Friday, November 13, 2009

After Tupac

I just finished Jacqueline Woodson's After Tupac and D Foster, and I loved it so much. I was too cool (or at least too "alternative") for 2Pac when he was alive, when I was in high school and then college. I don't remember hearing anything at all about his death--but he died less than two months after my father committed suicide, so it makes sense that it wouldn't have registered. Very little registered at that point.

As my music taste evolved, I did buy a Tupac compilation bootleg CD in downtown Brooklyn, and I've worn that thing out. But it's only got eighteen of his 393 songs (that's according to iTunes, and includes remixes and all that stuff--but he had a lot of songs) so after reading After Tupac and D Foster I especially had to go track down "Brenda's Got a Baby."

I didn't realize how intense a song this was while I was reading the book--I was assuming it was just coming across as so intense because the main characters in the book are twelve years old, and I thought "Father Figure" was intense when I was twelve. But--damn.

The main character talks a lot about how beautiful Tupac's eyes are: "He had the prettiest eyes of any rapper--they were all big and sad-looking and he had dark eyebrows that were so thick, they made you think about soft things." I can see what she means. She describes him singing in "Brenda's Got a Baby": "His eyes looked sad like he was really singing about the truth and somebody he knew real good."

"Dear Mama" is also really important in After Tupac and D Foster, and if I'd listened to it at twelve I would've probably loved it too--but coming to it in my 30's it feels sorta power ballad mushy. (This one was on my bootleg CD, so I knew it, but--yeah.) Of course, the video still made me cry watching it just now, right after reading After Tupac and D Foster. I knew it would.

I do love how much respect he shows to women in his music. This is probably my favorite Tupac song from my bootleg CD:

There's also a lot of talk about his trial in the book. The main character's mama says, "They say the judge didn't like the tattoo--didn't think it was something a person should have written on themselves. That's that boy's own body. ... It's not the judge's business. ... First Amendment says people got a right to freedom of expression without government interfering--everybody knows that. Judge doesn't like the way he looks, didn't like the way he was in the world, what he talks about, what's on his stomach...that's the crime here." The narrator says, "Mama wasn't a big Tupac fan, but she was a big fan of justice." ("The tattoo" was THUG LIFE--click on the image to see it bigger.)


Another girl in the book, D, says, "It's like he sees stuff, you know? And he knows stuff. And he be thinking stuff that only somebody who knows that kinda living deep and true could know and think."

Tupac was 25 when he died. That's eight years younger than I am right now.

1 comment:

sam said...

Thanks, Elissa. Good thoughts to ponder. It strikes me that Tupac could really see the humanity of life on the street. Many rappers today talk about "taking it back to the street" or some such, but for most it seems a mythological pageant of combat with little room for real humanity.