2pac's Challenge to Mainstream Rap


August 25, 1993|By DERRICK Z. JACKSON

Boston.--Zipping down a Houston freeway, I did a slow burn into depression. One of the local black-oriented radio stations was playing rap music that was misogynous beyond my let's-understand-their-social-conditions tolerance. The words ''bitch'' and ''ho'' (whore) flew off disc after disc. This was not after-hours underground radio. This was 9:30 a.m. on one of the most powerful FM stations in the city.

I still defend rap as a window to the rage and pain young people feel. I still feel African-American rappers are often unfairly singled out for violent lyrics in an entertainment industry awash with gunplay and belittlement of women.

But that morning, all I was getting was a parental headache. Every worst thought about rap, from its lack of actual singing to the self-hatred represented by the incessant use of the word ''nigger,'' was banging my head.

Then, as if by divine intervention, a new record came on:

''I give a holler to my sisters on welfare. 2pac cares if don't nobody else care. I know they like to beat ya down a lot. And when ya come around the block, brothers clown a lot. But please don't cry, dry ya eyes, never let up.

''Forgive but don't forget, girl. Keep ya head up. And when he tells ya you ain't nothing, don't believe him. And if he can't learn to love ya, you should leave him. . . . You know what makes me unhappy? When brothers make babies and leave a young mother to be a pappy.

''And since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman, why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think it's time to kill for our women, time to heal our women, be real to our women. Cause Praise the positive raps until the record companies think they can sell.

if we don't we'll have a race of babies that'll hate the ladies that make the babies. And since a man can't make one, he has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one. So will the real men get up. I know ya fed up ladies. But keep ya head up.''

I heard this recording again two weeks later at home in Boston. My friends at the radio station told me the rap was by 2pac, short for Tupac Shakur. 2pac's album has been on Billboard's rhythm-and-blues charts for 23 weeks, currently at No. 13. 2pac is also a co-star in the current movie ''Poetic Justice.''

When I was informed that the album's title was ''Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.,'' I breathed a parental sigh. To complicate matters more, 2pac liberally uses the H word in the hot single ''I Get Around.''

Despite saying that he is ''not a gun-totin' hooligan'' and that he rejects movie roles that would depict him as one of ''these angry, frustrated brothers, dumb football players, murderers,'' 2pac is no angel. He sometimes solves his problems with fists. Movie director John Singleton says of 2pac, ''He's got total rebel attitude. . . . Hey, he is who he is. And that's cool.''

That is garbage. Such dressing up of poor behavior plays into one of my other recurring worst thoughts about rap: that record companies push records with the B, H and N words and violence because it makes young African-American men look irreversibly stupid and beyond hope.

Since negative rap is protected by the 1st Amendment, 2pac has inspired me to another tack. Praise the positive raps until the record companies think they can sell. This can be our way of reaching out to the rappers to give them incentive to be more constructive and reach beyond titillation.

2pac has another cut that challenges deadbeat dads: ''Moms was tough 'cause his poppa wasn't man enough. Couldn't stand up to his own responsibilities. Instead of takin' care of me, he'd rather live lavishly. That's why I'll never be a father. Unless you got the time, it's a crime to even bother.''

If you can't beat them, praise them when they do right, because deep beneath the AK-toting, malt-liquor guzzling, B, H and N-calling image lies an aching human being who just might listen to reason. When Bushwick Bill, a member of the Geto Boys, used B and H at a National Association of Black Journalists rap symposium in Houston last month, the association's outgoing president, Sidmel Estes-Sumpter, asked the rapper to apologize.

Bushwick Bill said, ''I apologize for speaking my mind and for being myself. . . . I hope y'all can find it in your heart to be big enough, to be bigger than me, to forgive me, as I ask for your forgiveness.'' Maybe we, rebels and folks who struggle with the system, are beginning to reach each other. We cannot give up hope on rap when 2pac says:

''I realized Mama really paid the price. She nearly gave her life to raise me right. . . . To all the ladies having babies on their own, I know it's kind of rough and ya feeling all alone. Daddy's long gone and he left ya by ya lonesome. Thank the Lord for my kids even if nobody wants 'em. Cause I think we can make it. In fact, I'm sure. And if ya fall, stand tall and come back for more. 'Cause it ain't nothing worse than when ya son wants to know why his Daddy don't love him no more. . . . It seem the rain'll never let up. But please, ya gotta keep ya head up.''

Derrick Z. Jackson is a columnist for Boston Globe.

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