In the stifling post-boxing match Las Vegas traffic jam, a new black 1996 BMW inched along impatiently, it?s gold detailing glimmering brightly under the street lights. Any attempt to catch a glimpse of the passengers within the tinted windows revealed only a distorted reflection of the chaotic, yet relatively motionless urban scene. The glass sunroof slid open and a dark figure rose partly through the opening, like a tank commander surveying the horizon for signs of the enemy. Discreetly the rear window of a nearby car rolled down as it approached, and the muzzle of a gun emerged slightly. The gun, almost indiscernible from the cavernous blackness inside the car, spewed out thirteen bullets, each one punctuated by a startling yellow flash and a reverberating crack that cut through the buzz of the traffic. In one blurred and sweeping motion the black BMW roared to life, accelerating across the traffic flow and towards the oncoming cars, retreating from the scene as the dark figure collapsed limply back into the vehicle.
This incident is not a scene from a DeNiro/Pacino mobster movie. Nor is it an episode from an Oliver Stone or Quentin Tarrantino film. In fact, it is not a scene from any movie, although the story will likely wind up as a made-for-television drama. Rather, it is the dramatic finale of the life of rapper/actor Tupac Amaru Shakur, who was shot four times during this escapade while traveling from a Mike Tyson fight to a nearby club on September 7th. He later died of the wounds, after six days of intensive care and several unsuccessful operations.
Tupac Amaru, or 2Pac, as he spelled it –distinguishing him from the violent Peruvian terrorist group of the same name– was one of today?s most popular “gangsta rappers.” His lyrics are usually vulgar, offensive, and explicit, and glorify the type of life that he and many other gangsta rappers lead. They depict violence, drug use, crime and sexual abuse as acceptable, and as a necessary way of life. They often go so far as to threaten the lives of rappers from rival record labels, with whom he has an East/West coast disagreement resulting in sporadic violent episodes and threat volleys.
Such lyrics as Tupac wrote accurately depicted his dangerous lifestyle. Unlike some other gangsta rappers who conjure the image only for money, he actually led the “thug life”, as the tattoo on his stomach describes it. He was a magnet for violence, as his police record illustrates. He served eight months out of a three year sentence for sexual assault, and was to face sentencing this month for assault and battery charges on a music video producer and carrying a loaded, concealed gun. In 1993, Shakur was sued by a limo driver who claimed that he and several others severely beat him. Also, he was sometimes on the other end of the violence. In November of 1994 Tupac was shot five times in a New York recording studio in what was labeled a robbery, but allegedly was rivalry related.
Despite these misfortunes, Tupac continued his lifestyle without fear of what might happen. His lyrics have grown more furious and scathing, and continued to threaten other rappers and fuel the tension between East and West coast record labels. He began to predict in some songs that either he or his rivals were soon going to be killed, but in the song “How Do U Want It,” Tupac said “I got the scoop on how to get bulletproof,” indicating that he didn?t expect it to be him.
Tupac may have thought he was bulletproof after surviving five bullets, including one to the head, in 1994, but on Friday the 13th the world learned that he was nowhere near bulletproof. More correctly, he should be thought of as ignorant. He was ignorant to think that all the threats he rapped out against others and the reckless behavior he exhibited would not be reciprocated. Because of his ignorance, Tupac gave the five million fans who bought his last album the impression that gangsters are bulletproof, and that may have had a big impact on some listeners. But perhaps with his death, he corrected the damage by showing them what the gangster lifestyle really brings: violence, misfortune, and sometimes death.