutoring a year ago who she liked Hip Hop wise. She said Tupac. That’s it. She was probably a toddler when he died, and has no context within her own life per se, but he resonates with her. That’s sure is something, isn’t it?
I listen to Tupac now, and wonder what things might be like. So many talk about about Tupac vs Biggie, but no one really asks if they would have ever squashed their beef. I think if Biggie had been able to withstand Pac’s onslaught of disses, whether by responding or ignoring him, they would have settled it. Pac’s aim at one point was to be the greatest and to take out competition. But knowing the righteous side of Pac, once he started to see the amount of wars and battles started all around him, he would have called for peace. Hopefully he’d still have his respect amongst the streets. Who knows anymore. Once you get a certain level of fame anyway, people can’t wait to tear you down.
People talk about Emo rappers today, but Pac was about the most emotional rapper there was. Speaking on his paranoia, fears, fearlessness, women, love, revolution, and all those things that we all think about but dare not admit in public. Along with the fact that he could hang with the likes of Madonna, Mike Tyson, Jada Pinkett, all the way down to the homies in Watts.
There will only be one.
I leave this with one of my most favorite interviews of Tupac. In 6 minutes you see his his intelligence, defiance, and heart all at once. You see just how serious he was about his craft. This is the side of Tupac, the artist, that I wish people talked about more often.