Still Listening to Tupac

TupacSince the rebellion in Cincinnati, I find myself wondering -- what would Tupac Amaru Shakur be doing now? What solution to police brutality would he offer?

That I am wondering about what a rapper five years in his grave would say is a comment on black leadership today and on hip hop's (the hip hop generation's) place in the discussion.

Tupac's latest album went straight to the top of the Billboard charts when it was released a few weeks back. This comes as no surprise to followers of the music -- Tupac spoke to young people of all races but especially to and for young blacks in the nation's mean streets.

Those young people dealing with new laws that target youth, a growing prison system, poor education and health care, and brutal police -- they remember him. They still listen to him.

They are the same young people that rampaged around Cincinnati after yet another black man, Timothy Thomas, 19, was gunned down by police.

"That I am wondering about what a rapper five years in his grave would say is a comment on black leadership today and on hip hop's (the hip hop generation's) place in the discussion."
Black leaders, minus Jesse Jackson, came from all over the country with the two tiered message "we want justice" and "stop the violence." Later, as the unrest subsided (after three days of curfews) these same leaders -- Al Sharpton, Kwesi Mfume, Martin Luther King III among others -- spoke at churches, met with community and city leaders and spoke to the national media about the needs of African-Americans in Cincinnati.

Ironically the country's most prominent "black leaders," Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condelezza Rice, like their boss President Bush, had nothing to say about the unrest.

Cincinnati's leaders promised "solutions" much like those offered after every major black rebellion in the last century -- more black police officers, more jobs/economic opportunity, more black politicians.

Lost in the shuffle was the fact that young people in that torn city had come to realize the current black leadership doesn't speak for them.

This sets up a potentially explosive dynamic within the black community itself. As in the 1960s, a young black leadership is charting its own course -- outside the Civil Rights leadership, and even outside of hip hop. Derrik Blassingame, age 14, is president of the newly formed Black Youth Coalition Against Civil Injustice in Cincinnati, was quoted by AP, saying, "The older generation of our black leaders just want their faces on TV. They are in this for four things only: reputation, power, politics, and money."

"Indeed much that is now part of mainstream black political thought -- reparations, ending police brutality, economic empowerment, repatriation/pan- Africanism -- were once thought to be the property of black extremist. But no one of Tupac's stature in hip hop is speaking to that reality."
Young black people around the nation express such feelings. In Oakland, California, a city about the size of Cincinnati's, they point to the black undercover police officer shot by two white officers as he was making an arrest, or to the "gang" of at least four officers recently indicted and fired for planting dope, lying in court, and brutality.

Now despite Attorney General John Ashcroft' pledge that the Justice Department will fight racial profiling, the greatest burdens of the justice system are being assumed by the people already suffering.

Walk around Black Community, U.S.A., and you will see more and more young wearing natural hairstyles, dreadlocks and afros. On the political level, the disenfranchisement of black and Latino voters in Florida made it clear that elections can and will be fixed whenever it suits the powers that be -- recalling Malcolm X's words "democracy is nothing but hypocrisy."

Indeed much that is now part of mainstream black political thought -- reparations, ending police brutality, economic empowerment, repatriation/pan-Africanism -- were once thought to be the property of black extremist.

But no one of Tupac's stature in hip hop is speaking to that reality.

Artists now in the spotlight have no voice for change. Their only attempt to be down with the people has come when they need help. Puff Daddy, just acquitted on weapons charges, and Jay-Z, soon to be tried for assault, both put out records and videos professing their innocence. This makes them almost as irrelevant to the problems in the community as traditional black leaders.

Young people still look to Tupac because even in death he is still the only one representing them. He might have looked on at the looting, rampaging, angry, and organizing youth in Cincinnati and said "I ain't mad at cha."

He would have said just what they needed to hear and they would have listened, he would have spoke to and for them, as was his destiny.

PNS commentator Kevin Weston, a poet and hip hop entrepreneur, is the verse editor at the San Francisco Bayview and an editor at Youth Outlook Magazine.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close