I have experienced enough life to realize that the vast majority of people are not only unoriginal, but also prone to pattern themselves behind some person that they have little intimate knowledge of beyond their existence under what amounts to a blinding spotlight that exaggerates their insignificant presence. Honestly, this is not a process that is endemic to this latest generation, truthfully every American generation has done the same.
Consider the public personas that African-Americans have patterned themselves after throughout the 20th Century; Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Minister Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, George Clinton, Parliament, Richard Roundtree, RUN DMC, Rakim, Ice Cube, and Tupac Amaru Shakur.
Make no mistake about it, the iconic figures placed before Black America do matter, particularly as they simultaneously reflect not only our current position, but also offer significant insight into the direction that we are heading. Unfortunately, when such figures are in our midst we often fail to understand their voluminous cultural influence. Undoubtedly, the influence and importance of such individuals is not truly understood until they have disappeared.
These thoughts rose to my mind when I realized that if he had not been murdered by our people, Tupac Amaru Shakur would be 45 years old today. One can only wonder what Tupac would have been today, however, the more important question revolves around what has happened to Hip-Hop in his absence. The decline of Hip-Hop Culture and Rap Music in particular speaks volumes about Tupac’s brilliance and influence upon the Hip-Hop community.
Since Tupac’s murder we have gradually seen the decline of “conscious” rap and the rise of a materialistic, ends-justify-the-means culture that has instilled within our people the idea that it is not the quality of life and the principals that one stands upon that denotes a quality life, rather a successful life is best measured in not only the adoption of Eurocentric values, but also the pursuit of designer labels and items that have little value beyond it providing an individual the opportunity to shout to others, “Nigga you ain’t up on this.”
Into the colossal space that Tupac occupied has appeared a vaudeville circus of rappers who are best termed by an old KRS-ONE lyric of “I’m so and so! I’m this! I’m that! But they’re all wick, wick, wack.” Sadly it appears that it is only now in his absence that we are able to truly understand Tupac’s influence upon our culture as we have yet to say other emcee’s who have been able to tow the fine line between politicization and the ability to remain not only relevant to our people, but also direct their minds toward something more substantial than a “Beamer or a Benz”.
There is no more recent example of the length that the Hip-Hop Community has gravitated from its political roots than a run-in that I had with a young brother last night while performing the mundane task of pumping gas. As I pumped my gas, a young brother who appeared to be in his late-twenties screams to some unidentified person in his vehicle, “Turn that shit up!!!!!!” He then begins to perform a dance that was eerily reminiscent of something that you would see in a far-off African village by a ‘Witchdoctor’ that included intricate hand movements that could have only been some desperate attempt to ‘throw gang signs’; everyone pumping gas just stared peculiarly. One of the white patrons approached me with a humorous look and said, “There goes the future of America.” I privately mused, “Nah, there goes the future of Black America.” Absent of an understanding of how to conduct oneself in public, brash, braggadocios, and truly not giving a fuck about me, you, or any portion of Black America. I could only muse, “Is this hip-hop?”
On what would be his 45th Birthday, I have no choice but to salute Tupac Amaru Shakur for all that he did for our people, including the complexities and contradictions that appeared to fit him like a tailored suit. His genius is truly missed. There is quite possibly no better evidence of his voluminous influence is the reality that we are now living in a cultural moment where in the words of Redman, “All the monkeys have come out.” And they have seized Hip-Hop Culture and chosen to prostitute her out to anyone willing to bid upon her. They should all be ashamed.
Rest well Pac, real Hip-Hop heads have not forgotten you and most pray that you will return, even though we know that you fight against the idea of re-incarnation, to help correct this mess that they now call Hip-Hop.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016