“The truth is, clocks don’t tell time. Time is measured in meaning.” (154)
i made an adjustment to my altars recently, after my dad told me that our family doesn’t burn incense for the living. now, palo santo is on my ancestral altar, and as i lit it this morning, i thought about the twenty years that have passed since tupac was murdered.
1996 was a huge musical year-i discovered the roots, urban hang suite came into my life and moved me in a way that i previously had not experienced, and this was the first time i ever went into denial about the death of someone that i had not met-i would have no way of knowing it then, but the next time would be april 21, 2016, and truth be told, i’m still not convinced that the purple one is gone.
there was a lot of new music, i was coming into my own in terms of shaping the sound that i was seeking to put in my ears (erykah dropped that year too), but pac was already there-he was already in my mind from stictly, and thru his move to death row. that california love knock and video had already cemented itself within my veins. this was the equivalent of ’60s folks knowing exactly where they were when JFK was shot. i wonder how roger troutman felt.
“How no one ever dies here of abuse, of rape, of being killed by the guards. How the records-what records? A prison is a place without history.” (39)
“York knows the truth doesn’t matter in here. Inside, the lies you tell become the person you become. On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their actual size. In here, people grow into their shadows.” (3)
i was seam ripping labels off my clothes and recycling other people’s bottles to scrape together money to buy vibe magazine from the 7-11, so the east coast/west coast beef issue was already in my hands and death was in the air. in fact, pac had been shot, but with my limited shards of his/tory, i knew that he had been shot before, and his legend in prison and the streets preceeded him-i mean, they taught a ucla poetry class about him….
i learned of the actual death through a phone call from a fairweather friend whose smirk i could hear through the rotary, “i’m sorry about tupac, are you going to be ok?”
“of course, he’s going to pull through” (he was on life support, last i checked-in the era before the internet and TMZ and anyone caring about rappers on the west coast of canada).
“no, he was pronounced dead.”
(w h a t).
i was probably silent for so long that homegirl hung up, then snubbed me at school for not saying goodbye, but i didn’t care. and i didn’t say goodbye.
“I became fascinated with how writers did that. How did they make a story feel so complete and yet so open-ended? It was like painting a picture that changed each time you looked at it.” (16)
he seemed immortal (he is immortal and beloved). he was hard and soft, charming and terrifying-that skit on in living color was the epitome of that. he wrote a tribute to his mother in which he referred to her as a crack fiend (“sweet sadie” it was not). he was in love with jada (those appearances on a different world are evidence of that). he said “my adversaries” way too much on records. but he was an educated gangsta, smiling so big through his struggles that my heart felt like it was bursting with or for him, i couldn’t figure out which.
“This got me thinking-if there are things inside us too tiny to see, might there be things outside us too big to believe?” (49)
through all the (terrible) post-humous releases, the hologram, the forgotten moment when ja rule tried to jack his style (see: “can i get a..” or “holla holla” videos), i couldn’t believe it. in retrospect, perhaps this was why i was so mad at jay-z and beyonce for using tupac and prince in the same hook (but somehow i let toni braxton escape scorn) simply with a graffiti shoutout.
“Back in the early 1800s, a company in Louisiana called Dugdemona Holdings made these cages from wood they imported from Africa on the slave ships. The slaves made the cages and sometimes died in them. The cages were sold to small towns where jailers needed a place to hold the ranting or insane, and to plantations where owners needed a holding cell for runaways.” (8)
maybe i hang onto tupac because of everything that remains unresolved-his murder, the conditions and realities of the prison industrial complex, the assault on possibility of being more than one thing and thus, the possibility of being all the things? the injustice of getting out just to get dead, the reminder to live each moment, and the ever-evolving “what ifs” that can only come out of retrospect.
we mark the big anniversaries only because we need that time to come up with markers.
i haven’t been to california in a long time-are there as many murals as there are of biggie in brooklyn?
this video ends exactly where i’ve been stuck:
“to be continued…”
it was all a dream.