Among all of various genres and movement of creative throughout history, Black art stands out with grace, novelty, and innovation. Black art was forged out of the black community’s’ strength and willpower, something which has allowed us to resist for 400 years. When we were chained, we used our shackles as an instrument. When our language was stripped from us, we took English and contorted into our own dialect. We mocked our oppressors in their own language. We took their opera and classical music and make it into Jazz. As we picked cotton, we crafted melodies and folk tune that would last over a century. Those tunes would transform into rock n roll. It was blacks who were the ones commixed instruments into the cadence of rock. It was whites who took it from us and made Elvis the man who created it. So, we went back to our roots and created funk. From funk, we molded a genre of music never heard before now: hip-hop. Hip hop is the intersection of black literary excellence and black musical excellence. It is a black art which, at its pure on-capitalistic form, reflects the lives of blacks.
One of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time is Tupac. Though he was and still is, though, of a rapper, Pac was just as much of a poet. His lyrics combined the flow and imagery of poetry with various elements of rap. His poetry has the stanzas and the rhyme scheme of rap. Thus, his music also literature and his poems were music too. You could compare him to either Biggie or James Baldwin. For instance, Tupac’s poem, I cry.
Sometimes when I’m alone
Cause I am on my own.
The tears I cry are bitter and warm.
They flow with life but take no form
I Cry because my heart is torn.
I find it difficult to carry on.
If I had an ear to confiding,
I would cry among my treasured friend,
but who do you know that stops that long,
to help another carry on.
The world moves fast and it would rather pass by.
Then to stop and see what makes one cry,
so painful and sad.
and no one cares about why.
Though this is a poem, you can see the pacing of rap in it. If you were to spit this over a beat, it would align itself with the music. Though Tupac is not the only rapper to also be a poet, no one has managed to do it like he did. Tupac’s style of writing the kind of novelty which only happens once.
What makes Tupac truly iconic is what he stood for. Pac focuses his music and life on the fighting the social issues which plagued the black community. He used his music as activism against racism in America. He was the voice for so many poor black people who lacked the resources to speak for themselves. He wanted to uplift his community and let down know that they can handle whatever white America comes at them with. He wanted black people to unite against those who would seek to erase them. Pac was also one of the few rappers who openly talked about rape culture. An example of this is in his song Keep Your Head Up.
You know what makes me unhappy? When brothers make babies and leave a young mother to be a pappy
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up?
I know you’re fed up, ladies, but keep your head up
Pac spoke about women’s issue in his music and in interviews multiple times. Though he had moments of sexism in his career, he still tried to do right by women.
Tupac’s thug life persona was more important to black people than many realize. His thug life persona was a composite of black stereotypes. This may not seem like a good think but it was. Pac showed us that we did not have to be respectable negros. He showed that we can be loud and ghetto if we want. We do not have to conform to the standards of white America.
There will never be another Tupac. He was a legend and will be cemented as one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time.
Author: Jaylen Pearson
Editor: Han Angus
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.