When Life and Death Imitate Art
by L. Brent Bozell III
Sitting at a traffic light in Los Angeles one night a couple
of years ago, I heard the sound approaching, the booming, heavy bass thum-thum-thum
beat of rap music blasting forth from the car pulling alongside me. My window
was up, but it made no difference. The air was filled with the rapper's lyrics
-- the angry, loud, obscenity-laden lyrics boasting of rape, of illegal drug
use, and of the desire to murder the police.
I'm sure I was exposed to this "music" for less
than a minute before the light turned green and the other car pulled away, but
I kept thinking that as much as I abhorred this genre, there was something
frighteningly authentic about it.
This authenticity has been proven again with the violent
killing of gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur, who lived, and died, as he rapped. On
September 7, the twenty-five-year-old Shakur was shot four times in a Las
Vegas drive-by assault and passed away six days later.
The incident was the last of Shakur's many encounters with
crime. His rap sheet includes three convictions for assault and battery, an
arrest in connection with the shooting of two off-duty police officers, and a
four-and-a-half-year prison sentence (he served eleven months) for a 1993
sexual assault at a Manhattan hotel.
In 1994, also in Manhattan, Shakur was shot five times by a
robber; he subsequently claimed that the robbery was a cover for an
assassination attempt masterminded by another rapper and some music-industry
executives. Shakur was acquitted in 1993 of charges that his soundtrack --
"Cops on my tail.../They finally pulled me over and I laughed/Remember
Rodney King?/And I blast on his punk ass" -- inspired the murder of a
Texas state trooper.
Last fall, Shakur gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times
which indicated he was profoundly in denial about his life, his image, and his
career. "I am not a gangster and never have been," he asserted.
"I'm not down with people who...hurt others. I'm just a brother who
fights back...I'm an artist."
So, too, was Adolf Hitler.
No, Shakur was a criminal, a punk, a thug. But let's put his
criminal record aside, if that's possible, and examine the -- ahem -- artist.
Shakur's "art" alone indicates that he glorified gangsterism of the
ugliest kind. His 1993 LP "Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z...," released
in the wake of the Texas trial, copiously, cold-bloodedly bashed police. The
title track declared, "Mister F--- a Cop is back/And I still don't give a
f---." "Souljah's Revenge" is even more venomous: "Can't
find peace on the streets/So the niggers get a piece/F--- the police/F--- 'em/Motherf---in'
punk police/I hate 'em." "Last Wordz" stated, "Pigs wear
blue/I wear black/...Motherf---in' police can't stop me/...That's why we
burned s--- and wrecked/'Cause the punk police ain't learned s--- yet."
Predictably, for all the vituperation Shakur directed at law
enforcement, he was slain not by a corrupt policeman but, presumably, by
another common thug, perhaps a member of the L.A. gang the Crips. (Suge
Knight, the head of Shakur's record label, Death Row, is said to have ties to
the Crips' rival gang, the Bloods.)
During an MTV report which aired three days before Shakur
was shot, gangsta rap pioneer Dr. Dre, who recently left Death Row to start
his own company, remarked, "I feel like the gangsta rap era is
over." He went on to promise, "I'll be able to sell records without
any profanity, keeping it real, keeping it positive."
I hope Dre is true to his word, though as the former
producer of such performers as Shakur's crony Snoop Doggy Dogg he has a lot to
make up for. Apparently Shakur himself never wanted to abandon, as his stomach
tattoo called it, "Thug Life."
At the root of Shakur's worldview was a moral vacuum. He
told the Los Angeles Times last year that "almost everyone in America is
affiliated with some kind of gang. We got the FBI, the ATF, the police
departments, the religious groups, the Democrats and the Republicans.
Everybody's got their own little clique and they're all out there gangbanging
in their own little way." That reasoning is about as meaningless as
Shakur's life. The record producers who lined their pockets promoting him
surely will find another smart-mouthed punk to take his place. Meanwhile,
Shakur has gone off to another place. Some call it hell.
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