I have a hard time placing Tupac Shakur into a box. Like many intelligent young men, he seems to have struggled a lot with marrying the reality of his world with the ideas that he may have learned from the adults in his life. Was it hypocrisy or human nature? Who knows? Unfortunately, he was taken from us before his true legacy had time to manifest and all we’re left with are pieces of the multiple personas he constructed: poet, thug, rapper, actor, and dare I say intellectual.
Tupac was a unique blend of a man and I would never try to reduce his life to a singular term. We do our heroes a big disservice when we try to simplify their lives as such. Only an ugly set of circumstances could have created a man so complex. Socially conscious thug, a misogynist that was somehow tapped into the plight of the Black woman…even trying to dissect the man is a headache.
I tend to stay away from conversations regarding Tupac for this fact. I can’t fully argue either side. To take away the thug is to deny the very circumstances that may have created the articulate MC that attacked social injustices lyrically. I don’t hasten to label him a revolutionary because that would be forgetting his contradictory actions. I wish we were able to celebrate his complexities and remember that he left us as a 25 year old man who was probably just coming into his own and figuring out who he would be.
I don’t want to take away anything from his legacy or impose my own consciousness or wishes for him onto his legacy. His charm, skills and intelligence were never fully actualized. The unadulterated pain and wild rage imbued in his lyrics never quite met and married his understanding of the reality of Black people’s situation. The ease with which he vacillated between realms coupled with the diversity of the stories he told makes him our ‘every man’. And in a way, that’s the source of his widespread appeal. He was all of us rolled up into one dynamic man. That is why he is still relevant to us and that is why I will never try to put him in a box.
Instead, I’ll just say: Happy Birthday, Tupac Amaru Shakur.