20th Century African-American History
Tupac Shakur’s Battle Cry to America
Tupac Amaru was an eighteenth century Peruvian rebel leader who, although unsuccessful in profoundly altering society during his lifetime, became a symbol for independence and human rights for his people. Two-hundred years later a second great Tupac Amaru is destined for the same fate. Tupac Amaru Shakur was a revolutionary American rapper who used his art to speak and reveal the truth to the public as well as to corporate, government and judicial powers. Tupac’s rags-to-riches story and his constant attention to and actions to improve the ills of the ghettos and black communities represents themes such as agency in the midst of oppression, African-American culture influencing mainstream culture, as well as sankofa. He was a controversial public figure who, although his heart was in the right place, often did not go about dealing with the societal issues which most concerned him in the best way. At age ten, when asked by a minister what he would like to be when he grows up, he responds, “A revolutionary” (McQuillar and Johnson, 39). He truly was. At age twenty, he says during an interview that his lyrics are his battle cry to America (Tupac: Resurrection). They truly were.
Tupac Shakur was born into a life of poverty and hardship to a very involved Black Panther mother and no solid father figure. He spent his childhood living in the ghettos of East Harlem and even when Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, became less involved with the movement it was still very difficult for the high-school dropout and ex-panther with a criminal record to find work to support herself and children. Afeni often did not have an apartment of her own and was forced to take her small family to the homes of relatives and friends, or occasionally to shelters to sleep at night (McQuillar and Johnson, 38-39 and 44). Although Afeni had constant trouble providing economically for her family, she taught Tupac and his younger sister to be community oriented and to analyze society (Tupac: Resurrection). She often brought young Tupac with her when she spoke for black rights at colleges, universities, and rallies. Tupac said the term “black power” was “like a lullaby” to him as a child (McQuillar and Johnson, 39), and he grew up with an ever present, first-hand knowledge of the inequality of his people.
Young Tupac was a quiet and withdrawn kid who loved reading and writing poetry and, in Harlem, was never able to relate to the “hardness” that his peers embodied. When the Shakurs moved to Baltimore, Maryland, Tupac began attending Baltimore School for the Arts where Tupac’s natural curiosity and love of the written word allowed him to connect with the many like-minded students at the school. Baltimore School for the Arts was attended by mostly whites and upper-class minorities, and Tupac found that it was much easier to relate across the races once “you take away the power structure element of white culture and get down to the grassroots level of [it]” (McQuillar and Johnson, 45). Here, Tupac studied the arts of theatre, voice, and ballet, and made life-long friends out of fellow students Jada Pinkett and John Cole. The Shakur’s next move was in 1988 to Marin City, California. Tupac begins to see trends of poverty in black communities and realizes it is something black people all across America share in common.
Drawing inspiration from the social injustice surrounding him and from his own childhood pain, Tupac continues to vent his anger and frustration into his poems and raps. His dream is to use them to reach other people in his situation, to let them know they are not alone and that they need not be ashamed, and also to open...