Seventeen years ago, on September 13th, 1996 at 4:03PM, Tupac Amaru Shakur died. It was an unfathomable day for anyone who believed in the power of Pac. Here was a man who once growled “Five shots couldn’t drop me / I took it and smiled” so a silly couple of bullets in Las Vegas, Nevada couldn’t fade hip-hop’s favorite shit-talker. Impossible. The weeklong waiting game was Pac’s way of making us sweat. He wanted to wait until the very last minute to pop up and say, “Ha! Fooled you muthafuckers. I’m still here.”
That was all part of his rebellious mystique.
Pac had you feeling like you finally found him in his most vulnerable moments only for him to turn around and let the beast out. After surviving his first shooting, he sat in a wheelchair in a courtroom awaiting his charges for sexual assault, and with his hand in a bandage flipped the bird to the nearest media camera.
That’s just the kind of man that he was.
Pac was reckless, inconsistently consistent, the tightest loose cannon. Yet bionic. It’s no wonder why there are so many conspiracy theorists that believe he’s still alive. These aren’t the same breed of yahoos who claim to have witnessed Elvis rocking back and forth in a chair on his porch in Graceland years after his death. This variety of cult followers pontificate about Machiavelli and feigning one’s own death. Tupac read about Machiavelli while in prison, briefly changed his name to Makaveli, boasted the seven-day theory and miraculously died within seven days of being shot. Understandably suspicious. “He’s in Cuba,” they assure us. But what if they’re right? Not about the Cuba part – though if that were true, he’d definitely be hanging with Auntie Assata. But what if it is true? What if Tupac is still alive? He is, you know.
There is not a single limb attached the family tree of hip-hop that doesn’t have leaves bearing Tupac’s semblance. Tupac’s DNA is splattered across every artist’s mp3 that floods rap blogs, every drop of sweat left on mics at hip-hop shows. He’s there, and had he never been there, then neither would they.
It goes well beyond cadence. Of course artists like Master P and later on The Game adopted Pac’s West Coast infused long drawn out annunciation of the last word in every bar. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Tupac added a new dimension of masculinity to rap. At times too masculine, especially when the misogyny poured out. But he’d temper it with a deeper understanding of the feminine psyche through observing his mother Afeni. In doing so his bipolar mind struck a balance on record, except when he hopped on his podium. His rants were fiery, to the point where after listening you’d check your body to make sure he didn’t shoot you with his mouth. His gumption was captivating. He had no fucks left to give, so all he could give you was his anger, hugged by charisma. Now though, he passes that on to his next of kin.
When 50 Cent was shot nine times, Tupac was in the hospital telling him to wake his ass up. He told 50 to hit the gym and emerge like the phoenix to remind everyone that the greatest shit talkers are those who have already ducked death. They don’t fear their own demise since they’ve already died. Tupac reminded 50 Cent that a bullet to the jaw only gave him a bigger mouth. Fifty listened.
Tupac was sitting next to Kanye West when Ye announced that George W. Bush didn’t care about black people. He showed up again to help Kanye son Taylor Swift when he felt that Beyoncé deserved her MTV VMA. He’s tiptoed backstage during every concert swirling with Kanye’s tantrums. Tupac is omnipresent.
Tupac was in the studio when Kendrick Lamar wrote his “Control” verse. He reminded Kendrick that he too challenged New York and he too felt like New York had run its course in rap. He told Kendrick that a dude from Compton had every right to snatch the East Coast crown if no one was properly taking care of it.
And despite sharing more enemies than friends, Tupac told Jay Z that no beef is worth losing his life. Keep his issues on wax, and when the beef escalates, offer your opponent a record deal. That’s the gentlemanly way of doing things, because the alternate is losing the King of The East and the King of The West in less than a year of each other.
Maybe we won’t ever find a recent photo of Tupac Shakur in a rocking chair on the porch of his home, but we don’t need one to know he’s alive. Every time we press play we’re reminded he’s always there.
Follow Kathy Iandoli on Twitter here @kath3000