The Tupac Shakur that I knew was a family member, a cousin to be specific. He
wasn’t a rapper, actor, gangsta or dancer – just the creative cousin
of the family.
Some of my earliest memories of ‘Pac are
of me staying the night on Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore, where he lived. In
1985, him and my older brother Kenny would hammer nails through sheets in the
wall and make in-house tents during those simpler days.
They would draw spaceship windows on the wall
and pretend it was their craft that soared the skyways. They would bang one
side into the wall and then tuck the other side under one of their beds to create
the rocket ship effect. I don’t know exactly where their imaginations took
them, because neither Pac nor my brother would let me onboard their adventure
since I (and some of my other relatives) was too young. Nevertheless, I was
privy to be a member of their exclusive band.
I was a drummer, dancer, singer in the “Prince
& The Revolution Band”…I was permitted to be everything BUT the
lead. Our theme song was “1999,” a Prince song that crooned “I’m
gonna party ‘til its 1999.” It was a lot of fun for all of us, but
for Tupac, it was hard labor. He worked hard to “book” our shows,
he would get mad if we missed our cues and nobody else could take that coveted
lead. If we messed up, he would kick us out of the group. You could get your
spot right back, because he didn’t have any replacements to fill in the
band. It was fun though…
We were just cast members in his performance
and we just didn’t know at the time. I didn’t know how serious it
was for Pac until Set, his sister, later told me a funny story. She told me
she once asked him angrily, “Why do you always get to be the lead (Prince)?”
And, Pac furiously retorted, “Are you out here booking the gigs? Are you
out here getting us work? I’m working hard for his group and that’s
why I get to be the lead.” Set just gave up, but they had a serious argument.
Now, understand, this was all fiction, since the name of the group was “Prince
& The Revolution,” and it was a complete imitation of the real life
act from Minneapolis. We only performed in the living room, but that’s
when I realized that it wasn’t all fun and games. His destiny was in motion.
After that, I really started to notice his creative
I observed that he was into rapping and acting.
He was just a corny kid rapping, but back then everybody was. Kastro of the
Outlawz, who is my cousin as well, was there putting pen to pad and so was my
brother Kenny. They would be out on the local playground trading verses with
other ambitious young Black boys in Baltimore. Years later when his success
took off, it was no surprise to any of us.
But, my fondest memories are from back in the
days, before he became an icon of Black America. At my 10th birthday party,
I rocked my cutest attire, my tightest braids, a brand-new bootleg Cabbage Patch
Doll and I was ready to go. And all of my cousins were invited to my mother’s
house to celebrate. As we were downstairs, partying and having a good time,
he was always the one in the middle of the circle, dancing, or performing.
His mind was always thinking creatively so a
normal conversation was rare with Tupac. If we had a chore, he would find a
way to make the household labor fun. Our parents were out and about a lot so
we often looked up to him as a leader, not only the older cousin. But that’s
how he was. He was the only kid on the block that could exude a cupful of confidence
with a half-a-mouth of braces. During that time, Pac’s mother couldn’t
quite afford to get to get his dental work completed and that was often the
subject of laughter. Still the confidence remained.
I lost touch with Tupac when his mother relocated
their entire family to the West Coast. Consequently, the band fell apart, the
rap ciphers dwindled and the spaceships were permanently docked on Earth. We
communicated infrequently and only rejoined at holidays and other special events.
We all sprouted out, taking our own courses in life. Tupac took his act on the
road and word of his success began to trickle through the family tree even before
he was American’s darling. As his public success grew and grew, I held
fast to my memories of Tupac. Fortunately for me I would share a part of him
that remains uncaptured by the rap records, idol worship, media and magazines.
The Tupac Shakur that I knew was a family member,
a cousin to be specific. But, I have grown to realize that all along, he actually
was a rapper, actor and dancer – just that creative cousin of the family.