Today the hip hop nation takes pause for 2Pac’s birthday.  He would have been 39.  It’s a strange reality to me to know there’s a generation who know of 2Pac through videos and old footage, but who didn’t live through his peak years.

Like some but not all, I had a love/hate relationship with 2Pac while he was alive.  I loved the passion of his voice, I loved the depth of his lyrics.  In my circle we define a movie star as a guy the guys would hang out with and the girls would bone.  By that definition 2Pac is still hip hop’s biggest ‘movie star’ to date. 

What I didn’t care for where the extremes of his personality.  How could the same man who made ‘Keep Your Head Up’ and ‘Dear Mama’ be part of a gang rape?  How could the son of a Black Panther throw a whole Coast of black people under the bus so…violently?

If Pac was our real life version of Bishop, or Tony Montana, or Nino Brown, then it feels no less sad but maybe less surprising he had the same violent end those characters did. 

The Hate U Give Little Infants Fux Everybody.  Was this prophetic?  Ironic?  Both?  From the time Pac died (and really after Biggie died), the shift started.  Some really do grow up with no sense of ‘options’ or ‘hope’ of living a life different from what their parents or grandparents had.  But for pretty much any young black person who grew up in at least a lower middle class background (like myself), we had to ask ourselves, “Look I love the music and I love my culture, but I’m not trying to DIE over this!”  There were of course those who were talking down to the gangsta rap culture from day one, but how often do people react positively when they know you’re talking down to them? 

Baby steps.  Sometimes one step forward, two steps back.  Where I went to college, there was a very infamous ‘Welcome Back to School Party’ where a member of one historically black fraternity pointed a gun at the member of another historically black fraternity.  And yes, choas ensued.  I still chuckle as I remember one of the freshmen, his eyes still bugging out of his head, coming up to me and saying, “Malik, is THIS what college is like?!?” 

(As an aside, I’m not trying to ride my high horse for those of you who vividly remember that night in our lives.  As a matter of fact, it was one of my fraternity brothers who took me out to shoot my first automatic.  Riding around Douglas County Kansas bumping Makaveli’s ‘Me and My Girlfriend’.  Now THAT’s irony!)

Anyway in pop culture black artists have gone from being genuinely tense, to mocking how we took some things a little too seriously.   Everything from Chappelle’s ‘When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong’ to the Huey/Riley dynamic on the Boondocks to the Wire have deglamourized the gangster lifestyle (since 99.9 percent of the time it ends only one of two ways – death or jail).  These shows have all illustrated how we both embrace the ‘outlaw’ lifestyle (and always will) but for the most part have learned the lesson about letting real gangsters do gangster things, and the rest of us will watch from a safe distance.

In some of his last interviews, Pac talked about forming a new political party and running for President.  That’s still funny to me, but none of us would have ever imagined a little more than 10 years later there would actually be a black President.  Or for that matter, Snoop and Diddy sitting next to each other courtside at a Lakers game.

I guess what I’m really saying is that for all my complaints over the years about 2Pac or the ‘thug culture’ or the state of hip hop today, in the end, it is still my culture and I will still take pride in its success and defend it.