Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in the Bronx, New York on June 16th 1971 (Hoye, 2006). He was the second child to Afeni Shakur. Tupac was raised by his stepfather, Mutulu Shakur. By the time he was two years old, Tupac had a baby sister, Sekwiya. During most of his childhood, Tupac and his siblings relied mostly on their mother as their sole provider. This came after the arrest and conviction of Mutulu, Tupac`s stepfather. He was arrested on the grounds of armed robbery and was sentenced to six years in prison.
As a child, Tupac had a difficult and challenging childhood. He was raised in the life of poverty and sorrow. It was a tedious job for her mother to support her family. Afeni Shakur was a member of the Black Panthers, a black activist group that fought for the rights of Africans Americans and equality between the 1960`s and 1980`s (Fields, 2004).
Despite the right cause that the group had, its members were always involved in gang related activities such as homicides, robberies and violence. Most of the members were therefore arrested and incarcerated. Tupac`s mother was not an exception. She had been imprisoned as a result of Black Panther`s activities and was only released a month before Tupac`s birth. Due to the criminal record that she had, it was difficult for her to get a formal job that would give her good income to support her family.
Fearing for the safety of her children and trying to make ends meet, Afeni Shakur moved from one place to the other within New York. Specifically for the protection of Tupac, she named him Lesane Parish Crooks on his birth certificate so that no one could trace him (Forman, 2003).
As a strategy to surviving and earn a living to support her family, Afeni Shakur and her family moved from Brooklyn to the Bronx, Harlem and a number of homeless shelters within New York and its environs. As a child, Tupac could feel the pain and suffering that his family was going through. However, things were not any different to other black families too. It seemed like a burden of suffering that specifically affected the minority communities in the United States.
It was thus difficult for Tupac to fit in and mix with other children in the neighbourhoods that they lived in. This is because they were always on the move. By the time he and his family settled down and started to make friends, they would always move again.
He therefore did not have as much friends as other children, never had a chance to enjoy his childhood and interact with other children. He grew as a lonely child in the middle of the pain, suffering and agony that was brought about by the harsh life that they were going through. The only thing that kept him going was the love that he received from his family.
Tupac used to say that he cried a lot as a child. This was because he felt the pain and suffering that they were going through but could not do anything about it. To escape from the realities of life, he wrote poems, rapped and engaged himself in acting. This were his main hobbies as a teenager. He allegedly said that while he acted, he had the chance to be someone else other than himself. This was the only time he could escape from the realities of life and live a good life, the kind of life that he ought to have lived (Hicks, 2006).
When he was 15 years old, Tupac and his family moved to Baltimore where he joined The Baltimore School of Performing Arts. Here, he showed a lot of interest in acting and poetry. He now had the chance to take his interest to a completely new level. It is also at Baltimore that Tupac expounded in his rapping skills. He won a lot of rap contents and within no time, he was renowned as the best rapper in school (Shakur, 2009).
By this time, Tupac was now growing into a young adult. As a black male, he now understood and directly faced the harsh living conditions that the people in the black community and other minority societies were going through. He thus used poetry and his rapping skills to air these grievances, most of which were directed to the government system of the United States.
He blamed the government for all the pain and suffering that the minorities were going through. Amongst his earliest poems was the rose that grew on the concrete that he used to criticize the political system of the United States. This was way before he gained worldwide fame. Even after being famous, most of his lyrics laid a lot of emphasis on the failure of the government. He addressed issues like poverty, racism, inequality, teenage pregnancies, drug abuse and police brutality.
By the time of his death, Tupac had become a powerful figure in the society, especially in the African American community. He had influenced the lives of many youths by giving them advice and hope in life. Indeed, he had achieved his dream as a child of being a revolutionary. This essay thus analyses the life of Tupac Shakur and the political influence of his lyrics in the 1990`s.
Tupac`s life started off from humble beginnings. Like many other African American families of his time, he was born in a poor family that was living below the poverty line. Most African American families during the 1960`s up to the present time live beyond the poverty line.
Poverty is a crucial factor in the life of an individual. It plays a critical role in determining the overall outcome of the life of an individual. Tupac was born in this predicament. It was difficult for his family them to afford a meal and a house. Things became even worse when his stepfather, Mutulu, was incarcerated for six years on the grounds of armed car robbery.
Therefore, as a young child and as a teenager, Tupac lived without a father figure in his life. In addition, he knew how it feels not to have a home, food to eat or clothes to wear. He also had a firsthand experience of living in the slums and homeless shelters. All the pain and suffering that he was going through was as a result of being poor.
This was the same life that most children from minority communities were living in. All these were as a result of poor political ideologies that the United States government had put in place to govern the country. Advocating for change, these are some of the issues that Tupac raised in his lyrics later on in his life.
Another factor that played a crucial role in the life of Tupac was the background of his family. His mother, Afeni Shakur was a member of the Black Panthers and so was his stepfather, Mutulu Shakur.
The Black Panther was an African American revolutionist organization that was active in the United States between 1966 and 1982 (Gardner, 2004). The movement was founded in Oakland, California but rapidly spread throughout the country. It was an anti-racist organization that advocated for social, political and cultural equality among all the races in the United States.
However, it mainly lobbied for the empowerment of the minority communities who were being treated less fairly by the government. Provision of improved health care, poverty alleviation, improved education, socialism and fairness were some of the issues that organization was involved in. To safeguard the black communities against police brutality, the Black Panthers recruited local patrol groups within the inner-city neighbourhoods.
This not only reduced police brutality among the minority communities but also increased security within the neighbourhoods. However, the director of F.B.I Edgar Hoover condemned the actions of the movement and declared it the biggest enemy to national security at that time (Johnson et al, 1995). This therefore led to the arrest of many members of the group including Tupac`s mother, Afeni Shakur.
Therefore as a child, Tupac was born and raised under the umbrella of the Black Panthers. His early beliefs and ideologies reflected mainly on the actions, missions and visions of the group. At an early age, he understood the oppression that minority communities were facing through racism, poverty, inequality and brutality. These were some of the early teachings that Tupac received in his life. His early life teachings therefore advocated for fighting for the rights and privileges for all.
Through the black panthers, Tupac understood that the only way to solve the problem was not by keeping quite but by addressing it. He understood that one had to be aggressive and demand for what he/she wanted in life. This therefore changed his character and attitude. Tupac always talked about what he felt, what he thought was wrong and would come up with ideas and means of making it right.
As a child, we are normally asked what we want to be when we grow up. Most children reply by saying that they want to be doctors, engineers, presidents, lawyers, firemen and so on.
These are some of the admirable careers that individuals have always dreamt of being. Tupac was asked the same question when he was a boy. Unlike other children, Tupac`s rely was somewhat different. Instead of wanting to be a doctor, president or any other huge title, Tupac said that he wanted to be a revolutionary, an answer that stunned many (Bastfield, 2003).
All his life, Tupac worked hard to achieve his dream. He desired for change in the system. He wanted to put an end to the pain and suffering that minority communities were going through. For every breath that he took, Tupac worked hard to achieve this dream. The experience that he had in his early life and the teachings that he got from the black panthers acted as his guidance.
Tupac and his family moved to Baltimore when he was 15 years old. It is here that he had the chance to settle down and interact with other individuals of his age group. He was able to make a couple of friends. Furthermore, he joined The Baltimore School for the Performing Arts.
While at school, Tupac had the chance to expound in his poetry and acting talents. While at school, he had the chance to perform in many plays. Perhaps the best of his performance was when he played the role of Mouse King in the Nutcracker by William Shakespeare. This play was performed at the Apollo (Armond, 1997). It prepared Tupac to enter the stage.
It is also at Baltimore where he wrote a lot of his poems and early lyrics. This was as a means of escaping the reality of his life. His poems and lyrics were different from that of other children. The message that he was conveying was way beyond the thinking and reasoning of a person of his age. The rose that grew on the concrete is one of his early influential poems. According to 2Pac2K (2011), Tupac says:
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping it’s dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared. (p. 3)”.
In this poem, Tupac symbolises the black community and the government as the rose and the concrete respectively. As we all know, a rose, as any other flower requires fertile soil to grow in. It is virtually impossible for it to grow in other conditions.
However, on this particular occasion, a rose has managed to grow on concrete. It has been able to withstand the harsh conditions that acted as a setback to its growth and development to grow and blossom. In the United States, the government oppresses the black community and other minority communities.
These communities live under harsh conditions. They do not have access for proper education and healthcare and they live below the poverty line. With regards to these conditions, it is virtually impossible for them to make something good out of their lives. The same status of life that they inherited from their parents is the one that they are likely to pass down to their children and other generations that will follower.
Despite the suffering that these communities are going through, the government has not been putting any effort to alleviate the problem. Instead, they continue to oppress them and make their lives to be even worse. Tupac being a visionary sees hope for the people who he represents.
He knows that through hard work comes success. Despite the harsh conditions that they are facing, through working together, facing problems in common and fighting for their rights, the minority communities will be able to make a difference in their lives and prosper in the end. This is a message of hope that Tupac is passing to the people who are suffering from the same problems that he was going through.
Tupac did not talk the talk but walked the walk. He did not criticize the government and do nothing to help the black community. During his stay at Baltimore, Tupac raised a lot of concerns on the increased rate of drug abuse and teenage pregnancies among the African American teenagers.
Despite the increased severity of the problem, the government just stood as a watchdog. According to Tupac, it is the role of the government to educate teenagers against irresponsible sexual behaviours, drug abuse and violence. The government had failed to instil these morlas to the teenagers, especially those who lived in the slums. As a result, many male teenagers were either involved in gangs, abused drugs or both. The number of teenage mothers was also increasing at an alarming rate.
Tupac thus started campaigns at Baltimore that aimed at reducing educating the youths to abstain and to practice safe sex. This aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies especially among teenagers. At the same time, Tupac advocated for the war on drugs. Drugs such as cocaine and heroin have found their ways into the neighbourhoods.
Many youths fell victims of the predicament as they either used the drugs or sold them. Working with several group, Tupac tried to implement the ideologies that he had. Despite the fact that it was the role of the government to do all this, Tupac could not just see his people suffering. That is whom he was, an advocate for change.
At the same time, Tupac felt that the education system was not well structured. It focused on giving students knowledge and skills that would not help them to succeed in life. Students need an education system that will make them understand the needs and requirements of life.
That is why they need to learn about racism, inequality, oppression, apartheid, history, culture and so on. However, the education system in USA concentrates on other studies that play a minimal role in the life of an individual. According to Tupac, classes like gym should be removed from the curriculum and be replaced by studies that have more serious issues (Kirchheimer, 2003).
Once more, Tupac and his family moved to Oakland, California. At this time, his interest into poetry and music had increased. In addition, he had grown into a young man. At this age, he now faced directly the problems of the world. However, he did not let this act as a setback to his life. As a matter of fact, he used it to his advantage. As he grew older, the content of his poems and lyric also grew. He now talked about real life issues that were being faced by the black community in the United States at that time.
In the year 1990, Tupac signed a recording agreement with Digital Underground, a label that was under the control of Spike Lee (Iverem, 1993). Under digital underground, Tupac was able to record and release his first solo album, 2pacalypse Now (Neal, 2003). This album had major hit songs. One of the most influential songs that Tupac did for this album was the song titled, Brenda has a baby. This song continued to lay emphasis on teenage pregnancies, an issue that Tupac had been advocating against especially while he was at Baltimore.
In this song, Brenda, a twelve-year-old girl has just found out that she is pregnant. Like many other teenage mothers, she does not know what to do and to make the matters worse, she does not want her family to know about the issue. To try to survive, Brenda starts selling cocaine but her career is short lived as she is robbed off her supplies.
Being a naive girl of unsound mind, Brenda results to throwing her baby. While Brenda continue to suffer, the community just watches, believing that it is the problem of Brenda`s family. However, Tupac points out that we as the community have a role to play to stop occurrences like these from happening again. According to Tupac, the government and the community are ignoring the problems that many young females are facing.
These girls get pregnant at an early age, a factor that prevents them from advancing in life and even achieving their goals and dreams. The government together with the community should work together to enlighten teenagers about the various dangers of life that they might face if they truly want a bright future for the upcoming generations.
Another interesting piece of poetry that Tupac wrote was titled liberty needs glasses. In this poem, Tupac uses a combination of satire and symbolism to criticise the justice system of the United States. According to All-Poetry (2011), Tupac says that, “…lady Liberty needs glasses and so does Mrs. Justice by her side, both the broads are blind like bats stumbling through the system… (p. 1)”.
The main message that Tupac is trying to pass through this poem is that the world is full of injustice and there is an imminent need to give justice to the individuals who deserve it. In this poem, Tupac is bringing out the imperfections of the justice systems of the United States.
He personifies the justice and liberty systems so that we can have a clear understanding of their imperfections by comparing them to ourselves. According to him, the justice system is blind, as it cannot see during the day or at night. That is why it is like a bat. Due to this fact therefore, it offers judgments that are oppressive to those who deserve to be acquitted from it.
As such, the system fails where it need is required the most since it denies justice, liberty and freedom to those who are in despite need for it. In the poem, Tupac says that the justice system bombed Mutulu. Mutulu was Tupac`s step father who was sent to prison by the government on the counts of conspiracy. Despite this, he still continues to live his life like any other individual in the world.
He was sentenced falsely due to the fact that he was a Black Panther and instead of the system treating him as a hero of saving the black community, it denies him freedom. In the poem, Tupac also mentions Geronimo Pratt who was also accused falsely on the counts of killing a police officer. Geronimo was Tupac`s God father and also a member of the Black Panthers.
He was sentenced to life in prison. However, he managed to make his time in prison worthwhile and studies law. The last influential figure that Tupac mentions in the poem is Nelson Mandela. Mandela is well known for his activist movement to liberate the people of South Africa. However, the justice system also failed and sent him to prison for 27 years. While sending innocent people to jail, the justice system and forgets about the evils and atrocities that were committed during the era of slavery.
Therefore, the justice and liberty system actions are not as per the expected standards. They need to be amended to ensure their proper functioning. However, before this is done, innocent people will continue to suffer on the hands of the justice system that is unfair, corrupt and punishes the individuals who require its assistance.
After the release of his first album, Tupac started to get worldwide fame. However, the messages in his songs still remained the same. In second album, Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z, he addressed an issue that the minority communities were facing for a long time; police brutality. The use of excessive force against the minority communities had increased, especially against the members of the black community (Mauer & Muling, 1995).
Numerous cases had been reported about the police using excessive force during arrests against members of the black community. This included the use of excessive force and assault. The whole of his second album focused on this issue. This came about after four police officers in L.A were acquitted for the offence of assaulting Rodney King, an African American male. The whole incident was caught on tape.
King had been accompanied by two other companions when they were arrested. After surrendering and complying with all the instructions from the police officers, King was assaulted by one of the officers who used a button to hit him. During this whole incident, the other police officers watched from a distance without doing anything to stop the beatings.
However, George Holiday, who was standing at a distance, recorded the whole incident. Parts of the footage were later on broadcasted by many media houses from all around the world. This incident created tension between the African American community and the Los Angeles Police Department. To make the matters worse, all the four officers were acquitted from the charges. This brought about a massive riot in L.A from African Americans and other activists.
This clearly showed how the justice system is unfair. The Black community had been treated less fairly. This was a clear indication of racism and oppression of the minorities in the United States. Tupac among other activist were against the unfair treatment that their community was getting from the police and the justice department. They advocated for a change in the system to reflect fairness and equality for all regardless of age, sex and race.
Tupac was also against the drug laws of the United States. The argument that he brought forward in his lyrics was that these laws were not to clear drugs off from the streets but to incarcerate individuals from the minority communities, especially the blacks. Therefore, the law mainly targeted on the underprivileged individuals in the society.
In his song, Words of Wisdom, Tupac states that the drug law is a hierocracy as it is meant to undermine individuals who are struggling to survive. While analyzing his words, it is evident that the number of inmates had increased since the laws were passed. Most of the new inmates were petty drug offenders from the minority communities (Blacks and Hispanics).
However, it is evident that the usage of drugs between the whites and other communities is relatively the same. However, those individuals who are arrested for drug related offences are normally from blacks or Hispanics (Jonas, 1999). This is due to the notion that drug abuse from the white community arises as a result of medicinal use while from the Black and Hispanic communities is as a result of criminal activities.
Due to this fact therefore, Tupac felt that the justice system had failed in sustaining its role in the society. This has led to the lack of trust on the system. In one of his songs titled Only God can Judge Me, Tupac says that the only judgement that he can receive from the lord and nobody else. This is due to the racism, corruption and social inequalities that surround the justice system.
In his later albums such as Me Against the World, All Eyez on Me and Makavelli, Tupac continued to criticize and challenge the government and the faults that were present on its system. Through his lyrics and poetry, Tupac managed to be a great influential leader to the minority communities especially young Black males. He gave them hope and motivation that they needed to make a difference in their lives. Despite his death, his influence is still felt up to the present date.
Since his birth, Tupac faced a lot of difficulties that was the norm in many underprivileged families in USA. Individuals from these communities face a lot of injustices and oppression as a result of faults that are present in the government.
This come about due social inequality, racism, oppression, poverty and police brutality, issues that affect mainly the black community in America. From the teachings that he had in all through his life, coupled with the experiences he got through life, Tupac worked hard all through his life to bring change especially to the members of the black community.
He managed to address the issues that this community was facing with his lyrics and poems. From his words and actions, he developed to be a powerful figure in among the members of the black community. Although his life was cut short, at the age of 25, he managed to address many issues that the black community and other minority groups were facing and bring change and hope into their lives.
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