Wednesday, May 28, 2014

1 Maya Angelou: The World's Griot



Photo credit: Biography.com

Maya Angelou 1928-2014
By: Marvin DeBose

In West African culture, the griots, storytellers who often employed the use of poetry and music, have historically been seen as some of the most highly valued members of society. These people were seen as walking history books, full of lessons to impart upon a village. Maya Angelou was a product of this rich tradition.

 For most people, simply hearing that name, “Maya Angelou”, brings words to mind such as, “Wisdom” and “understanding”. Her presence was associated with poise, and grace, and her words were filled with truth and love.

Although many people simply associate her with her countless insightful quotes and thought-provoking poetry, what made Maya Angelou truly remarkable were not just the beautiful, poetic words which she spoke, it was the rich life which she lived.

Born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, but raised in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson, lived the life of a true renaissance woman.

In her early life, Angelou was widely known for her immense talent in the performing arts. She was renowned calypso performer, which is a form of Afro-Caribbean dance and music and also spent time working as an actress and a playwright, who toured internationally starring in shows such as “Porgy and Bess” and writing plays such as “Georgia, Georgia”.   

Angelou also worked internationally as a human rights activist, working with Martin Luther King Jr in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as well as with Malcolm X in the Organization of African Unity.
Angelou would also spend years living in Ghana, working as a freelance journalist.

Most notably, Angelou was a world-renowned poet and author. Her thought-provoking writings touched on controversial topics like race and gender, as well as universal themes such as love and parenthood. She is seen as one of the most significant writers in American literature. Her raw, yet profound autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, was ranked by TIME magazine as being one of the top 100 most influential books written in the English language.

Although she has departed from us in the physical form, her words, her wisdom and her spirit live within the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

To many people, for some whom she didn't even know personally, Angelou was a mentor, a mother-figure, and an adviser. Oprah Winfrey commonly cites Angelou as her “mother/sister”. Even comedians such as Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock were known to go to her home in North Carolina to seek her advice.

Angelou once even disciplined rapper Tupac Shakur, whom she worked with in the movie “Poetic Justice”. Angelou witnessed Shakur about to get into a fight on the movie set and she pulled him aside and brought him to tears by asking him, “When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?' Did you know people stood on auction blocks and were bought and sold so that you could stay alive today?'”

Moments like that are testaments to the fact that Angelou was much more than a few witty quotes online, it shows how she was much more than a poet, actor and a playwright. She was a leader whose example helped to bring out the best in other people.

There are many words which can be associated with Maya Angelou's remarkable legacy; however there is only one which suits her best:


“Phenomenal”.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

0 Dick Gregory: A Living Legend

By: Marvin DeBose

Before Dave Chappelle, before Chris Rock, and even before Richard Pryor, there was Dick Gregory.

Comedic legends like Rock, Chappelle and Pryor are well-known for their ability to make audiences laugh while creating a dialogue on sensitive social issues from an honest, African-American perspective. Their ability to combine wit, a humorous sense of irreverence along with storytelling to discuss these issues in front of a mainstream audience is often seen as something fairly new.

Yet Dick Gregory was touching on these issues long before Pryor became a star and before Rock and Chappelle were even born.


Dick Gregory
He was born Richard Claxton Gregory, on October 12, 1932, in St. Louis, Missouri. Born to a family of six children, raised by a single mother, Gregory grew up in poverty for much of his early life and also faced a great deal of discrimination, growing up in Jim Crow-era America.

Yet, his experiences of poverty and racism would develop what he would become as an adult.

Despite the hardships he faced early on, Gregory had a remarkable career as a student-athlete.He excelled at track, to the point where he earned a scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he set school records in track and received the school's Outstanding Athlete Award in 1953.

However, Gregory's career as a track star was put on hold when he joined the army in 1954. But it was here where he officially got his start in comedy, performing in, and winning, many Army talent shows.

He returned to college after two years of being in the army, yet dropped out due what he felt as the university's lack of interest in his academic success, and more of an interest in his track career.

So, in the late-1950s, Gregory moved to Chicago to pursue a career in comedy, yet it was no easy feat. So Gregory worked for the U.S Postal Service while performing in various Chicago clubs.

Eventually, Gregory got his big break in comedy when, in 1961, he was hired by Hugh Hefner to perform at his Chicago Playboy Club.

From here, Gregory's career took off. His witty and social conscious sense of humor pertaining to major issues of that time, especially race and class, along with his signature calm, yet charismatic, deadpan delivery made him a hit with American mainstream audiences.

He'd go on perform on major shows of the time, such as The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, a job which, interestingly enough, Gregory initially declined numerous times in his career.

Despite the ability of The Tonight Show to catapult the careers of young comics, Gregory's reasoning behind not performing on the show was based on the fact that Black comics were never allowed to stay as guest on Paar's show after their performances.

It wasn't until Paar personally called Gregory and agreed to change the standards of the show that Gregory decided to perform on the show. Although this performance would boost Gregory career and introduce him to a national audience, he began to put a great deal of focus and energy into another passion which he had which was social activism.

At the same time as Gregory's rise in comedy in the early 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was on the rise in America as well. Gregory, a man who grew up facing racial discrimination and often candidly discussed it in his act, was naturally drawn to the movement.

He spoke at and participated in numerous rallies and protests throughout the South and developed a close relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He toured to raised money for activist groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was arrested for his protests numerous times.

Gregory (left of center) marching alongside Dr. King in Mississippi  in 1966.


Gregory would even run for political office. In 1967, he ran for mayor of Chicago against Richard Daley, and, in 1968, he even ran for U.S. President. Although, he lost both races, his activism and civic engagement continued throughout his life.

Gregory at a press conference along with Muhammad Ali
Not only was Gregory an activist and outspoken critic against racism and poverty in America, in the late-60s, he became a vegetarian as well as an advocate for fitness and nutrition. Later in his late he would strongly advocate eating raw fruits and vegetables and he'd become known for participating in fasts as a part of his activism.

Gregory would also go on to write countless books and become an entrepreneur, selling numerous health products, and also serving as a nutritional consultant.


Today, at the age of 81, Gregory continues his activism, his health advocacy and his comedy, all with his signature wit and social-awareness which has stood the test of time.



His commitment and willingness to sacrifice his career for the issues which affect everyday people has set an example for countless entertainers.

Not only is he a pioneer for entertainers, for comedians, or for African-Americans. Dick Gregory is a pioneer for what it means to be a human being who is willing to risk his livelihood, as well his life, for his principles and his commitment to a better life for all people.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

0 Reinvent Yourself... Like Sinatra Did

By: Marvin DeBose

"Reinventing yourself" is a concept which I first became familiar with as an 18-year old, reading Robert Greene's classic book, 48 Laws of Power.

Greene, who wrote a chapter called "Recreate Yourself" discussing the importance of being able to change, grow and craft your image in an ever-changing environment. At first, I couldn't fully grasp the concept.

I thought, "Why should you have to recreate yourself are if you're already confident in yourself and your abilities?"

But as I grew older and became more aware of the constant change going on around me, it made more sense. Reinventing yourself doesn't mean being inauthentic or changing what makes oneself unique. It's more of a matter of growing, improving, adapting and gaining new skills in order to stay fresh in an ever-changing world.

Photo courtesy of radiospirits.info 
Reinvention is a topic of which, particularly, many entertainers and artists have become familiar. As time goes on in the changing, unstable world of entertainment, where trends, styles, and even attitudes come and go, stars must be able to grow, develop and keep up with the times. Artists who do the same thing over and over and don't transform or improve their craft often fade into oblivion. An entertainer who best demonstrated the power of reinvention was none other than Frank Sinatra.

In the mid-1940s, Sinatra was at what many people perceived to be as the pinnacle of his career. He'd performed in front of thousands of screaming, fainting, mostly teenage female fans all over the country. He'd been in numerous films which were quite successful. His concerts were so popular that they were known to nearly cause riots. He was a predecessor of what was to come in American popular music.

Yet, as the 1940s came to a close and the 50s arrived, things began to change in Sinatra's career. He starred in a string of unsuccessful films and his appeal as a heartthrob to teen audiences was starting to wane. By 1950, the boyish, youthful appeal which Sinatra once used to his advantage seemed to be gone.

Sinatra, who was by now in his mid-30s, no longer represented youth, he was balding, he was married and his years of smoking and drinking slowly took a toll on his youthful appearance. He had also suffered a hemorrhaging of his vocal cords, altering the one thing which made him a star in the first place; his voice.

Soon, he was dropped from his record label, and amid struggles in his personal life, he fell into a deep depression. Journalists began to write him off as a "has-been" as new, younger singers began to take some of his shine.

Yet, an opportunity sprang up. A WWII-based film called From Here to Eternity was seeking someone to fill the role of a rebellious, heavy drinking, Italian-American serviceman; a role which fit Sinatra to a T. However, this serious, more dramatic role was drastic change from many of the more musical, romantic, typecast roles Sinatra was used to in the '40s. Yet, he realized that this role would be a chance to reinvent his career and his image.

Sinatra eventually got the role and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and that twist of fate opened the door for a changed, new and improved Frank Sinatra.


This unexpected dramatic performance caused many to be take him seriously as an actor, and he regained some credibility in the entertainment world. He also earned a record deal with Capitol Records and slightly changed his sound, largely due to his work with composer, Nelson Riddle.

Out went the youthful singer who performed in front of screaming teens, and in came the older, more seasoned star who performed for sophisticated crowds in venues like Las Vegas and acting in major films.
Photo Courtesy of nbcnews.com

Sinatra would go on to have a legendary career in both music and film and make his mark on the entertainment industry.

But this is not just a story about Frank Sinatra. As we approach the year 2014, this is about YOU.

Since the world is always growing and changing, there is a constant need for us to adapt to these changes and expand our skills.

For example, in the world of academia, many universities have to reinvent themselves to adapt to a new, more diverse, technological generation of students.

In journalism, writers are reinventing themselves to keep up with the evolving field by gaining skills in audio and video production, social media, and photography.

Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, change is something that is constant, and it often shows us that we all face challenges and it reveals to us our deficiencies.

The question is, in what ways will you work to reinvent yourself? What skills will you gain, what new challenges will you take on, how will you adapt to change?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2 Political Labels... and what Really Matters

By: Marvin DeBose

"The liberals are ruining this country", "those conservatives are idiots", "the Republicans are trying to take over", "the Democrats are trying to take control"... Sound familiar?

This polarized, adversarial political rhetoric is something that I see nearly every day. Yet, with so much talk of political groups in this country, it makes me wonder, what do these political labels even mean?

Better yet, what do the people who use them think that they mean?

When you get a chance, ask a few people, "what is a conservative?" Then, ask a few people "what is a liberal?"

What's a Democrat? What is a Republican?

Don't look for Webster's definition, don't look for the political science definition. What are the people's definitions?

Most likely you'll get a wide variety of answers. But with such a wide variety of differing political viewpoints, one must ask, "Why do we need to put these labels on ourselves and others?"

Why does there need to be "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys"? Why do we need to have a "pick your team" mentality?

How about for a while we just forget those labels, let's forget being a "liberal", "conservative", "moderate", "libertarian"... Let's try being human beings with OUR OWN opinions for a quick minute.

Instead of watching political pundits and listen to them tell us what/how to think, let's try developing opinions based on critical thinking, analysis and an understanding of context.

Most importantly, let's forget judging people's character based off of their political views. Let's judge people's character based on more important things, like their love for other human beings.

I know that idea might sound scary to some people, but I think it's worth a try.

Instead of getting into what someone believes in politically or what button he/she presses on election day, let's ask this: Does this person exemplify a love for human lifeALL of human life?

By human life, I'm not just referring to Americans, I'm talking about a love for ALL human life. I'm talking about human life in places like Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I'm talking about love for young people living in the dangerous streets of The South Side of Chicago. I'm talking about love for people who are incarcerated, people who are addicted to drugs, people on welfare, people who are homeless, as well as for people who are wealthy.

I'm talking about love for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Deists and all other faiths and beliefs.

I talking about love and a feeling of kinship people from all walks of life.

Now, if a person truly believes in that kind of deep love for humanity, then that's a person who's stands for what I for.

After all, isn't that what really matters?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

0 No, "Mexican" is NOT a Halloween Costume

By: Marvin DeBose

Despite what some people may think, I'm no party pooper.

I know that Halloween is coming up and you want to have a good time.You want your costume to be memorable, you may want to get a laugh, but you might want to think twice before you buy that sombrero for your Halloween costume.

I've been in college, I heard about the parties where people dress up as different ethinic groups whether its a "South of the Border" party or a "hood" party. I've seen the pictures of people on Facebook wearing sombreros and fake mustaches.

But this is bigger than just "Mexican costumes".

Making a costume out of any racial or ethnic stereotype is not funny, it's not clever, and it's never been. In fact, it's offensive, especially to those who are members of the group which you attempt to portray.

...And having a friend of that racial or ethnic group who thinks that your costume is funny (or pretends that it is) doesn't make it cool either.

So that means we don't need to see any of this...



Or this...


Or any of these...


And none of this either...



Now, usually when people get called out on these of costumes for being offensive, there are a common set of responses they'll give:

1) "But, it's just a character, it's for fun!"

Well a ethnicity, religion, race shouldn't be a "character".

When people make "characters" based off of cultural groups, they use stereotypes and create caricatures of the group in question. Therefore, you're likely to already be in the wrong when you decide to wear that costume. These kind of costumes are pretty much walking billboards saying, "Hey, stereotypes and prejudice are hilarious!"

Plus when you make a group of people into a caricature, without even realizing it, you dehumanize that group of people. How? Because you promote the concept of racial/ethnic characters rather than individuals.

2) "Well, I'm not racist..."

Just because you don't hate the race/ethnicity that your costume portrays, that doesn't mean that your actions aren't racially offensive.

Arguments of "I'm not racist, my mailman's black" or "I'm not being offensive, I shook hands with an Iraqi man once" are dismissive of the behavior in question. That's about as silly as someone saying, "I'm not sexist, my wife is a woman!"

When someone calls you out for racially insensitive behavior, that isn't meant to say that you are a horrible person. It's meant to critique (and hopefully correct) your actions which are hurtful.

Being ignorant of how you offended someone is understandable. After all, we aren't all really taught to be culturally sensitive. However, it's how a person goes about correcting that behavior that shows their true character.

3) "Why are you worried about stuff like this, it's just Halloween, can't you take a joke?"

People who say things like this are a part of the problem too.

Just because something doesn't offend you doesn't mean it shouldn't offend others. If you don't understand why something is offensive, just ask why it's offensive. But telling people what to be offended about and not be offended about is offensive and condescending in itself.

 See: EMPATHY

Instead of simply saying "it's just a joke", lets ask these questions:

Why do people want to dress up and make a joke out of being another race/ethnicity so bad in the first place?

...and...

Why do people find these costumes to be so funny that they're willing to risk offending people just to wear them?

4) "Why can't I paint my face Black?" 

You can research this one on your own... You know how to get to Google don't you? Look up "Blackface".

My Point is... 

Get creative with your costumes. Be funny. But don't go for cheap laughs dressing up as a racial or cultural stereotype.

Like I said, I'm no party pooper. But when the "party" consists of making a joke out of racial and ethnic stereotypes that hurt people, quite frankly, that's a party that deserves to be pooped on.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2 Philly Native Lives His Dreams at BET

By: Marvin DeBose
September 18th, 2013
Frank 'Franky J' Jenkins, BET Correspondent

The lights are on, the cameras are rolling, and a young man with the tall, lanky build of a basketball player, clad in a retro, red 76ers snapback cap and a blue polo shirt, takes the stagenot an actual stage though. In this case, the stage is a street corner.


“This is BET’s 106 and Park top ten countdown, we’re going into another video right now, stay tuned,” the energetic young man says.


He is animated with lively body language as he announces the next video, pausing between phrases and using his hands to accentuate nearly every word, “Lotus Flower Bomb, Wale, Miguel, let’s go!”


But this is just a YouTube video, more specifically, it’s 24-year-old Frank “Franky J” Jenkins’ audition video for the popular BET music video show, 106 and Park back in 2012.

The video has about 1,800 views, far less from what Franky J was expecting.


“My video was not popping,” he says, with a mixed tone of both reflectiveness and humor. He didn’t make the cut for the auditions, yet, that wouldn't be the end of his journey.

Franky J wanted to be a host in some capacity ever since he was a kid. He grew up in North Philadelphia, around 7th and Diamond Sts, gaining inspiration from former 106 and Park host AJ Calloway, as well as Philly DJs and radio hosts such as Pooch Man, Tasha McKee, Mikey Dredd and Uncle O.


He reminisces on how his upbringing in a tough city like Philly shaped him and pushed him into his career.


“It could be discouraging… sometimes people don’t see your visions and your dreams,” he says. “But, it played a big role in my motivation because I wanted to see better and I knew there was better.”


Franky J’s motivation pushed him to pursue his dreams at all costs. At the young age of 17, he was already a host for a local Philly music show, Urban Xpressions.


During his time as a young host, he experienced many of the hardships of the business which further molded him.


”I remember not having the money to go [and cover] shows,” he says. “I used to walk to shows, nothing could stop me from going to a show.”


Franky J went even further in pursuing his dream when he attended Community College of Philadelphia, where he majored in Communications. There, he polished his writing skills, which he sees as an highly significant skill in his career.


“My writing wasn't on key so I would jot things down on pieces of paper until I knew how to set them up [properly],” he says.


Honing his ability to write in a structured manner sparked his growing interest in writing TV shows. It even led him to write the format for Kitchen Music, a cooking show which was one of the first shows he ever wrote.


Yet, Franky J still had dreams to make it big, after he submitted his video to BET for the 106 and Park host audition in 2012 to no avail, he thought he’d have to get back to the drawing board and rework his strategy, but eventually, he'd see things change.


In January of 2013, he received a message on his Twitter account from a woman who left her number claiming to “have an opportunity” for him.


Franky J called her number, yet there was no answer, nor was there a voicemail message. However, the number soon called him back, and on his caller ID, he saw: BET Networks.


“I was still in shock that BET called me,” Franky J says. “[The BET executive] said ‘drop what you’re doing, pack up, we’re gonna bring you out to New York’."


He had been selected to audition for a new BET show, set to premiere in 2014.


After his audition, Franky J finally got the news from the executive. “She told me, ‘You’ve got the job, you aced it,'” he recalls.


Yet, the next thing which he would hear would blow him away even more.


“She asked me, ‘Why are you so nervous, you don’t look nervous in your video?’“ Franky J says,  “I said, ‘What video?’”


It turned out that someone at BET had got a hold of his audition video from 2012 and got it into the hands of some powerful people.


“She said, ‘My boss [Stephen Hill, BET president of programming] saw your video and requested for you to come here,” he says. “She told me that [Hill] said, ‘I don’t know why, but I like this kid.’


Since then, Franky J has been signed to work as a host/correspondent for the BET show, for which he auditioned, that is set to premiere in 2014.Yet, In the short time that he’s been with BET, he’s already had some quite unforgettable experiences, one of them happened early this year.


On the day of the New York premiere of Beyonce’s autobiographical documentary, Life is But a Dream, in early 2013, BET was looking to get correspondents to cover the event. Yet, most of their hosts had already left for the day, except for Franky J.


The BET staff got him dressed up and ready for the star-studded Red Carpet, where he’d get his first real taste of what it’s like to be a BET correspondent.


“My first interview was with [producer and R&B star] The-Dream,” a fact which he saw to be ironic in itself. “I was interviewing The-Dream, while living my dream, all on the red carpet for Beyonce’s Life is But a Dream.”

That night, Franky J got to interview a variety of celebrities from Russell Simmons, to even Beyonce herself.
Franky J interviews Beyonce at the premiere for Life is But a Dream 
Yet, he'd run into one star whose presence presented a once in a lifetime opportunity; Oprah Winfrey.


“She was finishing up with her last interview and security was trying to sweep her away,” Franky J says. “But I yelled to her, ‘Oprah, let me get 2 seconds of your life!’


That phrase caught Oprah’s attention and allowed him to get an interview with one of the most well-known people in the world.


Of course, Franky J credits occurrences like these, and much of his success, to years of hard work and determination, but he also attributes much of his success to his faith.


“God is everything,” he says.  “I wouldn’t be anywhere without him and I couldn’t get through anything without him.”

These days, Franky J, the once local teenage TV host from North Philly, lives in Brooklyn, NY., and has goals such as hosting the BET Awards as well as writing and producing shows.


Despite his already impressive experiences, he says the fact that he’s beginning to live his dreams hasn’t really hit him yet. Yet, he stresses the importance of having a dream.


“Believe in your dreams, we get these visions for a reason, it’s because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing in life.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

2 The Misunderstood Brilliance of Tupac Shakur

By: Marvin DeBose
September 13th, 2013

"Now I understand what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
...They did not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will..." -Don McLean, Vincent

In 1971, folk singer Don McLean wrote the song, Vincent, which was a heartrending tribute to the talented, yet, personally troubled 19th century painter Vincent Van Gogh. In the song, McLean vividly describes the artistic talents of Van Gogh distinctly remarking on his "Flaming flowers that brightly blaze/Swirling clouds in violet haze".

Yet, what is most memorable about this song is how McLean speaks about Van Gogh's personal struggles from a voice of empathy and recalls how under-appreciated and misunderstood Van Gogh was.

The depth and raw emotion contained in this song would end up influencing the work of another artist who would become troubled in his own right. That artist, who, coincidentally was born in June of the same year in which McLean birthed Vincent, was none other than Tupac Amaru Shakur.



Seventeen years ago today, Tupac died at the young age of 25, at the height of his career.

However, when Tupac died on September 13th, 1996, I was only 6 years old, so I only vaguely knew of Tupac's work in his lifetime. I wouldn't really become familiar with his work until I was about 10 years old.

It all began one day when my dad picked me up from school, and in his car he was playing a hip-hop CD and I was awestruck by the sound of a rapper's voice.

The voice was loud, bold and full of rage with coarse, colorful language. Then, I heard the rapper start to go on a brutal, profanity-laced tirade, dissing famed rapper, the Notorious BIG, his crew, Junior Mafia, as well as his record label, Bad Boy Records.

As a loyal Bad Boy/Notorious BIG fan since the age of 5, I was shocked, and that's when the voice yelled, "...And if you want to be down with Bad Boy, then f*** you too!"

I thought to myself, "Who is this guy?" When we got the home, my Dad ejected the CD from his CD player and I saw that it read: TUPAC, Greatest Hits, Disc 2.

It turned out that I had just heard Tupac's classic 1996 diss record, "Hit 'Em Up".

I thought, "Damn, this is Tupac?" Even though I'd just heard him diss one of my favorite rappers, his fiery spirit and passion had just blew my 10-year old mind. After that, I began to listen to both CDs of the 2-Disc greatest hits set and I was amazed. Never before had I heard such raw emotion and versatility.

The same guy who could deliver lyrical death threats to his enemies was the same guy who could write a emotional tribute to his mother. The same guy who could playfully rap about "getting around" with the ladies could write a song about how we need to "heal our women" and "be real to our women". The guy who could write about the pitfalls of the street life could write a song comparing the activism strategies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

Like many people, at first, I just viewed Tupac as the bald headed, tattooed, bandanna-wearing, finger-gesturing caricature which is usually promoted in the media.

However, the more that I listened to Tupac's songs, watched his interviews, read about his life and how he dealt with police harassment, false accusations, and even family problems, I realized the complexity of who he really was.

Today, for many people, Tupac is nearly seen as the patron saint of hip-hop. Yet, during Tupac's career he was one of the most misunderstood artists of his generation, and to a certain extent he remains so to this day.

We often see the pictures of Tupac spitting at reporters, flashing his middle finger, getting arrested or engaging in behavior commonly associated with criminals. Yet, Tupac, a rapper who famously claimed, "I never had a [police] record until I made a [rap] record" was far from a criminal.

An angry Tupac spitting at reporters circa 1994
One of the biggest things which people fail to realize about Tupac is the fact that he was an intellectual. He was a voracious reader; a student of history, philosophy, poetry and literature. Despite the fact that he dropped out of high school in his senior year, he spent most of his life educating himself.




"There should be a class on drugs. 
There should be a class on sex education, a real sex education class...
there should be a class on scams, there should be a class on religious cults, 
there should be a class on police brutality, there should be a class on apartheid, 
there should be on racism in america, there should be a class on why people are hungry, 
but there not, there are classes on... gym, 'physical education', 'let’s learn volleyball'."
-Tupac Shakur at age 17 




Tupac was a scholar at heart, and for some, this fact might cause confusion. After all, this was the same man who flaunted a tattoo on his stomach that read "THUG LIFE". Yet, even those two words reveal another layer of Tupac's complexity.

The phrase he popularized "Thug Life", which was famously used and repopularized in the 2008 film, "Pineapple Express", actually held deeper community-rooted meanings, one of them being an acronym which Tupac said stood for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everybody"I know, it sounds crazy, but it actually makes a lot of sense sociologically, hear me out...

What Tupac meant by the "THUG LIFE" acronym was that the negativity, violence and hatred which society feeds our youth eventually manifests itself in social ills.

Tupac also saw "THUG LIFE" as a philosophy of pride and dignity for the young, poor urban youth of America. He constantly argued that the idea of THUG LIFE was not a celebration of crimes or the dictionary's definition of "thug". Yet, this philosophy was similar to that of the Black Panther Party, of which his mother was a member, who mainly focused on organizing the "lumpenproletariat", the lower classes of society to get them to work for the advancement of their communities.



“To me 'thug' is my pride... Not being someone who goes against the law. Not being someone that takes, but being someone that has nothing and even though there is no home for me to go to, my head is up high, my chest is out, I walk tall, I talk loud. When I say thug ... I mean the underdog."
-Tupac Shakur

A common mistake that many people make when looking at Tupac's life is overlooking the fact that he was a work in progress. Like all of us, he had personality flaws and he made many mistakes. However, the man was much more than the sum of his flaws.

He was a young man who was still growing, learning, maturing and finding his way in life. Now that I'm in my early 20s, as Tupac was during his career, I realize how young he actually was to have such remarkable influence on so many people. Then, I think about what he could have been had he lived longer.


Entertainment icon, Quincy Jones, who knew Tupac well (based largely off of his romantic relationship with his daughter, Kidada Jones), once made this profound analogy related to Tupac's potential:

"Tupac died at 25. 
If Malcolm X died at 25 he would have been a street hustler, named Detroit Red. 
If Martin Luther King died at 25 he would've been known as a local baptist preacher. 
And if I had died at 25 I would've been known as a struggling musician, 
only a sliver of my life's potential."


So, my message to those who are interested in not only "2Pac", the artist, but Tupac Shakur, the person, is to learn about him and the image which the mainstream media often promotes as this one-dimensional "gangsta rapper" who "lived and died by the gun" (as many insensitive, unoriginal journalists were fond of saying after his death).

Learn about his mother's activism and his family's history, listen to his early songs, listen to his words, go beyond his image and learn about his message and then you can understand who he really was and what he was trying to say.



"Now I understand what you tried to say to me... 
They did not listen, they did not know how 
Perhaps they'll listen now..." -Don McLean, Vincent

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