The rise and fall of Tupac Shakur Rapper's death: Former Baltimore student opted for 'gangsta' life over being a role model.

September 21, 1996

THREE YEARS AGO, when muscular dystrophy was eating DTC away at 11-year-old Joshua Torres, the Havre de Grace boy made a deathbed wish -- to see the musician Tupac Shakur.

His mother phoned a radio station in the hope it could help her reach the rap star. Not only did Mr. Shakur call back, he arrived by jet within hours to visit the family's residence on the Aberdeen Proving Ground army base.

That was one face of Tupac Shakur, the former Baltimore School for the Arts student who rose to musical fame and "culture war" infamy before being gunned down last week in a case of life imitating angry art.

"No one can ever know the other side of Tupac. He sat with my son at his bed and cried for 45 minutes," recalled Sgt. Abdul-Hakim Torres this week. "My son died an hour after he left."

More commonly seen, unfortunately, was the other Tupac Shakur, a mixed-up 25-year-old who believed he could be true to his craft only by being true to the street violence it glorified.

He may have granted the wish of one dying boy, but his actions caused the death of another -- a stray bullet from his gun felled a 6-year-old boy during a gang disturbance in 1992 -- and he contributed to misery for countless others smitten by his macho message.

Shakur and other "gangsta" rappers deserve scorn for giving kids, especially minority, inner-city youths, false hopes. While not responsible for the desperation in these children's lives, they hold out a poisonous, intoxicating snake oil of a message that says guns, turf, drugs and indiscriminate sex make the man.

He was hardly the first musician to upset the sensibilities of American society. Adults thought youth were morally adrift when members of big bands wore sweaters instead of suits, when Elvis swiveled, when the Beatles popularized mop-hair. Each generation of pop stars pushes the envelope to speak to teen-agers, and Shakur, in a time of shattered values, felt he had to push it further still.

It is troubling that this artist with local ties failed to use his talent to send a constructive message. It is even more discomfiting to ** think that young people living in hyper-poverty might not have paid him heed if he had.

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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