I have read plenty of intercultural texts about the late great Tupac Shakur. Some characterize Tupac as a "gangster rapper" discussing his death and history of, "struggle with poverty, relocation, family separation, and violence," [Digital Generations: Children, Young People, and the New Media. 2013]. Others tout his, "messages of resistance, struggle, and empowerment in the face of racism and oppression," [Globalizing Intercultural Communication: A Reader. 2015]. These pieces normally center around the influence of Tupac Shakur on the African-American culture and beyond. Unfortunately, I have yet to find an article that engages it's audience in the discussion of Tupac's actual culture.
In order to truly understand such a complex individual we must not start from the moment that a person is recognized by the masses. Instead, we must go to when and where he/she entered. The real question is not when and where Tupac Amaru Shakur entered but instead, where Lesane Parish Crooks entered.
Born Lesane Parish Crooks to mother, Afeni Shakur and father Billy Garland who were active members of the Black Panther, Shakur legally received his more known name shortly after his mother was acquitted of 150 counts of conspiracy against the United States Government. Named after Peruvian revolutionary Túpac Amaru II, who led an indigenous uprising against the Spaniards and lost his life as a result, Shakur was already being molded for the path of resistance against oppression. His early years were spent living amongst some of the most recognized members of the Black Liberation Army including his infamous stepfather Mutulu Shakur. And so he enters into a life surrounded by the historical fight of a people to be equal. But this story of hardcore resistance is just the beginning of the Tupac story.
Tupac went on to be a talented thespian and poet, performing at the Apollo Theater and throughout Baltimore as a Baltimore School of Arts student and greatly contributing to the theater departments of his school in California. Videos and images of him during this time speak to a sensitive, soft spoken, sweet but wise young man. Nothing like the gangsta rap description that crowds intercultural literature.
To be fair, to those who use mainstream media and popular content to ascribe characteristics to Tupac, the "gangsta rap" narrative is overwhelming. What I ask is that we dig a bit deeper and start to see the 17 year-old in his high school interview. I ask that we pay closer attention to the interviews where he states that he wished he could shed the "gangsta rap" shadow and persona that he adopted as a form of protection (linked in Tupac's Wisdom video at 4:00). Or that we give credit to his attempts to explain that his music does not glorify any image but is instead spiritual.
Like the history of Black Americans that starts with slavery can not possibly explain the roots of cultural norms and behaviors, the history of Tupac beginning with his career as a rapper can not begin to explain the depth and complexity of this cultural legend and his impact on society.
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