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Tupac Amaru Shakur: Rapper And Social Critic

Updated on June 22, 2012

Tupac, Cornell West, and Hegemony's Technocrats

Tupac Amaru Shakur had to scream to be heard. It involved guns and allegiances, both quiet and explosive wars against the power elite, and the final cross on which all true martyrs are slain. In his book on Tupac, Holler If You Hear Me, Dr. Dryson of U Penn talks to many of the late rapper's friends, including Big Boy, who comments on Pac's intensity: “Sometimes you have to scream to be heard.” It was a saddening event seeing Shakur go down, and maybe in a different time and place he would have never had to be violent. "Nobody," as he once said, "thinks it's fun and cool to have a gun. Nobody enjoys it." Many in power discounted him because of the explicit violence, including Dan Quayle and a chairperson of the Democratic Party.

But those who knew him insist that ultimately Pac was about love. In an interview towards the end of his life, Tupac made a suggestion to all those who dismissed him because he emerged from a culture of aggression: “Listen to everything I wrote, all my music, and hear my essence, and feel it, and look inside yourself and ask yourself…” I heard this interview a year ago. At the time, I had heard only a few of his tracks. I took him up on the challenge, going through his body of work. Well, ok. Somebody had to write the psalms of the downtrodden; every wasteland in every time and place needs a Moses. Let he who has hears hear, the old verse goes, and it’s become clear that Shakur’s message was nothing different than that of the most notable academic theorists of post-structuralism and post-colonialism in the 20th century.

He took their message to heart, to live it daily. As Dr. Cornell West of Princeton notes, “Institutions house civilizations. Ideals live in practices.” What is possible to challenge the defining chains that are currently keeping the soul of our country sick, destroying the world’s economy, and leaving many people broke and stressed out.

It appears that after the second world war, the initial opportunity for globalization had arrived. It was obvious to those who were on the insides of the scientific research, that nobody in their mind would want to repeat Hiroshima. So the third world war began, waged in silence, as the ruling elite began expanding the theoretical knowledge of the hard sciences into the social sciences, especially psychology, where more variables could be monitored with better technology. The more medicalized and specific the direction of psychology went, the more surveys, marketing questionaires, documentation, and...in short, the easier it would be to gather information from people and factor it into equations that would make the economy highly predictable for those who could know the key variables and control them to some degree. A few elite appointments were made to the APA, and within a matter of decades, prescription drugs dominated the culture and the power elite bought the drug companies. Yet this is no secret conspiracy, nothing to do with aliens, occult rituals or whatnot: those things may just be perpetuated to distract us from a more basic reality. And that is this: cold objectivity and institutionalized technocrats are dominating our economy and culture. Faith, passion, and traditions are outlawed, if not explicitly, then implicitly in terms of economic value. Tupac calls his loyal followers the outlaws, rides on the power elite, and gets shot. So here, we are, my friends.

Unfortunately, education has been influenced. As West puts it, “a market-driven technocratic culture has infiltrated university life, with the narrow pursuit of academic trophies and the business of generating income from grants and business partnerships taking precedence over the fundamental responsibility of nurturing young minds.” Despite the sincere dedication of many people interested in learning, intellectual growth, and self-actualizing the overall human potential, many are forced to be technocrats in order to survive. Some challenge; many are too scared. Many chase after careers; a few value the tradition of vocation. As West puts it, this is unnerving for many, even if not consciously: “Free-market fundamentalism trivializes the concern for public interest. It puts fear and insecurity in the hearts of anxiety-ridden workers. It also makes money-driven, poll-obsessed elected officials deferential to corporate goals of profit — often at the cost of the common good.” This is not throw standards out the window. It’s just the importance of not settling for derivatives of what the true issue of learning or life is about. And at the same time, standards are being raised, test scores are important, students are working harder, and while our culture begins to seem dumber and dumber, dominated by reality TV, addictions, dreams of riches and faux glamorous lifestyles.

So I guess, even if life still isn't that bad, on many days you're happy, but if you're somewhere anyway, spending time making observations, investing energy, you might as well, just maybe, scream on occasion, scream to be heard. Rally all that will hear your meager cry to the dust, and say, OK, maybe we can take this seriously. Or as Tupac put it:

"All who wish to follow me

I welcome with my hands."

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