Celebrating the Life of an Organic Ghetto Intellectual
“It’s time to fight back”, that’s what Huey said. 2 shots in the dark now Huey’s dead. I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin’ changes. Learn to see me as a brother ‘stead of 2 distant strangers. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. How can the Devil take a brother if he’s close to me?
– 2Pac, Changes
If he wasn’t stolen from us by an assassin’s bullet 15 years ago today would have been Tupac Amaru Shakur’s 40th birthday. While the rap world lines up to pay homage to one of the greatest MCs and poets ever to walk this Earth the truth of Pac’s legacy is often lost in the mix with the vacuous nonsense that now often is the norm of mainstream rap. While he was not perfect (no mortal ever is), he was self-critical of his faults and was open about it in his music. Over the course of his short life Tupac also lent his powerful voice and skills as a poet lyricist to carrying forward the struggle for national liberation waged by the colonized African nation and other oppressed peoples on the streets of the North American White Power Empire.
While he also produced many classic party tunes (and there is no problem with that) it has to be recognized that much of his music and life was deeply rooted in the material conditions that face the African nation day in and day out and its struggles for liberation – something which his family was deeply involved in. His godfather Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, his stepfather Mutulu Shakur, his aunt and godmother Assata Shakur and his mother Afeni were all experienced African freedom fighters, veterans of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army as well as the white power state’s war on the African liberation movement. Even his name was representative of the collective struggles of colonized peoples in this hemisphere, being named after Tupac Amaru, the last leader of the Inca, and his descendant Tupac Amaru II, one of the most important indigenous resistance leaders. Revolutionary black nationalism and the universal struggle for justice and freedom were always at the core of Pac’s musical mission.
At a Harvard organized symposium in 2003, State University of New York at Buffalo English professor Mark Anthony Neal gave a presentation called Thug Nigga Intellectual: Tupac as Celebrity Gramscian. In it he argued that Pac was an example of the organic intellectual who expresses the concerns of a larger group described by Italian communist theorist Antonio Gramsci. He also argued that Pac’s status as a “walking contradiction” allowed him to “make being an intellectual accessible to ordinary people.”
This is why I celebrate Pac’s all too short life while other’s try make him the grandfather of today’s empty pop-rap music, or, even worse, try to make him into a monster, a criminal, and a threat to the people that he loved so much, the wretched of the Earth.
So happy birthday Pac. We love you and will always miss you. You were a real G till the day that you died.