Tupac’s 40th birthday

Tupac Shakur would have turned 40 today. Weird to think of.

As a rap junkie, I love Tupac. First really knew of him from the song Brenda’s Got a Baby, which continues to circulate on my iPod (a device that, oddly, didn’t exist when he died). I was actually a music writer at The Tennessean when Me Against the World was released. The newspaper wasn’t exactly down with hiphop (though I did convince my editor to let me write a lengthy obit for the Human Beatbox), but they let me review Tupac’s stuff. Which, because it was exceptional, I praised.

For my money, All Eyez on Me is right there with Low End Theory, The Chronic and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back as an all-time, all-time, all-time musical classic. Some of the songs are so blisteringly good, I’ve been known to listen to them five … 10 … 15 times in a row (Here are my two favorites—this and this).

That said, for as much as I love Tupac and miss his original music, I also hate Tupac—because he was a fool. Here was a kid who made it; who succeeded; who survived tough times to emerge as a top-level recording artist/actor/entertainer. He was beyond talented; beyond gifted. And yet, for some inane reason, he couldn’t let go. He had to maintain this gangta, thug, tougher-than-tough persona of talking shit and carrying a gun and beating people up and disrespecting women.

Then, because of that, he died.

Thing is, I don’t even think it was real. Ever hear Tupac in interviews? The guy was a thug as a lima bean. Soft-spoken, insightful, respectful, whole. Truth be told, I think the pull of the image he had created overtook his tur inclinations.

Either way, when he died people pointed to this video and said, “Holy shit—Tupac was a prophet! He knew!”

Well, of course he knew. He chose his own path.

And now, he’s dead. And will remain dead. That’s the saddest part of all. When one’s young and vibrant and alive, he can glorify death as this abstract badge of honor. He can pack heat and talk shit and bark, “I ain’t afraid of dying.” Well, mazel tov. Now you’re dead. And you’re not bragging or laughing or opening Christmas gifts or seeing your children being born and developed. Because you’re dead.