Thursday, December 9, 2004

In Search of Dylan

  In light of the opening of a recent museum exhibit honoring Bob Dylan, I have been on a mission to identify our generation’s Dylan-figure.  Dylan was able to eloquently address the problems facing the youth of the war-torn Sixties—the civil rights movement, the fear of Communism, corrupt politicians, and the war itself.  Dylan was, and continues to be, the champion of the underdog, the voice of the oppressed.  His best work is born of a struggle against injustice.  Eminem, at the present, falls short of that mark.  But our Dylan is out there, perhaps the last place you’d look.

  In spite of being an heiress to wealthy hotel barons…wait, no.

  During his short life, our generation’s Dylan could be found in Harlem, Queens, the Baltimore School for the Arts, Los Angeles, and Riker’s Island penitentiary.  Our champion was a self-proclaimed thug, a thug from the ghetto.

  Tupac Shakur was born with revolution in his blood.  His mother was a Black Panther.  His biological father was unknown, but his father-figure was a crack dealer.  Several times, Tupac and his family called homeless shelters home.  He knew “underprivileged” when it was called “poor.” He knew struggle and oppression; his message was a personal one.

  Shakur was often in trouble with the police, but his message remained positive.  He urged Black America to keep its head up, question authority, and respect its women.  He urged young urban women to earn that respect and to respect themselves.

  Tupac, unlike Eminem, began tackling tough issues right out of the blocks.  In his solo debut, “2pacalypse Now,” he took on careless single mothers in “Brenda’s Got a Baby.”  On his sophomore effort, “Keep Ya Head Up” advises inner-city youth to do just that.  His third CD, “Me Against The World,” runs deep with social commentary in tracks like “So Many Tears,” “Lord Knows,” “Dear Mama,” “Can U Get Away,” and the title track.

  In his life, Shakur only released four CDs.  Since his death in 1996, his estate has put out four more, with the fifth scheduled to drop later this month.   Even from beyond the grave, Tupac continues to relate to the problems of the listeners he left behind.

  Dylan and Shakur both had a certain spirituality running through their work.  Each had a near-death experience, which heightened their relationship with God.  In 1966, Dylan was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident.  After being shot five times in November of ’94, Tupac’s lyrics were often a place where his lifestyle and his belief in God converged. 

  In 1966, Dylan published “Tarantula,” a collection of poetry.  In 1997, Shakur’s book of poems, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” was released.  They are poets, and they will be remembered as such.

  You might not be able to relate to the way that Tupac Shakur was raised, the troubles he faced in the inner-city, the decisions he made, or the life he lived.  But his art reflects the society that produced him.  And, like it or not, it is a society that we are participants in. 

 -From Pulse
  December 9, 2004