Twenty years on, the murder of Lesane Parish Crooks, a.k.a Tupac Shakur, remains a mystery. Shot four times, some say it was the result of an East Coast-West Coast music rivalry, whilst others point to the victim of an assault carried out by the rapper earlier that fateful evening.
To mark the anniversary of Shakur’s untimely death, an event at Rich Mix in Shoreditch brought together speakers and artists who are carrying the baton for his work in social justice and equality. Led by the Malcolm X Movement and I Am Hip-Hop Magazine, the afternoon explored the legacy of a modern icon.
In his lifetime, Tupac was a range of things. Musician, equal rights activist and purveyor of ‘thug life’, he was somewhat conflicted. He came from a family of Black Panthers – a revolutionary political organisation who fought for civil rights.
On the day, Apex Zero brought political hip-hop vibes. There was something of Tupac’s rawness in his delivery, whereas the content reflected the connectivity of the information age. Those who rapped in the closing cypher, did so to an impressively high standard. These were consciousness expanding rhymes, as opposed to the gang related rap commonly heard in the mainstream.
Jamal Joseph is held in high esteem. An ex Panther and intellectual, he appeared at the event via Skype. He was charismatic and eloquent. He spoke about his experience of joining the Black Panthers aged just 15. He recalled how when he first met them he expected to be given a gun, but was instead handed a stack of books. Surprised he said, “I thought you were going to arm me”, to which his fellow party member replied, “I just did”. The belief that knowledge is power was a theme that ran throughout the event.
The date of Tupac’s demise coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers. Members of its alumni gave impassioned speeches on the ongoing struggle for racial equality around the world. There was a lot of talk around Black Lives Matter – a group taking action against the current spate of incidents in America, where police officers have shot black people without due cause.
Richard Sudan’s poetry had a serious edge. A blend of anger and insight, he addressed how the commercialisation of a ‘gangster’ lifestyle through music is partly responsible for the marginalisation of poorer young people in society. Margaret Atugonza commanded the room with her strong, soulful voice. Many people discussed Shakur’s background in the performing arts, in the neighbourhood where he grew up.
People in the audience made their own views heard during the Q&A sessions. It was stimulating to hear them articulate problems which are often difficult to see because they are so ingrained in our culture and its conditioning.
Through all the murkiness surrounding his death, Tupac’s message of peace and justice for all remains clear. He made mistakes and had his downfalls, but he continues to be relevant and inspirational in 2016.