"Strictly4MyN*ggaz: 20 Years Later..."

September 13, 1996 is a date that I will always remember. It continues to stick with me because it was the first day that I've ever seen a grown man cry. As I walked into the cafeteria in order to wait for my mother to pick me up after school; I noticed my P.E. teacher sitting at a table far off into the corner, weeping in solace. At this time in my life, I equated the urge to cry with pain; but not necessarily in the emotional sense. My intellectual maturity had not yet reached the point where I could comprehend the fact that someone could cry over someone or something without being physically hurt themselves. So, being both concerned and curious, I walked over to him and asked: "Why are you crying? Is everything okay?" He responded: "Tupac Shakur passed today, and he's more important to you than you will ever know..." His answer is something that I will take with me for my entire life. At the moment, I only had a loose idea of who this Tupac Amaru Shakur person was, yet I was told that he was more important to me than I know or understand.

Later that evening, during my commute home, I asked my mother what Tupac meant to her... she immediately looked my direction in sorrow. Though she expressed her deepest condolences for his mother, the now late Afeni Shakur, her perception of Tupac was the same as many her age. She felt that he was a negative influence, a thug, and a misogynist. Her point of view towards the man that is considered arguably the greatest rapper of all-time, couldn't be further from the truth. My mother has always been very observant, thorough in her thoughts and words, and still remains to be the most intelligent person I know. Normally, when she gave her opinion on a certain topic, I would value and respect it... but, for some reason, this day was different.

I knew ‘Pac wasn’t planning on living long, ‘cause I never once saw him eat a vegetable. He might eat a French fry. I never saw him drink water, I never saw him drink nothing but beer and Hennessy, Beer, Hennessy, hot wings, Newports and weed - that was that nigga’s diet.

For the past 20 years, I've developed my own perception of Tupac; most of it through research, interviews and revisiting his extensive catalog. Although I have both negative and positive views when it comes to his character traits, I've always felt that 'Pac's personality is the most human of us all. He was a direct reflection of America's black youth; good, bad or indifferent. His documentary, Tupac: Resurrection, changed the trajectory of my life at the time. It had a more profound affect on me than The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Now, Malcolm's story is a literary classic, but I couldn't relate to him in the same ways that I did 'Pac. At only 25 years old, Tupac wasn't just a voice for his era, but a voice for the generations that would ultimately succeed him. 

From that fateful day in September of '96, up until my about 26th birthday, my mother and I were always at odds about who Tupac Shakur truly was. To her, while his talent was undeniable, his was still a misguided youth whose decisions eventually led to an early demise. For me however, he was a man whose wisdom reached far beyond his years; misunderstood only by people who refused to make an honest attempt to understand him, along the message he was trying to convey. When I became a man, my mother willingly did her own research on Mr. Shakur, and to her surprise, she began to respect the man that he was outside of the media's portrayal. He reminded her of Marvin Gaye (she has amazing evidence to back this up, but I'll save that for another post...), is what her words were to me. The similarities were many, and their influence remained years after their deaths.

"Who Shot Ya?" photo by Nik Richard, 2016

"Who Shot Ya?" photo by Nik Richard, 2016

The misconceptions are that Tupac was a rapper, that Tupac wasn’t political and that Tupac was a gangster. But primarily I really think that time will take care of that. I have faith in Tupac’s legend. I really believe in the divinity of legends. I believe that God chose Tupac and I believe that no human being can destroy his image, his legend, his life, his music or his work.
— Afeni Shakur

Even though I've never met Tupac in person, my life would not have been the same without him. My growth from a boy to a man, and all those moments in between; were assisted by his quotes, lyrics and performances. His unrelenting quest for knowledge made me want to become a better student in school. His thoughts and opinions on race relations in America made me want to get involved with bettering my community, and his untimely death always reminds me to never take this life for granted.

Continue to spark that brain, 'Pac.

- Oak (@coolhandoak)