Happy birthday, Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)

June 16th, 2014 by | Tags: , ,

“June one-six seven-one, the day/mama pushed me out her womb, told me, ‘Nigga, get paid.'”

“Krazy” is track eight on Tupac’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. It’s a little over five minutes long, was produced by Darryl “Big D” Harper, and it’s a pretty good example of what Tupac was best at: being honest. I don’t mean honest in the strictest sense of the word. Tupac’s honesty was rarely “this actually happened to me.” But he excelled at “this actually happens” honesty, that kind of realism where he’s reflecting real life and using himself or a story he tells as the message. He excelled at telling his story, your story, and my story.

Tupac explains himself immediately: “Last year was a hard one, but life goes on.” And it’s true. No matter how bad things get, no matter how heavy that weight, life is going to go on whether you want it to or not. You can keep up or fall behind. “Krazy” is an admission of vulnerability, a song that says that Tupac doesn’t have it all together, but he’s doing better than he was, and he’s gonna do better than he did.

Coping is hard. Waking up, putting on a smile, and going to work when you’d rather sink into your bed and sleep another day away is hard. Working up the nerve to do stuff you know you enjoy doing is an absurd situation, but a real one.

For Pac, coping meant looking toward the future, toward better days to come, and making sure he recognizes the blessings of today. It meant smoking weed and hoping that it gets you high so you can escape from the stress. Even when it’s dark, make it a point to emphasize the light. For Bad Azz, who holds down the third verse, it’s chasing money so he can chase the things he wants, even though that comes with pleasure and pain. “Having money’s not everything, but not having it is,” right?

I’ve been listening to a lot of coping music lately. Pharoahe Monch’s PTSD tackles despair head-on and balances it with dreams, discussing what it’s like to adjust to your new status quo after experiencing something awful or draining, and the idea of suicide as a potential energy. Kid Cudi’s made a career out of openly discussing depression and finding your own way. I think my favorite example is on “Just What I Am,” when he says “I had to ball for therapy, my shrink don’t think that helps at all, whatever/This man ain’t wearing these leather pants.” I like Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon for similar reasons.

The Cudi and Monch albums are two of my favorite releases this year for the same reason I like Tupac’s “Krazy” so much. There’s something deeply attractive about breaking the facade of perfection and revealing the human being underneath. It’s still a performance, all of these men are playing a role, but they artfully manage to not just express fears, but express them in such a way that you can deeply relate to what they’re talking about. It feels real, and because of that real-ness, we can steal a bit of strength from it for ourselves. If he made it, we can, too.

Tupac would’ve been 43 today. Happy birthday, Pac. I’m glad you shared your life with us.

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