Me Against The World
Did you know that Tupac was a poet? Did you know he died only twenty–five years of age? While he still walked this earth he wrote several brief yet powerful poems on his internal struggles and societal understandings.
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
Above is The Rose That Grew From Concrete. It’s the eponymous title of the compendium, The Rose That Grew From Concrete, which contains poems produced between 1989 and 1991. Below is Ambition Over Adversity,
Take one’s adversity
Learn from their misfortune
Learn from their pain
Believe in something
Believe in yourself
Turn adversity into ambition
Now blossom into wealth.
Tupac was a particularly insightful, and above all, real man. Of course he also committed some acts that put him behind bars, but this post is not a condemnation in regards to his crimes, no, it’s about the man behind the persona. It’s about how, from his life experiences and the art he made out of them, a writer, like you and I, can produce a bit of art of our own.
Because his poetry, like his music, is a gateway into his character.
You Are Appreciated
Of the many raps that Tupac rapped, California Love, featuring Dr. Dre, is likely the single most remember him for. It’s certainly the one that still receives the most playback in the background of upbeat commercials and Hollywood soundtracks.
But aside from his love for the West Coast (and it is great), this single doesn’t say much about who he is as a person. The listener probably isn’t giving much thought to the words anyway but the beat and that slick talk box.
This single was the centerpiece of his most successful album, All Eyez On Me. After two months on the market it had already been certified 5X platinum. But compared to the three that preceded, and as sharp as some of the songs are, All Eyez is less socially/politically revved, so to speak.
Pac’s third album, Me Against The World, is considered by many to be his magnum opus. It’s eminent hit, Dear Mama, is simply about his mama. Yet it conveys a part of the rapper’s life and his deep, almost reverential respect, for, surely, the most important woman in his life.
In any man’s life.
You are appreciated
When I was young me and my mama had beef
Seventeen years old kicked out on the streets
Though back at the time, I never thought I’d see her face
Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mama’s place
Suspended from school, and scared to go home, I was a fool
With the big boys, breaking all the rules
I shed tears with my baby sister
Over the years we was poorer than the other little kids
And even though we had different daddy’s, the same drama
When things went wrong we’d blame mama
I reminisce on the stress I caused, it was hell
Hugging on my mama from a jail cell
And who’d think in elementary?
Hey! I see the penitentiary, one day
And running from the police, that’s right
Mama catch me, put a whooping to my backside
And even as a crack fiend, mama
You always was a black queen, mama
I finally understand
For a woman it ain’t easy trying to raise a man
You always was committed
A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how ya did it
There’s no way I can pay you back
But the plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated
Above are the opening lyrics to Dear Mama. As you read you clearly get a feel of Pac’s open heart for his mother. It’s like poetic in its style and dedication.
In addition to this maternal love you gradually understand a bit of who Tupac be and the life he lived. It’s but a sliver of his identity, and it’s an important one, however, the impression it leaves behind is in no way insignificant either.
It’s a form of art when you can effectively communicate a part of yourself to your audience. As a consequence it can engender the bountiful mood of sympathy.
Art is an expression of human sympathy, pathos, as Aristotle termed it. So it is with storytelling.
Young Black Male
Tupac was passionate. He was blunt. In his music he put it all out there for his fans, and the world, to ultimately judge whatever they may, by the feelings they felt. Why? To shine a light upon his world and those like him. As he told journalist Sal Manna in 1991,
“Life for the Young Black Male is hard, it’s not ‘The Cosby Show.’ I’m not perfect, I’m not half good, I’m all bad. The Young Black Male can identify with me and all that pain growing up poor. We need someone who’s still in the streets, someone who stands for something.”
In a way he was like a journalist himself. A part of a journalist’s job is to uncover a story which is lacking the attention it deserves, or that isn’t being reported on with integrity, and narrate the truth in its unabashed form.
Tupac did not shy from this, oh no.
Journalism is storytelling: you’re telling the story of another human being. It follows into speculative fiction: whomever your main character be, it is your responsibility to tell their story as truthfully as you are able.
Structure naturally follows narration (though often it can come before: poetry). Narration of the facts puts the story in gear. But on their own facts are often pretty boring. Ya know you can get from point A, to point B, arriving at point C about as simply as driving to work and back. I don’t know about you, but in my experiences driving to work, not much happens.
Is a powerpoint presentation exciting when it’s just about the facts? I’ve given these and I’m bored just listening to myself.
You need facts that do more than just state the truth, but that leave an emotional impression. That’s effective storytelling for it persuades.
For fiction this persuades the reader of the value, not of the plot, but the character, a value connection that every author must establish. The reader isn’t always going to connect to the plot, but always the character.
Listen to Dear Mama. How many people are going to connect with his upbringing to the exact?
I would hope none of us experienced such hardships while we developed into the individuals we are today. But we can potentially connect with the love he has for his mother, and foremost we can feel sympathy.
Sympathy leaves an impression.
It’s difficult not to feel this pathos for the artist when you hear the words of his colloquial tribute. You feel it as you hear the tone of his voice, the melody in the background, and the words themselves. Every character contributes this pathos because a character isn’t familiar without it.
Without sympathy, it’s safe to say, be they fictional or flesh and blood, a human is brutal.
And so is their story.
Tupac, born Lesane Parish Crooks, hopped around much of his earliest years. Before he moved to California at 17 he wanted to be an actor. He performed at the legendary Apollo Theatre and starred in plays made famous by Shakespeare. He attended the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Upon migrating to Cali he was pursuing a career in music, no longer focused on acting, though, before his death, he did end up staring in a few movies. However there was little to celebrate on the West Coast, once there,
“There’s suppose to be palm trees, sand and easy money. It ain’t so.”
He had to sell crack to make ends meet. His mother succumbed to the very drug. Pac singles this out in the following lines from Dear Mama,
And even as a crack fiend, mama
You always was a black queen, mama
This was Pac’s life for a time. It must have been a trying one. You see your mother, the woman who raised you, and she’s addicted to a crippling substance, how would you feel?
However the crack rock did not take his mother’s life. Eventually Tupac no longer had to sell it to survive. Cash flow came from his music now.
In California, though the fame and success he did come to accrue was global, he never could escape his rough past. It didn’t help that wherever he moved, his environment was a continued source of aggression. He surely had to do twice as much to stay straight.
The facts behind his death are pretty well–known: gunned in Vegas by way of a drive–by shooting, culprits unknown. Six days later and he’s pronounced dead at a local hospital.
It’s unfortunate as he was just twenty–five. The circumstances behind his death are as tragic since it was just petty violence that took him. People especially mourn those whose lives are taken so soon.
Again, what else but sympathy comes to mind?
Sometimes when I’m alone
Cause I am on my own.
The tears I cry are bitter and warm.
They flow with life but take no form
I Cry because my heart is torn.
I find it difficult to carry on.
If I had an ear to confiding,
I would cry among my treasured friend,
but who do you know that stops that long,
to help another carry on.
The world moves fast and it would rather pass by.
Then to stop and see what makes one cry,
so painful and sad.
and no one cares about why.
It takes precision to apply sympathy on page. Critically it must come across as authentic.
Is the above poem, I Cry, not effective? Its seventeen lines briefly narrate a man’s state of mind during a particular moment in his life. It’s an expression of his grief from being ignored, and so he feels cut off from society.
I can understand. I can feel his humanity. So I can sympathize.
Why do I continue to stress this three–syllable noun? Because of the most powerful works of art I’ve read, watched, or listened to, this pathos effuses from their body. I make a connection with the subject and then I want to experience more, because, on an emotional level, I now care.
I don’t know how an artist could make do without it. The work would seem impersonal in my estimation — and that persuades nobody to read, to watch, to listen.
Writing from personal experience is a surefire way to translate sympathy into your characters. What you know, what you felt, and how you felt it are important facets to translating your experiences into any character, which that character can then communicate to your reader.
But sympathy can come from many places. It’s beneficial to look all over, every place your curiosity drives you, such as in the life and music of Tupac (as in my case), so you expose yourself to sympathy and its nuanced forms.
Perhaps that seems pointless, but the little things — the intangibles — catapult any piece of art to the stratosphere: they give to it its own individuality.
Most critically an intangible like sympathy simply opens you to the experiences of another human being. You see another perspective to life outside your own. And this can translate in your writing.
Because it’s knowledge. Knowledge is a writer’s best friend, yes?
With that knowledge create sympathy. But you must first understand it in yourself when you genuinely feel it. How does it make you feel? If you can, write it out, and then weave it into your characters by weaving it into their lives, or have them experience it themselves from another. The reader will connect to that.
I know I have. It’s art and it’s storytelling.