Some people had John Lennon. Some had Kurt Cobain. I had Tupac Shakur.
I loved “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” “Keep Ya Head Up” and “I Get Around,” but it wasn’t until he was in prison and released Me Against the World that I became a die-hard fan. Heck, I replicated a Vibe cover picture of him for an art class in high school.
A bunch of my friends attribute listening to Tupac (And to a certain extent, Bruce Springsteen, and at least one person can’t listen to Springsteen anymore after too much exposure.) from having to endure rides in my Toyota pick-up and Landcrusier while we were in high school and the summers during college when we’d roll around town picking up beer and booze or driving up to the foothills near Mariposa to cliff jump.
I remember first listening to Me Against the World as a sophomore in the white Landcruiser my parents let me drive. I remember the first time I heard the faux news intro followed by “A coward dies a thousand deaths, a soldier dies but once.” and “If I Die 2nite” coming on. The cellophane from the album cover (back when people still bought physical albums) was still on the passenger seat as I exited the parking lot. It may have been in the cassette player (Yes, cassette. I was one of the last people to go CDs) when my teammates and I tipped the SUV on my coach’s ranch during our basketball banquet.
When All Eyes on Me came out, I bought my copy at The Wherehouse and I don’t think it left the car stereo once the following month or two. It should have been the first and last double album. No one else’s has come close. I can still listen to the whole album without skipping a track. The last time I drove to California, it was the album playing when I crossed the north border. It’s a little habit of mine whenever I re-enter the state.
But, his appeal wasn’t just his music. It was his persona and what he stood for. The kid from the streets. The conflicted man. How he can write Brenda’s Got a Baby and then get charged with sexual assault. Admitting his hatred for his mother when he was young and reconciling later when he recognized her situation. Wanting to connect with his fans and friends while his star grew. With him, it wasn’t a polished product. You got the good and the bad and you knew it. “I moved out of the ghetto, so I ain’t real now?”
So, it was fall of my senior year in high school when his shooting happened. Most everyone knows the details of the night. But what I remember is the following Monday when we returned to school and being fairly optimistic about his survival. We kept track through MTV at the time, waiting every half hour or so for any changes in his condition. News outlets on the internet weren’t up to snuff at the time. And on that Friday afternoon, while I was eating rice and chicken and watching Sportscenter, the news ticker showed he had passed. I don’t recall much of that weekend. Lots of Newports and probably some Hennessy and forties. My buddies probably smoked some weed here and there. It’s depressing sometimes how the truth is so cliché.
When I returned to school that Monday, class mates and even a teacher consoled me. And they were in the right. Someone died. My favorite artist/musician was gone and there wouldn’t be any new albums.
Oh, the irony.
A month later, I was still grieving when I bought Makaveli’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. I hated the album during the first listen. The only tracks I liked were “To Live & Die in L.A.”, “Krazy” and “Toss It Up.” The cadence of his voice in some of the songs were jarring, there was more anger than flow. It almost sounded like a demo tape, something they hurried out while his name was still in the news. During the second listen, I started liking, “Me and My Girlfriend,” but only because it was a gimmicky fun song comparing his upgrades in guns with the experience of dating a woman over an extended period of time. Something happened between the 3rd and 5th listens where I gained a better appreciation for the work as a whole. Now, songs like “Hail Mary,” “Blaspemy,” “Against All Odds” and “Hold Ya Head” stick out with their own artistry. Then there’s one of my favorite lines he’s written, “So tell me why you changed, choosing a new direction in the blink of an eye. My time away just made perfection. Did you think I’d die?”
When I left for college, I hung a poster of him in my dorm room. Through the years that poster would be joined by Heidi Klum, an Albert Bierstadt print, a beach towel of Rebecca Romijn, an Abbott Thayer “Angel” print and a Jack Kerouac quote about people who are like “roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” And it was in college when I started downloading every random unreleased Tupac song I could find. I had friends who would give me bootlegs of unreleased albums they’d purchased off the streets of New York, so he almost seemed to hang with me for a few years after his death.
So on his birthday, I’m gonna go get a pack of Newports, order a shot or two of Hennessy and finish the night with some weed and a forty. Pour out a lil’ liquor.