Tupac and the cultural discourse in hip-hop
“The American Dream wasn’t meant for me / Cause Lady Liberty is a hypocrite—she lied to me / Promised me freedom, education and equality / Never gave me nothing but slavery” –Tupac Shakur
With the passing of the fifteenth anniversary of the great Tupac Shakur, I took some time to reflect on the state of Hip-Hop. To no surprise to myself, I found myself disgusted. Let me clarify, I was not disgusted with all of Hip-Hop, just the more popular artists who continually damage Hip-Hop’s name and throw Tupac’s name in their lyrics. I paid particular attention to the song by Miami rapper Rick Ross and Philadelphia’s own Meek Mill. There are a number of differences between entertainment that is marketed toward African-Americams and entertainment marketed to white folks. Rick Ross’s song, “Tupac Back” is slanderous to his name because it totally disregards the essence of who he was as an individual.
Hip-Hop has been a medium to critique power and analyze society from inside and outside the black community for problematic representations of black masculinity, violence, misogyny, drug use, and materialism. Yes, Tupac did speak about such issues but on the contrary he broke silence on issues of poverty, equality, feminism and black nationalism. I feel that the latter subjects are important to a certain extent but are imminently damaging and disparaging of the black community. There should be a distinction between entertainment and enlightenment in African-American music. Unfortunately, this rarely happens and Black folks are left to decipher the harmful, destructive messages through some unfiltered versions of Hip-Hop. Sadly, these messages are pumped into the homes of Americans and people worldwide via MTV, BET, VH1 and award shows featuring the same lineup of cookie cutter rappers (think Rick Ross, Lil’ Wayne, and Y.G.).
If Tupac were alive today he would not rap about the vices of American society while relishing in them and stealing rims. Tupac never said anything close to having a “wrist on froze.” In the words of the late, great Tupac Shakur: “I didn’t choose the thug life, the thug life chose me. All I’m trying to do is survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty unbelievable lifestyle that they gave me.” This song “Tupac Back” is a bastardizing conflation of Tupac’s nationalistic flair as well as a classic assimilationist stance. Tupac constantly critiqued the system and the environment he lived in, while Rick Ross and Meek Mill celebrate their thug lifestyle.
I am sorry to break it to Hip-Hop fans at Colby, but Tupac is not back. If Tupac was alive, he would have us trying to figure out how the “greatest nation in the world has money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.” Shamelessly claiming to represent what Tupac represented is completely reckless and hurtful to Tupac’s image and legacy. When individuals like Tupac die, the system that they fought always swallows up that fight, and then, over time, those who were not around to actually remember who Tupac was and what he stood for become coerced into thinking that there was no fight to begin with. Tupac is not back, but there are artists out there who are tackling societal issues and fighting the power structures that exist.