“Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur”
Michael Eric Dyson
Basic Civitas Books
In the preface author Michael Eric Dyson, boldly states, “Tupac is perhaps the representative figure of his generation.” With this statement as the foundation of this novel (really more a collection of essays about different aspects of Tupacs’ life) in some ways he succeeds and in some ways he doesn’t. His descriptions of the family ethos that Tupac comes out of, where his visions come from and his creative drive, ring true.
However, when he starts broad statements about his sainthood and his all encompassing role as voice of his generation, Dyson falls short. Because of my age and historical perspective Tupac is no more a saint or all encompassing voice of a generation as Jimmi Hendricks, Marvin Gaye or James Brown was to mine. Even going further back, my fathers generation wrote “Bird Lives” on walls, and tried to interrupt the world through the voice of Billie Holiday. Not even the great Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday was a saint or achieved voicehood for their generation. Instead they articulated feelings of the restlessness and alienation of a generation. Surprisingly from the generation before them rather then the society as a whole. It appears that Tupac’s fight was against his mothers’ generation and “the world that it had given to him.”
Yet even I had to recognize the genius and pain here because he is a child produced and raised by my generation. He is a very complex figure, well read and sensitive and a true poet. And on the other side a thug - a person who accepts the rule of the streets. Somewhere in the middle of this lived Tupac. His life with his mother, who in early years was a Panther and a member of the New York 21 who was tried for a range of charges was chaotic. Black Nationalism was the political philosophy that he was raised with.
The image of the Panther does come out in him. Later in life his mother became addicted to crack cocaine, and fell into the street role that he so eloquently writes and sings about. I couldn’t help but think about the true cost of the “Black Revolution” of the 60's . Often times we in a sense stole childhood from our children while we fought for who knows what.
This push and pull of Black Nationalism and thuggery combined with a similar push and pull in his private life of a sensitive poet and public life of spokesmen and participant in a Hip Hop culture, left us a person who was not comfortable anywhere. He often spoke of not be able to find friends that could accept him with all his contradictions.
And we get plenty of contradictions, just like in any life. But he was a voice of the contradictions of his generation. He speaks primarily to black males in many different voice, almost as if he and his generation were coming of age together.
Topac as an artist comes across clearer than any of the other visions Mr. Dyson presents. He has a reckless drive for recognition, hence the title “Hollar if you Hear Me” and his fans heard him, still hear him and are still hollering. He produced an incredible amount of material in a very short time and like others often thought of death. I even had to ask myself how could a black male in his age group not think of death. In his case in some ways he became mythical when his best album was released and went to number one on the charts after his death. However, that had more to do with making money than immortality. In this case they benefited each other.
This one we need to read just to get a snapshot look at where some black people are in this culture. Mr Dyson does give us insight of this concept of manhood and womenhood that this generation presents. But most important he takes great pains to present this as a business, these guys want to make money and a name for themselves, and to do this they consistently push the envolope and our sensibilities with it. Sounds familar doesn’t it.
I’m going to end this with the question of what kind of children will this generation produce. And a quote from Marvin Gaye, “There’s far too many of you dying. You know you’ve got to find a way to bring some loving here today.” Think about it.
Cleo R. Baker III