"Idealists and sometimes we're young and foolish" / Embattled keepers of the Juice: What lessons would Tupac Shakur have had for Soulja Boy?



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"How completely the new thing took after the old."
-Ayi Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

I had a conversation with a friend the other day where we were discussing Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” generally, and particularly, the character of Beloved as a veritable physical incarnation of unreconciled, or unchanneled (as in constipated) generational energy.

Specifically, the character of Beloved -- newly reborn and childlike -- embodies three generations of slavery and is a symbol of the spectre of the more general historical past of slavery just as she haunts the lives of her mother, Sethe, and anyone else who comes in contact with the family. Beloved forces all of the characters in the novel to first recognize the dysfunction from the past, understand it and come to terms with it before she leaves.

Morrison gave insight into Beloved’s origins in one part when Sethe shares with Beloved details about her mother and the significance of her mother's skin branding: “I am the only one who got this mark now. The rest dead," the mother said. "If something happens to me and you can’t tell me by my face, you can know me by this mark.” In an attempt to offer a profound reply, Sethe says she wants a mark as well and her mother slaps her. By not completely understanding the full meaning of the mark and even more importantly, by asking for one of her own, the young and ignorant Sethe was, essentially, asking her mother for a repetition of the same history -- asking to have a cruelly-garnered identifying mark in the event that she might someday be so mangled by dysfunction.

She wanted the Juice.

By now, you might have heard that young rapper Soulja Boy is reportedly slated to star as Tupac’s Bishop, in a 2011 rendering of the 1992 hood classic, “Juice,” in conjunction with a mixtape release of the same name.

As a ricochet of that earlier conversation, I had a fleeting thought over the weekend of Soulja Boy as Tupac’s contemporary “Beloved;” which led me to think about cultural inheritance, genealogies and the physical manifestations of the “dark sides.”

First, there was already an insightful conversation about Tupac’s trajectory a while back (Tupac = Bob Marley?) which, at first, presciently invoked Soulja Boy, or probably, moreso, the likes of him, as a possible destination point:

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O: It was easy for me to discredit Tupac ("gangster rap violence, etc") until I was knee-deep in my 20s. I personally began to question if discounting lives such as Tupac's is what we are institutionalized to do. The dude could have been a hop-up-out-the-bed-turn-my-swag-on cat with the attention he had …. I later saw Pac as myself in MY 20s, a young dude coming out his teens with questions and thoughts that may have not been as polished as Fred Hampton Sr, Boots, or Rosa Clemente.
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And went on to trace the trajectory of his life, underscoring both the perils and the promise of his abbreviated life:

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Achali: i hope no one believes that pac got the attention he got merely on his own merits... that would be foolish to believe. pac got the attention he got PARTIALLY on his own merits... and partially because he was playing the street cred game... and part cause he played the capitalist game pac was smart enough to know that in order to get the ear of the streets he had to do some street shit and so he stayed in the streets and got into street drama... question is, is that wise? i think it could have been more wise had he pursued his strategy with some kind of organized backing... even if it was the elders... but u right he was 25... give him 5 more years and he might have figured that out...HE WAS figuring that out, no question. what we have to be careful not to do is praise the pac that lived and died at 25 as if THAT is the complete picture... we have to look forward and see where pac was going and what he COULD HAVE been if he kept going in that direction... THEN we see a MORE complete person... someone who we can actually look to for guidance...
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To add to that conversation in light of the present context, I find myself able and willing to distinguish Pac’s trajectory, which may have very well been a positive, forward-thrusting one, from the unintended consequences and figurative offspring that his alchemy of paranoia and capitalism-infused highs may have conjured. Or, even look at them in tandem.

Soulja Boy becomes more palatable to me (and, very plainly, I am able to get past my initial nostalgia-driven anxiety at the news of the pending “Juice” remake), when I consider him as Tupac’s artistic progeny – having inherited the charisma, captive audience and now the “Juice.” And what of his potential trajectory and the possibilities and promises of as yet unrevealed inheritances? The ones posited here as being “seldom visible. Only on the lower frequencies can we discern them, just like disinheritances.” In terms of the forces that generate it (capitalism, ego), for me, there is a direct path, though admittedly barely discernible, between Tupac’s misfit-slash-political stance and Soulja Boy’s ... ... Pretty Boy Swag. As far-fetched as that may sound, to me, the only difference between Mr. Shakur and Mr. Tellem is, very simply, mindful engagement from someone like a Dr. Mutulu Shakur.

It is here where ElectricLadyLike’s meditations on all things remixed, remade and reinvented become a launching point, for me, for clarity and understanding; and instructive for the kind of engagement that needs to take place. She writes:

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There is a certain bravado associated with our generation (possibly as a result of hip-hop or maybe even what influences hip-hop?). Nonetheless, our generation posits itself in this self-made framework, almost like the parent-less child who has raised itself.

One of the most important things is that we went from playing instruments to trying to make music without them. This might seem obvious and simplistic and yet much of humanity has, since the beginning of time, created music with instruments. Without instruments, something is missing. Now of course (as mentioned above) the "remix" is still a wonderful thing, the sampling and the re-creation of the original. But in that process, the new creator is STILL missing the initial essence of MAKING the music him or herself. That process: the learning, the practice, the improvisation, the repetition. And not to mention the patience, the humility, the knowing what you DON'T know...the hanging back until you are good enough to enter the cipher or jam session and play your part (literally). THAT is a powerful journey and it can't be underestimated. While it is an analogy, I think it truly gets at the heart of the matter in regards to study, scholarship, publication and playing definitive roles in historicizing our experiences. (source)
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I wonder what lessons would Tupac have had for Soulja Boy? And how would it differ or cleave to the lessons his mother, Afeni Shakur, had for him, not yet born, as a political prisoner?

"Forgive us our mistakes because mostly they were mistakes which were made out of blind ignorance (sometimes arrogance). Judge us with empathy for we were (are) idealists and sometimes we're young and foolish."

You get the sense that in the words she wrote to the child in her womb that it wasn’t necessarily meant for Tupac specifically, but rather for all of her figurative descendants -– the Beloveds -- who would become embattled keepers of the “Juice.”

And for nostalgia’s sake: