For real, for real: To understand – better yet – to know Tupac Shakur, you must peer beyond hip-hop into history. The family tree that bore Tupac has a lineage of political activists, Black Panthers, and a tightly woven unit all rolled into one prolific individual person that was stolen from the Earth on September 13, 1996. His mother, Afeni, was a Black Panther, one of the Panther 21, and Mutulu, his stepfather, was a staunch activist that remains in jail for crimes he says he didn’t commit. Both Common and Paris have written songs about his Aunt Assata Shakur, who has sought asylum in Cuba. And then, there is Geronimo Ji Jaga (Also referred to as Geronimo Pratt). Geronimo is Pac’s godfather and he too has a story.
Geronimo recalls Tupac has a child bustling with energy, but soon he, like many others in empowering movements of the 60s was taken away from his life’s work, friends and his family. Geronimo spent 27 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the victim of the then-president J. Edgar Hoover’s "extermination campaign" against the Panthers and similar groups. Eventually, he was freed after declassified FBI papers proved his innocence and that the government was guilty of illegal persecution. When he got out, his godson, Tupac, was dead. Still, Geronimo’s recollections of Tupac are fond and his experience, like many of those surrounding the rapper, are related. Now, Geronimo lives near Mount Killamanjaro, Africa, where he fights the rampant AIDS epidemic, but he took time to talk to AllHipHop.com about Tupac and himself.
Not surprising, his story is as riveting as his godson’s.
AllHipHop.com: As his godfather, who was the real Tupac?
Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt): Tupac, to me, was this beautiful little boy that used to climb all over me that was so full of energy. He was not a well known person then. And then, as I saw him grow, I felt that Tupac had this thing in him and he was just so special to me. And so was his sister, Sekyiwa. And the point where he became famous is the point of our departure, because I didn’t hear from him but 2-3 times. Indirectly from him mother or something, but he was busy – I understood. But, it was a Pac I didn’t really know. The only Pac I knew was before he got famous. He was my man, my man.
AllHipHop: A few members of the family that I’ve talked to said similar things that they lost touch after the family went to the West Coast.
GJJ: I was shocked when I [found out] that Pac was a millionaire. I had no idea that Pac had any money. I heard his name on the radio a couple times. And then I come out here and he’s dead? And his mother is telling me all these things: Pac did this, Pac did that. That just goes to show how alienated I was. I was generally proud when I heard his name – that’s my god boy.
AllHipHop: What do you think about the legions of fans that follow him?
GJJ: That something. It’s like Elvis not being allowed to die. The won’t let Pac die. And when they ask me, I say, as long as I breathe air Pac is never dead. This is what they want to hear. I always say that anyway. These kids come up and hug me and I say, “Damn, these kids love Pac.” I cannot figure it out other than the chemistry that existed, that he was a genius and he knew how to reach his people. He reached them, they love him and they will not let him die. I love him, because he’s my godson, he’s family and I struggle to understand as I grow.
AllHipHop: The Pac that I personally related to the most was the one when he first came out, when he was a lot more political. Do you think a lot of people forget “that” Pac? Seems like people relate to the “Thug Life” side?
GJJ: Most of the people that came into the Panthers, that violated, were send by the police. And so they glorified that image of the gangsterism and they shunned all the shit we were doing in the community-feeding children, medical care and whatnot. That’s the enemy at work. So, with hip-hop, they will glorify the destructive elements and try to subdue the positive side. I think Pac had a good balance.
AllHipHop: You were a proven victim of CointelPro [The FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program]. Is it possible that CointelPro is still active today.
GJJ: I do believe [that], as I stated when I first got on hip-hop. Hip-hop is indigenous and its powerful and it scares the hell out of these people, right? So, they have to get control and employ CointelPro-like tactics. They work easily. I saw it with Pac. Before he was murdered I mentioned that to him. I believe to this day that they were involved in his death and they were involved in other deaths.
AllHipHip: AllHipHop.com definitely likes to have a bit of education for our readers and ourselves. So can you give us some background on you?
GJJ: I was born and raised in Louisiana in the swamps. I eventually ended up in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and, of course, Los Angeles and San Francisco. After coming home from Viet Nam [I started] training Black people how to defend themselves militarily. So, that’s the jist of my background.
AllHipHop: So you were the minister of Defense for the Black Panthers?
GJJ: I was the actual Minister of Defense. Huey Newton was the nominal Minister of Defense while in prison. He knew nothing about military. It was more of an organizing tool to have Huey’s picture there, because he has been in prison. I was the actual minister even though we never tripped on titles. I was in charge of the ministry of defense.
AllHipHop: Did your background make you more feared by the government since you had actual training and technical expertise in the military?
GJJ: Yes, and plus my back ground in a society down here, in segregation, we grew up hungry, and fishing and living like soldiers off the land. So, that gave the basis and [my skills] were further honed by the training in the military. Of course that struck a lot of fear in the establishment.
AllHipHop: What made you go in the military service in the first place?
GJJ: I was part of a class – we had 27 people in my graduating class. Out of the 27, 10 of us ended up going into the United States Army and this was more or less decided by the elders in the community who were getting old. There was a policy that some of us, when we got of age, would be sent to come back and help protect the Black community from racist attacks from the Ku Klux Klan. It had nothing – and listen to me carefully – nothing to do with being patriotic to America. It had everything to do with getting training and returning to protect the community from the Ku Klux Klan. Little did I know, I was going to end up in Viet Nam, blown up, all this stuff, but that’s just the way things happen.