Tupac Shakur: What If?

Tupac Amaru Shakur was many things to many people. Rebel. Poet. Sex Symbol. Skinny dude with a big mouth. But to most of our generation, Tupac was an icon that represented both the promise and the trappings of youth. A man who teetered on the cusp of truly taking a leadership role in the direction […]

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Tupac Amaru Shakur was many things to many people. Rebel. Poet. Sex Symbol. Skinny dude with a big mouth. But to most of our generation, Tupac was an icon that represented both the promise and the trappings of youth. A man who teetered on the cusp of truly taking a leadership role in the direction of his people, still chained to the ignorance of reckless young adulthood. On that fateful September 7, 1996, those shots precipitated the end of a life that showed flashes of brilliance and rage. It took from us a galvanizing, yet polarizing presence from both our music and our culture. Here, on the tenth anniversary of his passing, we ask the question: What if Tupac survived that day?

Damn, gotta keep my eyes open. Can’t f**king believe I left the hotel with no f**kin vest. [Cough] I gotta cut this s**t out, man, I just went through this two years ago. I don’t even know where the nearest hospital is, we in the motherf**kin’ desert. Didn’t even want to go to this fight man, it’s been crazy out here. This Death Row s**t really got me over my head. Man, I just wanted out of that cell man I didn’t sign on for all this. This aint….

And then I blacked out. Next thing I know, it’s tubes and s**t. Machines. It was worse than New York. All I could think about was, “What if this was it?” Man I figured two more albums, I can get off this s**t, start my own label, see if me and Biggie could get back up. Hope he knew I was just trying to sell some records. Suge and them is cool man, but this s**t ain’t what I’m about. We been through some s**t, but momma taught me way better than that. Just play the role man. Two…more…albums.

Like the robbery in New York, two years earlier, Tupac recovered. He went on to release his much-heralded Makaveli: The Phoenix double album, which quickly shot to number one on the charts and went on to sell three million copies. Tupac and Death Row, seemed unstoppable. But there was something different about his music.  There was a renewed sense of energy and purpose to it. Not as drenched in machismo as All Eyes on Me, Makaveli presented a combination of street game and Black power not seen since Ice Cube’s first two solo albums. Then came the announcement we all thought we would never see: Tupac decided he’d had enough. He would not renew his Death Row contract, much to the chagrin of Suge Knight, who had already lost the genius of Dr. Dre.

‘Pac definitely put the pressure on me, ya know? Duke hit us hard with the Makaveli album. Man, I was mad as hell at duke, but I couldn’t even front man, I scrapped my whole album ya know? At the time, I was laid up or whatever. Cease crashed the car and s**t, I couldn’t even standup in the booth, dog. I didn’t have that energy, that same force, ya know? I wasn’t gone’ drop no bulls**t, I had to put out the best s**t. Life After Death was my baby, and the first round ‘Pac crushed what we had, I knew I was up against the wall. Then I got that call…

House of Blues, Chicago. February 17, 1997. A day most of the world had thought impossible. During a set promoting some new songs from the upcoming Life After Death album, the unthinkable happened: Tupac emerged from the audience during a performance of the party-themed track, “Hypnotize.” The crowd was buzzing. The feud of the last two years, forcing almost the whole culture to take sides, had finally come to a head. It was almost like Wrestlemania, watching Hulk Hogan walk towards the Macho Man, wondering if it was friend or foe. The DJ scratched the record and tension was high. Tupac grabs the mic from Lil’ Cease and does his verse from that freestyle which seemed so long ago in New York…

Man, I don’t even think Biggie knew what to do. The look on his face was priceless. I guess I gave him no choice but to keep up, so he kicked his verse. You know that seven Mac-11 s**t. Fronting ass. But he had it right. N***as is actors…n***as deserve Oscars. It was time for me to take a bigger stage.

And with that, Tupac and Biggie repaired their damaged relationship. ‘Pac even hopped on a Bad Boy remix or two. They had planned a tour. The reunion. They even shot dice for headliner rights. As luck would have it, Tupac was a bit luckier than his larger friend and got headlining rights. Life After Death, which featured two cameos with ‘Pac, and a ridiculous guest-spot by burgeoning Brooklyn vet Jay-Z, subsequently went to the top of the charts.

After the tour, something began to trouble Tupac. As they toured from city to city, he began to notice some real problems in the communities where they stopped. The amazingly high rate of illiteracy in New Orleans. The problems between Black and Brown bubbling on the West Coast. The escalation of gang violence across the country. Tupac felt obligated to try and fix some of these things, and while music was an effective vehicle and acting allowed him a greater visibility, he thought he could do something more. So he made the rounds. Sought out all the old players. Met with Sharpton. Jackson. Minister Farakhan. Each meeting left him more deflated. More of the same rhetoric. More of the talk that seemed to run concurrent with the disintegration of the Black Panther lineage that ran through his veins. It was time to act.

Unsure of how to act, he did what he did best: He went to the studio. Calling in favors and making connections with newer, bolder artists, including the fledgling militant group dead prez, and the outspoken Immortal Technique, Tupac reappeared with his magnum opus, Heaven Can’t Wait.

Brother, I knew when that s**t dropped it was gonna be the end. There was so much fire on that album, mayne. It was like It Takes a Nation 1998. I ain’t even know Hank Shocklee still did beats. Even Johnny J came with some hard s**t. But what was important was the message. That call for unity. For economic empowerment. For Black Self Determination. Man, it was all there. Then ‘Pac took it to another level. Dude got a parade permit for the Washington Monument! Mayne, it aint been nothing that big there since the March on Washington. I mean props to all that Million Man March stuff. But this was different. This was action. We were on the cusp of something new. And then it all came crashing down…

On September 11,1999 Tupac Amaru Shakur left his recording studio at 4:00AM. Another marathon session, no different than the one he was famous for. Knocked out another three songs – just to have in the clip. He was full of nervous energy at the prospect of bringing his new message to the world in the coming days. At the seat of power. He had wrapped the album weeks before, but that was Tupac. Studioholic. As he got to his car, he noticed some rustling in the bushes, but decided to ignore it. He hit the road, half asleep, and decided not to meet up with everyone at the club, but to go home. The half-hour drive seemed to go as normal when ‘Pac began to notice he was being followed. He tried to slow up to see if he could get a license plate number from his mirror, and he noticed diplomatic plates. His hand on the heat, Tupac relaxed. The car behind him got closer. Closer. Closer. Shakur nodded off for a half second and noticed the car right beside him. Lonely road, no other car in sight, and another car playing him close. As he rolled down his window to identify the problem, he failed to notice an obstruction ahead. Shakur swerved at the last minute to avoid it and lost control of the car. He crashed into a tree and was thrown from the car before impact. Amazingly, the other cars didn’t stop to help, nor did they call it in. His body was found the next morning. Tupac Amaru Shakur, on the eve of his greatest and most important moment was dead, at the Young age of 28.

Aww man, it just sucked the life out of us. The show had to go on, ‘Pac woulda wanted it that way, but it wasn’t the same. The show didn’t have that passion that fire that only ‘Pac could bring. We had tons of people show up to support and fill his shoes. Biggie wasn’t really into all that pro-Black s**t, but he came through for a set with Kim and that dude, Jay-Z. Chuck D and Cube came in the spirit of Hotep, ya know? Trying to recoup some of that fire. Paris was there too. But it wasn’t the same. Three hundred thousand people showed up, but it just wasn’t the same. Not without him there. But I will say this – when ‘Pac died, n***as got the message, man. You know, they prolly never found out what really went down. They say there was paint from another car on the side of his Benz when they found the wreckage. Amazingly, there’s no footage from any of the tollbooths, as far as cars with that matching paint color. I don’t know why the cameras picked now to not work, they work when I get speeding tickets, but f**k it, man. ‘Pac’s death made us that much closer. We had something to fight for and he left us all charged with doing what we could in our own capacity to make things better for our people. We owe him so much for that. Just a few years ago, on that night in Vegas, that woulda been such a cheap death – mixed up in all kinds of s**t. Making music that really wasn’t him. At odds with is best friend. That s**t would have been such a tragic waste. But this, if you can call it that, it was a good death. What they call a pyhric victory. See, we lost a general. A former soldier who finally got to be a leader. And we all got the message, Hotep.

Picture James Dean fat and balding. Picture Marilyn Monroe with varicose veins. Picture JFK getting into some Clintonian scandal involving some h##### and being impeached. Picture Martin and Coretta divorced after King gets caught with a White woman. Picture Roberto Clemente dropping fly balls and not having the arm to throw out a player from the outfield. Some people have a destiny.

Death can be liberation. Sometimes it allows us to see the greatness, and prevents our giants from depreciating before our eyes. With Pac, we get to appreciate the good, and ponder what might have been. What if…

Rest In Peace Tupac. We’ll mourn you ‘til we join you.