I understand Tupac Amaru Shakur because I see myself in him, and I think that’s how a lot of people feel about Pac and why he’s still as relevant as he is. I just watched the Dear Mama docuseries on Hulu and it made me extremely emotional and gave me so much to think about.
Pac died 2 years before I was born, but he has come up as a topic of conversation almost every single day of my life. I grew up listening to the music, watching the interviews, movies and documentaries. Everywhere I’ve been from Africa, to North America, Europe & the Middle east from parents, siblings to friends to people online to coworkers & teachers, every person is fascinated or at the very least aware of this person. Tupac only lived 25 years but in 25 years he did what it takes others centuries to do.
There's a story of Julius Caesar seeing Alexander The Great's grave and seeing what he was capable of doing by 24 and feeling humbled and that's how most artists throughout human history should feel about Tupac. He’s Black Jesus, America’s Book of Job, this revolutionary, sensitive, kind, poetic, erudite, war general, teacher, political leader, that could logically dissect some of the greatest minds of his day, he was a child prodigy, one of the greatest poets of all time, one of the greatest actors, musicians, and one of the greatest writers, who was well aware of his talents early and cultivated them from childhood with the help of his mother who was a militant black panther. Pac had a master plan to take over the entire planet. He also happened to be a gangster rapper Blood in his 20s that wore versace diamond chains, loved to smoke weed, drink Hennessy, party with girls and drop diss tracks.
Everyone always says Pac had multiple sides because he’s a Gemini, and they even accuse him of being bipolar, but multisided is just what a human is in my experience, that’s definitely what I am, who I am depends on who I’m around, what I’m doing, what I’ve eaten, what I’ve watched, what type of day I’m having. The reason why priests, politicians and various other people that are supposed to maintain images of perfection get caught up in scandals is because everyone expects them to be one way all the time, and that’s just not the case for anyone. Pac was hypersensitive, he was passionate, deeply emotional and that's what gives artists their abilities, but it's also what makes their personal lives difficult. As Pac said he was a real model not a role model, and he was gonna show you exactly what was going on in his life and that’s exactly what he did.
Sometimes people are smart, sometimes we’re dumb, sometimes we wanna save the world and sometimes we wanna destroy it and it really all depends on the circumstances you are put in and what you believe, there're temptations in life, you can get caught up with the wrong crowd, your ego can takeover, you can fall in love with money, fame, power, prestige, influence, corruption, greed, criminality exists and playing with darkness can make you dark, even if you’re trying to be the light in the world, which is what Pac was trying to be.
Pac wanted to infiltrate the streets, the criminal world, and the film, & music industry, so he can influence people through ideas, make money for his community and militarize the gangs towards the right cause, but the world was darker than he anticipated, and it made him dark, as he enlightened it. Pac was around gangs all the time and the psychology of a crowd is different from the psychology of the individual persons who make up the crowd, and you could see this perfectly in Pac when he was around other people. When interviewed alone or with a woman he was calm and well-spoken, he talked about the plight of the poor and what we need to do to make a better world, but around 50 gangbangers he’s in a casino trying to jump someone who took his friends chain to prove his loyalty. Pac was an artist who absorbed the world and sometimes what he sponged in wasn’t the best course of action.
Tupac was an artist who idolized art history, he went to a school for the arts, he idolized Van Gogh & Shakespeare, he was a theater kid in the truest sense of the word, and he knew life was a stage, he knew how monumental his life had already been before he was born and that he had no choice but to write the greatest story ever told, and he knew this as a child, which is why he was able to do everything he did by the age of 25, because he reconciled with his death very early on and decided to leave a life as a body of work.
What he successfully did was write a biblical narrative about a revolutionary seeking freedom, pursuing the American dream and going out with his guns blazing in order to achieve it by any means necessary. Tupac was the prototype of what our wildest childhood aspirations are, he was Malcolm X, Mandela, he drove the cars, he dated the models, actors and singers, he wore the versace and louis, every piece of gold and diamond you can imagine, he had more style than everyone, more money than everyone, he shot at racist cops, won the case and strutted out of the courthouse, he smoked weed when it was illegal, he spat on reporters, he dissed politicians, and they dissed him back, everything I would love to do but am too afraid to do, Tupac has done, and that's why he’s one of the greatest artists of all time.
Shakespeare didn’t live Macbeth, he came up with Macbeth, Tupac lived every word on All Eyez On Me, Tupac is the tragic hero, he was Macbeth, he was taunted by fortune and fame, he was taunted by the evil that lurks within himself, his grandiose and heroic plans were subverted, he was betrayed by those he loved, he was shot 5 times by those closest to him, and he raised a middle finger to cops that harassed him on his deathbed, Tupac Shakur is better than all of us artists combined. I’m 24 now and I cannot believe how much this guy was able to do in such a short span of time, and how he could have handled everything he went through. Pacs words resonate today more than ever and his story remains a teachable moment for all of us about the temptations and pitfalls of this world on the quest for freedom.
Pac was real, he was guided by a moral compass that made him feel the pain of his people. His mother had him in her womb in jail as she personally fought the case the fbi made against the black panthers by using cointelpro to disrupt and destroy them to prevent the rise of a black messianic figure, Pac knew this and treated himself as this messiah from day one. This kid was a panther on a mission with a master plan, he was gonna infiltrate hip hop, unite all the regions and change the messaging and narrative to try and uplift and change the conditions of black people, he decided to infiltrate the streets and try to unite the gangsters and weaponize them against the institution, to infiltrate them though he had to start acting like one of them to gain their respect, while pushing in his own messaging in between, and he ended up taking on more than he could handle. Pac wasn’t a street dude, he didn’t operate under those morals because he actually had morals and a lot of people in that life don’t. He ended up getting more paranoid as he grew in fame, he was shot 5 times and had to show up in court the next morning, anyone who could betray him did betray him, anyone who could let him down did let him down until he was eventually murdered.
Pac's story is very similar to Season 4 Episode 8 of FX’s Atlanta. Donald Glover, who is very heavily influenced by Pac and actually had him as a character in the third season of Atlanta, told the story of a black man named Thomas Washington who infiltrated Walt Disney and became CEO.
In the episode titled The Goof Who Sat By The Door Thomas Washington suddenly, and accidentally, becomes CEO of the company. Washington began working at Disney after a lifetime of drawing and getting his degree from Savannah College of Art and Design. He grew up obsessed with cartoons, and his talent and creativity, combined with the fact that he was one of the few Black students on campus, made him a standout. He was an extremely sensitive black kid in the hood, and he started drawing and watching cartoons like Astroboy because he was seeking escapism in cartoons.
At SCAD, he attended a speaking engagement led by Art Babbitt, the man who originated the Disney character Goofy. One of Washington’s previous teachers read a quote from a fictional article written by Babbitt that breaks down Goofy’s characterization: “Think of the Goof as a composite of an everlasting optimist, a gullible Good Samaritan, a half-wit, a shiftless, good-natured colored boy, and a hick …” The quote continues with pretty coded language about barbershops and laziness, but the point is, Goofy was created to mimic racist stereotypes about Black people. And unfortunately that is true and not something Donald Glover made up. This broke Thomas’ heart and made him view cartoons differently with him getting angry at Mickey having Pluto the dog as a pet and Goofy allowing it. When the 1992 L.A. riots broke out, the event deeply impacted Thomas' life and inspired him to vow that if he ever did a movie for Disney, he wouldn’t hold back.
The Disney executive board voted for Tom Washington — a man whose real name was Thompson Washington, not Thomas — thus installing a Black CEO due to a clerical error. Not wanting the optics of quickly hiring and firing a Black man, and being unable to sweep things under the rug because of Tom’s insistence that he is rightfully the CEO, Disney moved forward with the accidental decision. He ran his entire tenure at Disney with this attitude; he knew his situation was precarious and it was inevitable his time at Disney would be short, so he set his sights on creating what he considered to be the Blackest film ever made. This is similar to Pac's entire incentive. He wanted to play the role of the young black male to the fullest and in its most authentic manner at all times, in his movies, in his music and in his life it was about portraying & expressing blackness at its blackest.
Thomas Washington enlisted fellow Black Disney animator Frank Rolls as director and pitched why Goofy was the perfect character for the project: He wanted to use Goofy’s story to highlight the systemic factors a lot of Black fathers deal with. This is similar to a lot of Pac's earlier conscious messaging in his music talking about the systemic plight of the people, the whole goal of Pacs music and art was to infiltrate the messaging and shift the narrative.
The creation of A Goofy Movie snowballed into something so big it began to take over both Washington and the Disney offices. He would refer to Mickey Mouse as “this white boy” and ran a social club out of his office with the biggest Black stars in Hollywood.
Things started to spin out of control for Washington as the pressure of creating A Goofy Movie became too much. He started binge-drinking and cheating on his wife, leading to their eventual divorce and a rift between him and his son. When a Disney executive questioned if Washington was in control of the overinflated budget, he replied, “Of course I am! I’m Goofy,” letting out a demented Goofy “hyuck” laugh. They offered to buy him out to step down, but Washington refused. He started getting paranoid and aligned himself with numerous Black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam and eventually with multiple gangs, promising shout-outs at the end of the movie. The ideas for the ending started getting really radical; Washington wanted Goofy and Max to get pulled over by a pig policeman in a scene that would end in a shooting, and he wanted Max and Goofy to stumble into a thrift store and find Huey Newton’s rattan throne, realizing the greater meaning of it all.
By the end of production of A Goofy Movie, Washington had a mental breakdown, recording a video of himself heavily inebriated, deeply depressed, and almost manic while crying on-camera repeating the phrase, “I’m so close,” and promising that this was all for the culture. Disney cut ties with Washington but still let him on the lot to see the final product of the movie. Replacing some of his more radical scenes, Disney watered down the concept to what we know A Goofy Movie to be today; instead of finding Newton’s chair, Max and Goofy find Bigfoot in the woods. This was the last straw for Washington, who drove off the lot only for his car to be found at the bottom of a lake 40 miles from Burbank — the same lake he went fishing with his son. They never found his body but they did find his oversize white gloves.
This is my favourite episode in all of Atlanta, and as funny as this episode was, I couldn’t help but think of Pac while watching it and watching the docuseries reminded me of it. The name of the episode the goof that sat by the door comes from The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969), a novel by Sam Green lee, which is the fictional story of Dan Freeman, the first black CIA officer, and of the CIA's history of training persons and political groups who later used their specialized training in gathering intelligence, political subversion, and guerrilla warfare against the CIA.
Pac learned everything about American colonialism, he learned about capitalism, he learned about the greatest leaders, he studied everything and him and Thomas both deeply learned about white art, they made themselves accessible enough to infiltrate the infrastructure and once they got inside they wanted to use the same tactics against the system, and they ended up dying for it. Donald Glover made the character make the Goofy movie, which seems silly, but Goofy was created as a racist character, it is created as racist messaging, that is part of a larger racist agenda and that is the same agenda Tupac was fighting against through music and film.
Tom and Pac both got too caught up in their role, they got too caught up in their job, they got too caught up in their mission to try and dismantle racism one piece of art at a time. I really hope Pac is somewhere out in Cuba smoking a fat blunt and drinking some Hennessy or Alizé, he was just a kid that truly deserved peace in this life, but he never got it, and I know deep down he really wanted the best for all of us. You can kill the revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution.
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