Tupac Shakur’s Life Reflected In The Words of Author Kevin Powell On The 25th Anniversary of Pac’s Death

I wrote this poem to honor, first, Tupac Shakur, on the passing of his life.
I was there in Las Vegas the day he died, and it is a day I shall never forget, as it remains
one of the saddest periods of my entire time on this earth. I had written three cover stories
on Tupac for VIBE magazine, he had asked me to be Alex Haley to his Malcolm X.
Little did I know, but perhaps he knew—

I was literally in my hotel room watching HBO, watching Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”
movie, ironically; and just at that very moment when Malcolm, as played by Denzel Washington, was heading to the Audubon Ballroom in New York City to meet his fate, I got a call from a fellow journalist saying “Tupac is dead. We have to go to the hospital.” I did not cry in that moment, but I would be in shock for a very long time. That
is why this poem about Tupac Shakur.

But as the poetry came to me I kept hearing The Notorious B.I.G.’s voice as well,
which is why it is entitled “Tupac and Biggie.” Because Biggie’s death shocked me too.

And like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., or The Beatles’ John Lennon and Paul McCartney, in many ways it is impossible to separate ‘Pac and Biggie, both of whom I knew. They were friends, then they were not. They
were killed six months apart. Both their murders remain unsolved.
But I likewise wrote this poem, as a Black male, to try to make sense of what
we have to go through in America, in this world, the things thrown
at us from all angles, the things we internalize and do to ourselves, to each other, too.

I wrote this poem for fallen soldiers like Tupac and Biggie, and for so many of us
we have lost young, in their prime. Yes, this poem is for the brothers who ain’t here,
but it is also for us brothers who still are—


Tupac and Biggie

i heard his name first

juiced for freedom

like digital underground

railroads and

the sonic blasts

of brendas having babies

was that a movie or

was that life and soundcloud as art

homies can call

but what do black

boys do when we are

trapped in concrete

boxes forever ever

forever ever

fear is a prison

but so is fame too

but what is fame

is the only bus ticket

you got to make it

from the cradle

to the grave

made me think of

revolutions won

and revolutions lost

of assata’s great expectations

of black panthers

dead and gone

while panther cubs

leak tears made of

napalm and the muscular

tails of charcoal-grey ‘hood rats

made me think of

apartheid

winnie and nelson mandela

of run jesse run

of nations of islam

and new africas

blowin’ in the wind

say his name

tupac amaru shakur

shining serpent

who is thankful

to be alive in spite of

absent father

imprisoned stepfather

crack cocaine

police raids

and political movements

from one ghetto

to the next

hip-hop

started out in the park

created by black and

brown boys looking

for frederick douglass

the north star

and the perfect

beat

they called him

mc new york in baltimore

a motherless and fatherless

child in the bay area

tupac

who contorted and coiled his voice into

an ebonics symphony

of urban american patois

breakdancing to the malnourished imaginations

of king’s and kennedy’s poor people’s campaigns

tupac

america’s most wanted

political rabble-rouser with a drum beat

beats like the invisible hands of motherlands

come

and motherlands gone

but hip-hop also is the

west indies

and latinx folks too

hip-hop is

christopher wallace

son of jamaican immigrants

jamaica where they toasted

and blew out massive sound systems

jamaica where marcus garvey first

painted it black

the fleshless self-esteem

of ex-slaves asking jah

for a boat ride that drops-kicks them in

an un-colonized and an un-gentrified heaven

jamaica that gave us a founding father

of hip-hop kool herc

and half of brooklyn

where brooklyn at

it is right here biggie smalls

cool-posing on an onion-scented street corner

in a tight yoruba prayer circle

they call a cypher

as shorttallfatskinnydamaged bodies

rhyme and shine the shoes of the blues

of palecoconutyellowredbrownjetblack boys

who considered suicide when

rainbows became coalitions

of the haves and the have nots

biggie

the greatest storyteller

never to win a pulitzer

biggie

who contorted and coiled his voice into

an ebonics symphony

of brooklyn patois

breakdancing to the malnourished imaginations

of king’s and kennedy’s poor people’s campaigns

where brooklyn at

it is right here the notorious b.i.g.

because even gangsters trademark

their names into the history books

of godfathers and macks and superflys

where brooklyn at

right there

where grandmaster flowers

and big daddy kane and stetsasonic

and sawed-off shotguns

and crack vials and crippled

public schools wheel-chaired the way

for you

biggie

so that you could

battle royale rhymes

like mario puzo

dry-humping bloody mobsters

and scandalous politicians

and greasy-haired preachers

like don corleone

cupping your chin

the way the devil would cup

death itself

the way bootsy collins would cup and drink

the wet, sultry licks of his guitar

just means you tupac you biggie

trade war stories

the way trump trades war stories

with fascist mirrors at the white house

means you all

got soul

like iceberg slim had sold his soul

where brooklyn at

right next to harlem and east harlem

tupac the places you were born and lived

like baltimore and marin city

and the sunny pot-holed gutters of los angeles

and atlanta

where they birth and bury kings

and call it racial progress

where brooklyn at

in that one time you and biggie

swapped eye sockets and took photos

as friends

together

apart

two black boys about to be their

generation’s elvis and buddy holly

their generation’s john lennon

and marvin gaye

big yeah like biggie big

peace in the beginning

but then who shot ya

became the soundtrack

for the dirty half dozens

in green camouflaged armor

crooked finger-pointing

contests that turned into

your coast versus my coast

even though ain’t nobody own

either coast

but we know they like to

be slave masters and overseers

and loose black boys on each other

like stink-breathed barking dogs

leaping at and gut-bombing marchers

in john coltrane’s alabama

except we marching to jail and cemeteries

not toward the moon or the stars or the sun

it is black boys against each other

as poison is poured over

our dream-y american gumbo

hit ‘em up

dis you dis your wife dis your life

dis your career

volcano anger stove-boiled by years

of trauma and dear

mamas addicted

to white lines and hypnotic needles

frozen in the medieval times of warriors

as political prisoners

like mutulu like mutulu like mutulu

hypnotized

we eat and swallow ourselves

and each other

the way we eat and swallow watermelon seeds

grow

ride

die

for death

atop death row SUVs

we join elvis in vegas and los angeles

hang lynch mob ropes around our necks like

they are electric kool-aid acid tests

until we are gunned down

in cars

the way elvis sat on that toilet bowl

waiting for his soul

to flush him into

graceland forever ever

born again six months apart

two dead black boys joined at the lips

of hip-hop’s smithsonian institution

gone

because they value you more

dead

than alive

gemini twins that you both are

black boys ain’t ‘spose to live long

we ‘spose to live hard fast short painful

the way they rolled up the torture of jesus

and smoked him on the crucifix

until his humiliation

dripped dripped dripped

an old negro spiritual

into the resurrected earth

of the unbelievable

and our eyes slap box with the white jesus

as we wait for this or that black jesus

named makaveli or big poppa

eyesfacesskins don’t lie

they are permanent graffiti murals

for the brothers who ain’t here

these photos of them

permanent graffiti murals

black white

in living color

teardrops

lonely teardrops

jesus-walking

like raindrops

shaped like bullet shells

sculpted by the sawdust hands of the lawd

the fears I we still carry

around all these years later

like prison chains about our tattooed wrists

wondering where all those

bullets came from

wondering why

we they would kill

black boys who only

want to be

free

Friday, June 1, 2018

10:56AM

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