15.Oct.2018 About Us | Contact Us | Terms & Conditions

Are you on Facebook? Please join us @ The New Black Magazine

Search Articles

Home











SMILING SERPENT

 

By Regina N. Bradley

Saturday, October 16, 2010.

In the event of my demise

When my heart can beat no more

I hope I die for a principle

Or a belief that I had lived 4 ~Tupac Amaru Shakur

 

Passionate. The rose that grew from concrete. A black man combating inner demons. Methinks he made Shakespeare proud. Made Geronimo proud.  Set the standard. Exceeded expectations. Deliciously Complex. My older cousin's and her friends' imaginary baby daddy (Yes, he was just that fine). Ghetto Poet Laureate. Piccolo. The Hip Hop Generation's Trouble Man. The Hood Prince. Constantly in revelation. Consistently pushing to be better. The laughing, Shining Serpent. Self-eulogizer. Gone too soon.

As I tried to write this post, so many thoughts raced through my head about the man, the myth, and the legend of Tupac Amaru Shakur, a lost cub of the Black Panther Party.  I was only twelve at his death, an awkward seventh grader who only spit common knowledge trivia questions about Tupac to fit in: he was with Death Row, beefed with Biggie, He was T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., from Baltimore, wrote "Dear Mama," and ran with Digital Underground early in his career. 

I Saw him a few times in movies that I snuck to watch at my cousin's house - Poetic Justice, Juice, and Above the Rim. At that time I couldn't appreciate Shakur's complexity, his open battle with inner demons, his struggles to maintain an identity that both fed into and separated from expectations of black masculinity in American (popular) culture. For many, Shakur provided the bridge between the black nationalist thought of the 1960s and Hip Hoppers of the 1980s and 1990s.  This was especially prevalent in his poetry, with poems like "Lady Liberty Needs Glasses," "When Ure Hero Falls," and "How can We Be Free."

What's fascinating to me as a scholar and as a Hip Hop enthusiast is the pulsating presence Shakur maintains in a frivolous rap and black American culture.  Even more intriguing about Shakur's perceptions of life and death was Shakur's spontaneous and often inexplicable laugh at horrific situations sprinkled throughout his creative catalog. Shakur's tragicomic outlook dictated not only his performance but interpersonal relationships. Many of his interviews show not only a lyricist but a waxer of philosophy, often working out ideas and theories while answering questions.

I'd argue that Shakur's life and influence in contemporary black culture serves as the metanarrative (master narrative) of Hip Hop post those stories waxed after 1996.  What is most striking about Shakur's narrative is his desire to openly connect audience to his innermost battles, critiquing the same temptations and corruptions that he embraces as a young African American man.  While exposing his insecurities and shortcomings, Shakur maintains control of his stories, both in reality and imagined mediums like his movie roles. He borrowed from difficult situations (i.e. the relationship with his mother or his rape case in 1994) to serve as the undercurrent for much of his creativity.

Projects revealed Shakur's pseudo-schizophrenic obsession with death and resurrection. These tropes manifested in videos like "I Ain't Mad Atcha" or the collabo featuring Scarface"Smile," and the coverart of The Don Illuminati: the 7 Day Theory (1996). Frighteningly accurate, "I Ain't Mad Atcha's" violent demise of Shakur's character in the arms of a then relatively unknown Bokeem Woodbine echoes his own violent death in Las Vegas.

Shakur's embrace of violence, passion, and death reflected his understanding of not only his personal convictions but those surrounding the consumption of his work (and his black body) through a public American lens engrained in the stereotypical representations of the black male experience.   As a metanarrative, Shakur set up shop for the juxtapositions of African American manhood through rap music.  DMX and TI immediately come to mind -but certainly not the only followers of this model -borrowing from Shakur's model of being self-eulogizing, a streetlife bard, and openly embracing death at an early age. 

On a personal note, I added to my Tupac memory archive over the years. My most cherished one occurred in July 2008 while teaching Upward Bound in Indiana.  One of my students, Zeke, initially struggled in my English class with his writing and was soft spoken.  After a lot of encouragement, re-enforcement, and a little hoodrich pedagogy - You best bust ya ass on this paper and leave these lil girls alone!!! - Zeke was coming full circle with tremendous force and passion.  The last assignment of the summer was a personal narrative about how the student defined success. I cried as I read Zeke's essay.  He reflected about his life in Gary, Indiana, how teachers doomed him before he even gave himself a chance, and ended the essay with how fucked up he was at witnessing the murder of his best friend.

 I decided to share one of my favorite poems "In the Event of my Demise." It's one of those poems that resounded most deeply in my spirit and helped me get through many dark moments like the deaths of my father and my own best friend. We talked about it at tutoring. This poem must've softened a rough patch in Zeke's soul too. He referenced the poem in his last journal entries and class discussions. The last day of class I asked him to stay behind. I gave him my copy of The Rose that Grew from Concrete.

 

Regina N. Bradley is a doctoral student in African American Literature and Culture at Florida State University. She earned her MA in African American Studies from Indiana University Bloomington. Currently, her research interests include performance and gender identity, popular black culture, late 20th and 21st century black literature, and Hip Hop.

Ms Bradley blogs at Red Clay Scholar.

 

  Send to a friend  |   View/Hide Comments (0)   |     Print

2018 All Rights Reserved: The New Black Magazine | Terms & Conditions
Back to Home Page nb: People and Politics Books & Literature nb: Arts & Media nb: Business & Careers Education