"The Rose That Grew From Concrete" by Tupac Shakur: A Book Review
Author: Tupac Shakur (2Pac)
2009, MTV Books
Readability/entertainment value: 20/20
While most of us love or hate 2Pac based on his music or his appearances in such films as Juice, Above the Rim and Poetic Justice, we were not privy to his inner thoughts. His rap was accessible, brutal, honest and thoughtful. He spoke of the racism of society, the dangers of crack cocaine, his love love for his mother and, later, his hatred for East Coast rappers. In interviews, Pac exuded a tough exterior and outspoken attitude.
But there was always something about him that made him stand out. He was handsome, had a laugh that could infect you for miles and his toughness was always softened by a layer of sensitivity. When he was gunned down in September of 1996 at the age of twenty-five, the world lost a reluctant prophet and a brilliant poet who knew the reality of the streets with fatal consequences.
His lyrics were simple, and his delivery was effective. This comes across in his timeless "gangsta" rap and in this remarkable book of poetry, The Rose That Grew From Concrete.
The majority of the poems in this book were written in a writing workshop when he was nineteen years old. The words are penned from an intuitive mind who was not about cuss words and violence. What you'll find in these poems are a brilliant wordsmiths thoughts on God, on family, on relationships, on society and even on himself. Pac, you'll discover, was deeply religious, exceedingly kind and introspective. The poem from which the book takes it's title is a reference to growing up and thriving under tough circumstances. Another of my favorites, Starry Night, is a poem about Vincent Van Gogh, another misunderstood artist. Pac was aware of who he was, and of how he looked in the eyes of others... and, in his words, he just didn't give a fuck.
These poems are not esoteric. The language is simple-- even juvenile at times. It's raw. Pac wasn't worried about form or trying to be the next Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden or Robert Frost, though his vibe shares a lot with Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and other African American poets with a strong social consciousness. He simply wanted to get his thoughts out on paper and he does this, spewing emotion and tenderness all over the page. The poet in me at times rolled my eyes at some of the predictable rhyme schemes, but, I quickly set aside my snobbery and focused on words on the page. Each poem touched me on a deep level. This is the sign of good poetry.
The poems gain power because we see them written in the poets own handwriting. On the left side of each page, you see the original drafts written by 2Pac, next to a typed version of the same poem. Some of the originals include drawings and slang that make his work unique and timeless. The poems are short and say just enough. you won't be left wondering what they mean, but, rather, you'll be impressed that so few and so simply of words could generate such a powerful emotional response in your self.
Whether you're familiar with-- or a fan of-- 2Pac's work or not, this powerful and important book should be read and enjoyed by all. The artist who has released a dozen albums of new material since his passing, shows us that he still has more to give. This book is his gift to you, will you accept it?