A Generational Shift in Meaning
[Rough Draft – To Be Edited, Revised and Expanded]
Sometime between the end of the Summer and the beginning of Fall in the year 1996 – in the throes of the last full U.S. Election Cycle of the 20th century – a paradigm shift of how information and communications was being broadcasted, accessed, shared and disseminated within people and populations across the globe was underway by way of the exponential growth in digital communications through what has become known as the Internet.
The World Wide Web is credited to have been invented by CERN in 1989/90 based on research done by the National Science Foundation in the early 1980’s – and just a few years after the world wide web was officially and publicly created – the Internet and the Personal Computer were already making their way to every home, office and business all over the earth – just as the microwave had done a decade or, so earlier and the Television had done in the 1950’s – this new mode of communication was swiftly changing the way human beings interfaced with all things under the sun.
As humanity began uploading every sign and vestige of its daily existence and its day-to-day operations onto “The Net”. Diverse fields of content and art forms were also seeing a rapid change in their dissemination and delivery to their consumer bases as well. As CD’s replaced Cassette Tapes and DVDs replaced VHS Tapes and as digital graphics opened new possibilities in film and video editing, a new opportunity to create content and influence Media also began to find its way into the hands of everyday people.
In the mid 1990’s, Howard Stern was labeled by his fans as the King of All Media and while Stern’s stint on terrestrial radio would lead him to choose a less censorious platform a few years later, the internet showed us how its tentacles and reach to influence the media is something that was apparent from the onset. As we now know, the seeds of what was to become the new independent media were already being planted all those years ago. As an example, the Drudge Report is credited with being one of the first online news outlets to capitalize off the new streams of content delivery offered by the Internet and in this respect – helping to pave the way for all companies and corporations to immediately incorporate and fund an online presence within every company’s Marketing and Advertising budget.
Breaking the News could now be done via the push of a button and delivered faster through an email or, an instant message rather than waiting for a phone call at a local phone booth or, at a fax machine at the local Kinko’s. In retrospect, we now know that the full impact of what these early days of social media had on the psyche of the population would not reach their zenith of both glory as well as toxicity for at least a decade or, two – but at the time – the novel means of spreading any type of information on the internet still had the power to reach millions of people – and it did!
Technological growth hit the Music Industry the hardest in just a few short years with the advent of CD Burning and also the P2P file sharing software service platform known as Napster – which allowed audio files to be shared across the internet with ease and eventually eliminated the need for music fans to leave their homes to obtain the latest and greatest that their favorite genre of music had to offer.
Yet, in the year 1996, something else occurred which marked a genuine and significant turning point in our modern popular culture. The year would mark the last time the world stage would see a particularly influential artist in the flesh. It would be the last time that a self described, “product of a dying breed” would be seen by a world stage that appeared to have giveth but also appeared to have taketh away. Taking this queue, the Artist who had given back more than most had also decided to take back his image through the process of artistic and creative transformation.
I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE
1996 was the year that one of the Hip Hop generations most beloved, bold and genuine forces of intellect, political consciousness and creative integrity was tragically gunned down shortly after an altercation with Los Angeles gangs all of whom were in attendance at the MGM Grand Casino earlier on the evening of September 6th to see the Mike Tyson Bruce Seldon fight in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The timing of the death of Tupac Amaru Shakur – and the events leading up to his demise – have in my view, categorically played a larger part in altering the course of how the world has remembered 2pac since his untimely and senseless killing than many have given credence to.
While the mainstream and popular image of 2pac – the songwriter, performer and actor – whose relentless work ethic, prolific creative output and charismatic appeal would continuously dominate the mind and imagination of popular consciousness as well as the Hip Hop and Rap airwaves and music charts for at least a decade after his death – the more esoteric aspects of Shakur’s image and legacy seemed to have found a life and a home of their own on the Internet almost immediately after news was released about his passing.
This belief was experienced by myself firsthand as I do recall being in junior high school and discussing this possibility with friends myself shortly after the rapper’s death. For example, I vividly recall seeing Chuck D’s 18 Reasons why Tupac Shakur is not dead on the internet within a few weeks or, months after his passing. Here are the 18 reasons – preserved for posterity’s sake – word for word just as my friends and I remember reading them nearly 26 years ago.
What could this mean? Could it be that the internet allowed one a new and unique opportunity to reach people and that this is true today just as it was nearly three decades ago? Could it mean that private citizens can alter public opinion and mass consciousness by inserting ideas of their own onto potentially viral and popular content on the World Wide Web? Indeed, the answer to all of these questions is affirmative and these speculative and alternative stories of the slain artist, political activist and actor transformed the mythology and the image of 2pacm himself and took on a life of their own.
In early September of 1996, Tupac was already a global phenomenon whose creativity and productivity as an Artist was already in its prime and although he was a successful actor, many believe his best screen acting had yet to be seen.
Shakur’s skills to show up, perform, deliver and his ability to maneuver, control and manipulate social circumstances however – were clearly on display in nearly every one of his documented interactions – both inside and outside of the media.
As previously mentioned, in early September 1996, Tupac Shakur was already a Star – but after Friday the 13th, 1996 – at 4:03 AM Pacific Standard Time. Tupac Shakur became a Legend, a Martyr and a Myth!
THE MYTH MAKER
This persistent and stubborn belief that the rapper who many believed to be the Greatest Rapper of All Time was still alive – in my view – may have helped to propel Shakur into a rarefied mythical air that only the likes which a few artists and historical reputations seem to share or, have ascended to.
Since their passing, beliefs have persisted among fans and also in popular culture that Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley and even John Lennon did not die but instead continued to live on beyond what was actually reported . It is also important to note that the artists just named – including of course Shakur himself – were not only beloved by the people but had transcended fame to represent something more than just their work. It is as if the presence and impression of these figures was so uniquely original and powerful in terms of the mark left behind by their ‘souls’ signature’ or, ‘works of art’ so to speak – that the consciousness and in particular their fans have been reluctant to let them go and consequently, choose to believe that they never really died.
If I may be philosophical for a moment, I could delve into the difference between literal and figurative truths and how the collective memory of someone resonates and is also remembered in the imagination and consciousness of the public is also a life giving force in itself. I believe the goal of Art is Purity or, to represent meanings so purely that the work itself is able to take on a life of its own and persist through time for the benefit of humanity. A talented individual is given a talent in order to share it with the world – by sharing this talent – they achieve their purpose and their potential and in some rarer cases, the embodiment of the artists effort synchronizes and combines with the forces, meanings and generational trends of the world and the ‘time’ of their presence on earth to become something higher and more sublime than their earthly form. Some figures, people or, works through the function and the power of Timing are able transcend their ego or, physical self by relentlessly seeking Meaning or even perhaps by becoming the center of a movement – such as what occurred with Elvis and the rise of mainstream Rock N Roll in the 1950’s or, John Lennon with the phenomenon of the Beatles and the Political and Spiritual Movements of the 1960’s. The same may be said for Bob Marley as his image and icon emerged out of the 1970’s and into the early part of the next decade before his untimely demise. In the case of Tupac Shakur, the the efforts and works devoted by the Artist in search for meaning and purpose are extraordinary!
I have recently come to the conclusion that one can see a pattern within trends such transcendent figures throughout history. Generally speaking, I have observed how some individuals seem to care more about Truth or, Meaning than they do about themselves and in these rare cases – the people seem to know or, can detect such passion and such integrity – and as a result, these figures are rewarded by the people by being upheld and loved for their honesty and allegiance to Truth. Figures we can add to this list would be Bob Marley and more recently DMX. Individuals who care more about reaching meaning and telling truth than conforming to more trivial, momentary, petty or, low minded meanings and subjective ideals. It is once again, the “purities” which shine through and allow one to be loved and immortalized by future generations of people.
In this respect, Tupac Shakur ranks among the upper echelon of artists who not only actually retained their creative and personal integrity but who also transcended their ego. In my view, it the goal of the artist is to represent ideals, principles, morals and ethics so purely that one becomes one with Meaning(s) and as long as society holds or, values such meanings – the images and figures associated with such meanings will also persist through time.
As I have mentioned in my previous essay, Straight Into The Heart of Truth – after the Global Renaissance period between 1300-1600 – the Artist has since become much like a New Age Saint, Prophet or, Magician. The powers of creativity and pure expression were once relegated only to those who remained with a spiritual or, religious frame such as The Buddha, Solomon, Confucius, Moses, Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Guru Nanak or, influential Theologians or Philosophers such as Saint Augustine and before the Renaissance, Thomas Aquinas.
During the Renaissance however, the power, purpose and purity of Art and Artistic Work became so powerful that the Artist could now be equated with the higher ideals which would only previously have been found in Spiritual traditions. This is not entirely true if we consider how the Ancient Egyptian, Hebraic, Arabic, Greek and Roman saints, philosophers, writers, poets and artists have also been deified in their stature and image over time – but much of the Renaissance was a rediscovery and reinterpretation of ancient knowledge as well – which led to a reawakening!
While we are on the subject of the Renaissance let us wonder at the marvel that is Tupac Shakur’s Alias which was invented, created and released to the public in 1996 : Makaveli.
While incarcerated in prison or perhaps even earlier, Shakur reinterpreted the – still highly modern political work and writings – of the Italian diplomat, author and philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli. The influence of Machiavelli on Shakur is not only evident in his alias name but also in Shakur’s history and his desire to Politicize his community in a way that would pave the way for Self Empowerment and Unity.
On the subject of Machiavelli and Political and Military strategy. Tupac Shakur himself came from a military background in a way as both of his parents were members of the Black Panther political party founded in 1966 in Oakland, CA by Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton and Elbert Howard. Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur was and is a legend in her own right – having successfully and personally defending herself in the famous Panther 21 Trial in New York City, NY in 1970/71 – in which herself and 20 other Black Panther Party members were accused of conspiracy to bomb police stations and conspiracy to commit murder among other charges. All charges were dropped.
It is ironic, tragic and also inspiring how Tupac Shakur himself, being in the womb while his mother was in jail fighting for the freedom for both themselves but also their community – was in his lifetime – constantly at odds with being banned, censored, jailed, imprisoned and attacked by a public media, friends and associates during his brief sojourn in the public eye – all while he courageously and whole heartedly remained dedicated to his craft and his power as an Artist.
GOOD VS EVIL : JESUS VS. MACHIAVELLI
It is also worth noting and quite curious how Tupac’s Internal as well as External conflicts highlighted his own nature as well as the conflicts, contradictions, meanings and power of his own Art. Consider how the imagery in Shakur’s last album implies and invokes the image and archetype of the pure and wholesome image of Jesus or, the Messiah as well as the evident implication of, pain, suffering and brutality of war as well as the political mindset of Machiavelli. To imply or, espouse two opposing ideals is a representation in my view of how Shakur’s goals, ambitions and burning desire to not only elevate himself but also his community was something that resulted in conflict with a world and people who could not or, do not know how to change.
Machiavelli seems to have gotten a bad rap himself through our Historical lens. while it may be warranted in some degree, it is curious in my view how Machiavelli is often viewed as a symbol or, representation of Evil. Those who hold the view that Machiavelli is a teacher of Evil may have a singular point, but such critics should also take into account how Machiavelli idealized the concept of Virtue – the loose definition of which is a behavior showing high moral standards. Machiavelli cared deeply – about his own people, his community and his Italian heritage, whom he felt had been divided and split apart by ‘outside forces’ militaristically from invading nations and armies and whom he wished to see united as a country as Rome had been such a powerful and united Empire centuries earlier.
Consider and compare this to how many Black Americans view their own treatment as being divided, split apart and warring against each other as instigated by outside forces as well – this is particularly evident in the Black communities distrust of the U.S. Government – which is completely warranted as well in the shadow of the human tragedy of Slavery in conjunction with this nations’ past.
The events that occurred to take 2pac away from the world in the year 1996 would ultimately cement 2pac’s legacy as a Martyr who represented the struggle of not only his own community but also the struggle of all human beings who courageously seeks to conquer their darkest demons and honestly represent the whole Truth to its fullest extent.
Ultimately, I do not find it coincidental that Tupac Shakur – who sought meaning so deeply and so intently with integrity – realized the central historical, political, spiritual and philosophical meanings of his own struggle and how these meanings intersected in the last year of his life may prove that it is purity, integrity, symbolism and the complete search for meaning which makes the Myth.
Note : This Essay : Part 1, A Generational Shift in Meaning will be followed below by Part 2: 1996, The Truth is in The Timing.