Entries in Tupac Shakur (2)
Long before Tupac Shakur was even conceived, his mom, Alice Faye Williams, dropped out of high school and moved from North Carolina to New York City where she soon joined the Black Panther Party. As a member of that self-styled revolutionary group, she changed her name to Afeni Shakur, and became famous as one of the New York 21, a cadre of Panther leaders jailed by J. Edgar Hoover on fabricated charges of fomenting race war.
Defending herself, Afeni, like the rest of her co-defendants, was ultimately acquitted of all 156 of the trump-up counts against her. And her son, Tupac, was born on June 16, 1971, just a month after she was released from the Women's House of Detention. She raised her son as a single mom, often penniless, homeless, and addicted to crack. Today, she's clean, eats organically, and serves as CEO of Amaru Records and as founder of the Tupac Shakur Foundation, an arts and cultural organization which offers disadvantaged kids an opportunity to pursue their creative dreams.
Here she speaks about her latest venture, as executive producer of "Tupac: Resurrection", a documentary about the rise and fall of her late son.
KW: Why did you decide to make this movie?
AS: "For us, it was like, Tupac would've wanted this, so we gotta do it."
KW: How much did your radical politics shape your son?
AS: "Well, I'll tell you the truth. I don't like to say what influenced my son, which is another reason why we did this movie. No one speaks for Tupac better than Tupac. The movie is an effort to show, in a context, what affect the Black Panther Party in his mom's life had on him. We really need to remember that it was his Mom who was a Black Panther. Tupac was born one month and three days after I was acquitted. He was born with my baggage. What he did as a human being was to try to make the best out of what he came here with."
KW: How did you raise him?
AS: "I tried to impart to him a sense of integrity and of accepting responsibility for whatever we do. And I imparted to him a thirst for knowledge."
KW: How did you decide which family photos to include in the documentary?
AS: "It's been seven years and I am yet unable to go through my son's things. Other members of my family and the MTV production team did a magnificent job. But I am not able to do anything like that."
KW: How do you like the songs on the soundtrack?
AS: "I love it. I especially like the one with 50 Cent where he says, 'Until Machiavelli returns, all eyes on me!'"
KW: Tupac's east Coast arch-rival, Biggie Smalls, who was implicated in his murder, is on the soundtrack, too. What's up with that?
AS: "I like that we were able to honor Miss Wallace [Biggie's Mom] with that song. She always says nice very things about me, so I wanted to thank her like that. I'm very proud of that song."
KW: Do you enjoy seeing Tupac as a cultural icon up on the big screen?
AS: "I am never able to watch him as anything except my son. I am amazed, however, to observe how brilliant he was, because i know he came from me. And I'm like, 'Where'd that come from?'"
KW: Is it hard for you to do interviews like this?
AS: "The reason it's not hard is because I don't do them every day. You must remember, I'm not an entertainer. I'm the mother of the murdered person who is the subject of this movie. I remain Tupac's Mom every day. And as his mother, today, this is my responsibility. And that's the way I am able to do it. So, this is okay."
KW: How would you like Tupac to be remembered?
AS: "I'd like people to remember him as a complete artist. I would like for them to be touched and moved by his music and by his art. To judge him by the totality of his work. If they do that, it would be sufficient for me."
KW: Do you think the movie will be of interest even to people who weren't his fans?
AS: "Whether they liked him or did not like him, I think the integrity of the project speaks for itself. People who didn't know him will discover Tupac. The good thing is that you see every aspect of his personality."
KW: We grew up in a much more socially conscious age than the one we have now. Why do you think the hip-hop generation has such different values, which offend older people?
AS: "What I think happened was our generation was frightened into panic. And I believe that we spent a lot of time lying to our young people, hiding the things that we are responsible for. And blaming our young people for what we have done. That's what I think about my generation. Where that led me, personally, was to a crack pipe. And I am forever grateful to God that I was on that crack, because it made me completely broken so that I could examine my life."
KW: And what did you come to realize after bottoming out?
AS: "Today, what I know is that we are responsible for these young people. And if there's a disconnect, it's our fault, because we stopped talking to them honestly. And when we didn't understand what they were saying to us, we started to point our fingers at them. We forgot that they were our children and that's because the disconnect exists. The confusion that we see in our children is the result of lies that couldn't hold up. If we had spoken honestly and logically, our children would hear us, understand us, and not run from us. I thank you for that question because I rarely have an opportunity to speak about what we are responsible for. These young people are called so many name, and vilified, as my son was. To me, every generation is responsible for the next."
KW: Do you have any message for Tupac's fans?
AS: "I would like to ask young people to remember what I just said. For you will also be responsible for the next generation. You don't want to end up 56 year's old and feel in your heart that you didn't do all that you could do."
“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