Passing of Giants of the Human Spirit: Ten Days When Death Came Calling, Part Seven
May 27, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry
Remembering Afeni Shakur – Part D
When Tupac Amaru Shakur was dedicated in Atlanta, GA, I was one of the speakers at the Atlantic Civic Center on November 10, 1996. I will share excerpts from speech. I think they are so germane for rappers, Black artists, and people of African ancestry, in general. The following are my remarks.
Challenges of Tupac’s Memory
Atlantic Civic Center
November 10, 1996
“On one of my visits with Tupac while he was in Rikers Island Jail in New York City, we discussed doing a tour together. I would say to him, ‘You rappers have so much influence on our youth, you have to use it in a positive way. You all got to keep it real. I mean real, real.’ And, I would remind him that phonies are everywhere. No art form, career, or profession has a monopoly on phonies. We have our share in the church. So, I know you have your share in the Hip Hop World.
“‘Come on, now,’ I would say, ‘Everybody talking about ‘let’s keep it real’ aint’ real.’ Sometimes, I’d say to him, ‘Let’s do a tour, a concert, or whatever. You do your rap, then introduce me, and let me do my rap. Maybe, we could do something creative with the choir.’ He would say, ‘Ok, all right,’ and he would flash this big grin.
“Well, we never did the tour or the concert, but standing here tonight with his mother, Afeni, and his sister, Sekiywa, and with all of his relatives, friends, and fellow artists, I feel his presence. I know that Tupac is here, and I believe I hear him saying, with this big grin on his face, ‘Well, Reverend, I told you we were going to do it. I couldn’t make it with you in the flesh, but I’m here with you in the spirit. I did my rap. I told them I ain’t mad at cha. All eyes on me. Now, you do yours. Rap about the things we talked about.’
“Now, I don’t want to usurp the time. I know we want to hear from all of these artists, but if I didn’t say something, I would be letting Tupac down. I would be letting God down. I wouldn’t want to do that, and you wouldn’t want me to do that. So, let me say a few words to you, and then get out of the way.
“Now, what shall I rap about? Firstly, I want to rap about rapping. It’s important that we understand that rapping has a long history in our race. Griots, the storytellers of Mother Africa, were rappers. When I was young, we used to shine shoes, but we shined with a beat. We would pop our rags as we shined the shoes. We also did Ham Bone: ‘Ham Bone, Ham Bone, where you been, around the world and back again,’ Beating our hip and chest rhythmically while we rapped. Even when we played the dozens, we had a beat to it. In fact, we used to say to those who didn’t want to play, but wanted to laugh or enjoy other people playing, ‘If you can’t play, don’t pat your feet to the beat.’ All real Black preachers are rappers.
“Rapping is in our genes. It’s in our melanin. It’s in our blood. It’s in the beat of our heart. It is in the essence of whom and what we are and it is not confined to our external reality. It is woven into an indefinable, mysterious something we call rhythm, which flows from and connects us to the Creator and the Cosmos. I name this rhythmic moment the ‘Cosmological Rhythm Essence (CRE)’ where we are one with the cosmos. When artists are one with the cosmos, they are possessed and they carry us way out or way in until we too become possessed.
“In a most unusual, extraordinary way, Tupac embodied the CRE early on when he was writing poetry. He was so smart. Rhyme and lyrics flowed from him so effortlessly and flawlessly, it seemed. It was in him, and over him. He was brilliant – a genius. Pick your superlative to define and describe him, and when you have selected your highest expression, you still will not have fully, accurately, and truly told us who Tupac was. In the end, we have to say, “God knows.” This much we can say, “He was a supremely gifted son, who was born and lived in peculiar and difficult circumstances.
“Let us acknowledge that artists are beneficiaries of the rhythms bequeathed to them by their ancestors. Let us be clear. What you have is a gift, but the world, especially young people, need to know that rappers are not only gifted, but all of you are some of the hardest working people in the world.
“Now, three things come to mind. Firstly, since God gave rapping to us, we have to be careful and not let other people take it. You know some people always want to be the boss, in charge of, or the head of everything. I remember when I was growing up, there were Count Basie; Cootie Williams; and, they called Benny Goodman, the ‘King of Swing.’
“Then, Elvis Presley became King, Bruce Springsteen is the Boss, and Frank Sinatra is the Chairman of the Board. I am telling you that in a few years, some white dude is going to hang out with some of you long enough to half-way clap his hands on time – once in awhile, and I guarantee you, he is going to be called the “King of Rappers.”
Nevertheless, we did our own naming, too. While other people were claiming top spots for their people, we identified and gave top billing to our people. We called Charles Parker the ‘Bird.’ Nobody could do what Charlie could do with the alto sax. Lester Young was the President (the “Pres”) of the tenor sax association. Billie Holiday was “Lady Day.” Sarah Vaughan – well, there wasn’t an appropriate description for her so we called her the “Divine One.” Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, and not far from here, from Augusta, Georgia, came James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. My point is, what God has given us, we have to name and claim.
Now, the second point I want to make is in regards to rappers being beneficiaries of a race experience. This means what you have doesn’t belong totally to you. You have a gift. God and the ancestors have been gracious to you. You have been endowed with a gift that has brought you fame and fortune. I want to remind you that this gift you have received doesn’t belong totally to you. It belongs to all of us. It belongs to brothers and sisters who are homeless. I know Tupac would want me to tell this to you. Your gifts belong to young brothers and sisters trying to make it – those who are locked in poverty, powerlessness, and purposelessness. Your gift belongs to young sisters, who deserve our respect, our protection, our caring, and not abuse and manipulations.
Let us de-emphasize our personal wealth and let us emphasize our collective responsibilities. Let us minor in personal ego expansion and major in collective advancement. Who cares about how many cars you drive, the size of the house you live in, how much jewelry you have, who you rub shoulders with, where you go for vacation, how many wives or husbands you have, and how many millions you have? What we care about is how are you using what you have to help your mothers and fathers, brothers, and sisters who are less fortunate and whose early appreciation of you helped to give you the fame you now enjoy, and whose early purchase of your music started you on the way to wealth. You have a challenge. You have a responsibility. You have an obligation to give, share, and help people. It will only enhance what you already have.
Your gifts also belong to our struggle for human rights and self-determination. I challenge you to copy the example of Paul Robeson, who refused to barter away his dignity for society’s praise and goodies. Instead, he decided that his talents would be used in the struggle for freedom. Yes, your gift belongs to us – all of us. We need to make a promise here tonight to Tupac and to our God that we will do all we can to uplift our people.
… to be continued.