I didn’t want to rap until 2Pac.

No, it wasn’t some instantaneous bolt of lightning the moment I heard my first 2Pac song (Probably “I Get Around”).

No, it wasn’t when I was sitting in my kitchen as a teenager singing “Keep Ya Head Up” with my nephew’s dad. Nor was it the first time I watched the “Dear Mama” video.

And no, it wasn’t when 2Pac decided to share with Biggie and the world exactly what he did with Big’s wife, Faith.

It was the first time I watched the “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” video one morning before school. It was a few days after he had passed from his gunshot wounds in Las Vegas.

In the video, 2Pac was killed in an eerily similar way to real life. Bokeem Woodbine was devastated. 2Pac is welcomed into heaven by familiar musical legends of the past, then he begins rapping his song. Bokeem is still struggling with losing his friend back on Earth.

My thirteen-year-old mind couldn’t fathom it. How in the hell did he make a music video depicting his own death in the same way he actually died? While the lyrics pertain to 2Pac not being mad at friends in the past, how did it almost feel like he was saying he wasn’t mad at the fact he was killed, both in the video and in the song?

And how come no one told me hip-hop was capable of telling such moving imagery from just the lyrics?

It took a few more months but “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” was the catalyst of me writing my first rhymes. A lot of kids my age gravitated to 2Pac, consuming his entire catalog and taking up the causes that may have led to his death. They were also in junior high, so there wasn’t much they could do if they didn’t like Biggie and Bad Boy.

Me? I gravitated to Biggie and Bad Boy, then Puff, then over to DMX, Nas by 1999, and eventually landing on Jay-Z. I only listened to 2Pac when he came on the radio or on a music video. I concluded that while he had a big personality, his rapping was pretty basic to me, so I left it at that.

Last June, I stood in my kitchen and cried while I watched his sister accept his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There were a few deep sobs. I think the reason why I was emotional was because it felt like 2Pac had finally been recognized for the contributions he made to the arts while he was alive, when usually, people only talk about him because of how he died. And yes, I know how easy it is for people to get a star, but since it was almost 27 years since he passed, his spot on the Walk of Fame felt earned.

It also signified a huge change in how I view Tupac Amaru Shakur now versus when I was in my 20s and early 30s. Pac was so much more than a rapper, I just couldn’t see it.

Now for those of you who don’t know, I love a good oral history. In June 2021, Sheldon Pearce released Changes: An Oral History Of Tupac Shakur. In September of 2022, I posted my review on Goodreads and on this site. I also stumbled down a YouTube rabbit hole about his life from the time he left prison to the time he died. Just like many things before him, Pac became my new obsession, as I wanted to piece together as much as I could about him. But mostly, I just wanted to know why he did the things he did.

So, in no particular order, here are 5 things that I’ve learned from Tupac:

It really is me against the world. Hear me out. I’m not saying that you have to hold everything inside and not trust anyone. Doing the opposite of those things helps you cope with the world on a daily basis. But, when you close your eyes at night, it’s only you and your thoughts. You and the person you try to be every day. You make the choices that help you become who you are. Yes, we’re all influenced by our family and other circumstances but who you are in life is up to you. Tupac was the same guy who threatened a ton of people in his songs but sang The Lion King soundtrack during a photoshoot. He knew who he was and he didn’t shy away from it. It was him and against the world. And it’s the same way for everyone.

When you find something you love, do it. Pac was a studio rat. While that could have been because he thought his bail would be revoked or he was trying to get out of his Interscope deal or because he really thought he was going to die soon, the point is that he recorded a ton of music in the last 11 months of his life. Almost any artist that was in the studio with him said he was pulling up beats, knocking out three verses (not always his), doing the hook, and moving on to the next one. He would go to the studio after being on movie sets all day. He was constantly doing what he loved.

I know that what we love isn’t necessarily our jobs. But when you get the opportunity and you’re up for it, go do it the thing you love (as long as it doesn’t hurt yourself or others). Tupac knew he only had so much time to accomplish his goals, so he set out to do them, whatever the reason. I suggest you do the same. And now I sound like Gary Vee.

It’s okay to be emotional. There has never been an artist who showcased all their emotions like Tupac. For every “I Get Around”, there’s a “Hit Em Up”. For every “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch” he has “Brenda Has A Baby”. For every angry weed and alcohol fueled thing he spewed at his enemies, he had a ton of other quiet, thought provoking interviews that got his point across without the anger. Kendrick Lamar built the premise of To Pimp A Butterfly off of one of these calmer Tupac interviews from 1994.

While some artists are criticized for growing or for trying something new or for retreading the same themes of previous projects, Pac never had a fear of that. On all 4 of the studio albums released during his lifetime (5 if you include Thug Life Volume 1), the content shifts depending on his mood. Pac was a poet and he never allowed himself to be put into a box. Even on Don Killuminati, at his most vicious, he still managed to deliver one of hip-hop’s most classic concepts (borrowed from Nas) for “Me and My Girlfriend”.

Tupac wore his heart on his sleeve in life and in his music. He felt the way about Biggie and Bad Boy because he felt honestly betrayed. He wanted to do the One Nation project because he was born and raised on the East coast and he still had a lot of love for the East despite everything that had occurred in 1996. He did things the way he did to get his point across. It wasn’t always the right way (one of the reasons he’s not alive today) but you definitely did not miss his point, however he was making it.

So, don’t give me that old adage that boys don’t cry or tell me that you’re not allowed to get angry because of how it looked. How you feel is how you feel and the healthy way to deal with your feelings is to express them. Sad, mad, happy, depressed, tense, and everything in between, you need to let it out. How people react to your emotions is on them.

You don’t have to do just one thing. I already mentioned that Tupac was a poet. He has an entire book of his poems that was published as The Rose That Grew From Concrete. And obviously he was a rapper and an actor. Those close to him have even said how Pac was determined to pursue more acting than music in his near future. His portrayal of Bishop in Juice crossed over from being iconic in the hood to iconic in cinema. His Birdie from Above The Rim came off as menacing, yet wildly charismatic. He has a romantic comedy to his credit that still holds up today alongside Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice. And he even showed his range by playing a cop in Gang Related. Your results may vary from there though.

He wanted to start programs that would help those suffering in poverty in the ghettos he was raised in. He spoke out about the way the system of designed to hold people of color back. He spoke highly of black women and their importance in black families and black culture. His style throughout the last year of his life was heavily influenced by high fashion, and he participated in fashion shows in Europe a few months before his death.

And he was doing all this while recording at breakneck speeds.

Jack of all trades, master of none has long been bandied about to describe someone who could do a lot of things but not doing the work to perfect one skill, a backhanded compliment at best. Tupac defied this figure of speech his entire life by doing whatever he could find passion in, all while excelling in some areas while growing at a high rate in others.

Doing just one thing is boring to me. I can’t just be a rapper, or a writer, or a podcaster, or a Youtuber, or a streamer. I have to be wearing all the hats at all times. If it gets to be too much, I step away from something and come back to it. Until I start getting dedicated income from being one of those things, I can do that. And when the urge comes back, I’ll jump back in with new enthusiasm. Now that my album is approaching the mixing and mastering stages, I’m excited to get some new opportunities to stream again for the first time in a while. My moods come and go, and that’s okay. I’m sure Pac found something else to do when he didn’t feel up to going to the studio (bad example but I’m sure it happened at some point).

Don’t get trapped. I don’t think Tupac would still be alive today if he hadn’t been murdered. I feel like his outspokenness and his wanting to help his people would have put him in a political arena where he could have still been killed for a different reason. Call me pessimistic but that’s the direction I feel like he was headed. And he may have known that too.

From what I can gather, whether his bond got revoked or not, Pac knew he didn’t want to be on Death Row anymore. But because he was a Gemini, he was also fiercely loyal to those who proved themselves to him. This is why despite multiple reports I’ve seen of the money not adding up as All Eyez On Me flew off shelves, Pac still had love for Suge Knight.

How I understand it, Suge was the only one who gave Pac a solution to getting out of prison, even temporarily. On the other hand, getting the red-carpet treatment from Death Row when got out and seeing the fear that Suge instilled in others appealed to him, especially with the frame of mind he was in after getting shot (allegedly by his friends) and feeling like he was wrongfully convicted (amongst other gripes). He wanted that safety that Death Row provided and once he got used to it, that’s why we saw an angrier version of Tupac Shakur the more he progressed through 1996. He was paranoid but he also think he felt a little untouchable (again, he was a Gemini).

Pac didn’t even want to go to Vegas, but did so because Suge asked him to (where he got into the altercation with Orlando Anderson). He wanted to stay in his hotel with Kidada Jones (his fiancé, who didn’t even want to be in Las Vegas) but he told Suge he would still attend his post Mike Tyson fight party at Suge’s club, 662.

Tupac never made it past the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane that night.

Despite being one of the most famous people in the world, Tupac Shakur was shot for a second time in 2 years and died 6 days later. His loyalty to Suge and the bravado of Death Row Records ended his life at only 25 years old. He had trapped himself. “Trapped” was the name of Pac’s first single from 2Pacalypse Now.

No matter what you have going on in life, you should always have a parachute.

I started writing this piece the day Tupac got his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. And then I stopped. I picked it back up in September around the anniversary of his fatal shooting. And then I stopped.

For the life of me, I didn’t know how to end this. I listed five things I learned from Pac’s life and untimely death. But where was the coup de grâce?

For one of my birthday gifts, Angel got the family tickets for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The Hip-Hop At 50 exhibit was still on display. As I walked through, stopping for minutes at time to look at the memorabilia, I was overcome with emotion.

So many of these artists that that very exhibit displayed, where the same musicians I had been idolizing and studying since middle school.I could read Prince Paul’s notes on 3 Feet High And Rising. I swelled with joy seeing 2023 inductee Missy Elliott’s display. I read Beastie Boys lyrics scrawled on old notepads with the Tide logo at the top of each sheet.I grinned looking at the shiny suits from “Mo Money, Mo Problems”. But one thing stopped me in my tracks.

In Tupac’s display, there’s a Rolling Stone cover he adorned, handwritten lyrics to “Runnin On E”, and a tracklist for Makaveli. My eyes teared up and I smiled.

For all the good that goes with the bad, I can’t help but be inspired by Tupac. I can’t help it that I relate to him so much. It’s hard for me to pinpoint a spark of life that burned as brightly as him and I missed most of it while he was alive. I was only 13 when he died; I hadn’t been exposed to everything he was beyond the music.

So in that moment, to see his handwriting in person, I was proud all over again. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has seen many people with tattoos enshrined in their walls but there’s only one man wearing Thug Life across his stomach.

Later, we sat in the screening room where they were showing replays of performances by hip-hop inductees. Pac’s musical tributes were last.

Alicia Keys effortlessly floated through several 2Pac hits, in only the way she could. I was in awe of the moment, of the photos of him through the years in the background, and of Alicia making his songs sound as big as they would be if he could’ve been on that stage.

The final song was T.I.’s rendition of “Keep Ya Head Up”. I had forgotten how good T.I. was live and his tribute gave me goosebumps.

I stood up immediately when Tupac’s session ended and went back to exploring the museum. But I knew this visit was the last thing missing to complete this piece.

I needed to see that even after all these years, that ink that Pac put on that paper had forever outlasted him and carried his legacy into the future. I don’t know what he may have been thinking that day but surely, it wasn’t that some fan of mine was going to read his lyrics someday and get emotional over them.

He was probably wanting to get to the next beat so he could record another song.

He may have been needing a refill on his drink or searching for a lighter to relight his blunt or to light a new cigarette.

He might have been trying to decide what to get to eat.

Or about how his mom and sister were.

Or maybe, Tupac Shakur was trying to find the right way to end his verse. The coup de grâce perhaps.

He didn’t finish his verse on the piece of paper that’s in the Hall Of Fame.

But he did finish it. I just listened to it a few minutes ago.

What a legacy.

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