1990s \

From the Archives: Tupac’s 18th Birthday Remembered by Danyel Smith

This column on Tupac originally ran in the February 1994 issue of SPIN. 

As I remember, it was Tupac Shakur’s 18th birthday. Shock G of Digital Underground rented a stretch limousine for the celebration. There were eight or nine of us.

(Tupac Shakur is 22 now. Juice and Poetic Justice behind him. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and 2Pacalypse Now, both complex and underrated. His forthcoming Thug Life will surely be listened to more closely. By the time he turned 18, I’d known Tupac for about 18 months. He has been pleading insanity from then till now. He feels his mania is what we all have and deny, that insanity is a rational adjustment to an insane world.)

Tupac met a white girl. Maybe her name was Jennifer. She and her friend were with us as we walked back to the car from a club. Jennifer wasn’t quite sure she wanted to come along and neither was her friend. Tupac coaxed and Jennifer got in, but her friend was adamant about not, as she said, “getting in a car with a bunch of strangers.” Then Jennifer’s friend decided to come along. She sat on the floor and crossed her arms, angry. We were the picture of revelry and Jennifer’s friend was stiff and stared straight ahead.

(Tupac is the quintessential wronged black man–urban youth–crazy motherfucker. You wish he would articulate his complaints more diplomatically, without firearms. You purchase those complaints though, and enjoy them–within the confines of a song or film. You quake when his hatred manifests itself in an assault or gunfire or verbal pummeling. And you are weak if you desert him, if you don’t respond to the call of his profane soliloquies. Because you are not driven as crazy by U.S. cultural norms, because you grit your teeth and swallow “the way things are” with more of the highly regarded “restraint,” you are a punk ass nigga. Brothers like Tupac remind us that all ain’t fresh up in Bel Air. Brothers like him are the sirens.)

Tupac got mad and, as I remember it, said something to the effect of “You think you’re too good to be in here with a car fulla niggas? Fucking whore. You think just because the hair on your pussy is ugly-ass blond, every motherfucker in the world wants to get with you? I’ll put your ass out right here on this motherfucking bridge. I’ll put your ass out in the middle of West Oakland.” Jennifer’s friend cried, while Jennifer pleaded with Tupac.

(The cool night was a tiny precursor to the Reginald Denny incident and case: excuse or encourage or join the black man who is institutionally wronged, or help the individual white–in this case–women who bear, this rare time–the key phrase, remember, is black-on-black crime–his wrath? What is the black owed? For what can he or she be excused? Save the whites…join Tupac…watch…avert eyes…be morally superior…revel in vindictiveness. Options with historical and sociological significance. I stared out the window and hoped the situation would play itself out without violence.)

The names got more filthy, the words–should have left your ass up there, fuck both y’all, fuck these stupid white bitches man–loud and bitterly enunciated. Add some bass and it could have been a song. Jennifer and her friend were on their own. The driver kept looking back to check on them and us. He kept on driving, hugging the freeway and the low hills that lead to Shock G’s place.

(Tupac is a daredevil, a timebomb. Held for questioning in the shooting of a six-year-old black boy in Marin County; called out by the former Vice President for promoting black man-on-police violence; sued for assault in one state; filed suit alleging police brutality in another. Tupac’s guns were out long before he allegedly shot those off-duty police officers in Atlanta. He sees a target in the mirror. The straight-up muthafuckin’ bulls-eye. Instead of dodging, he takes the offense and lives dangerously, crazily. And so regardless of the recent sexual assault charge–sexual dominance is the spine of the manhood that Tupac and the rest of the world fetishizes–but we’ll probably never know if he “held the girl down” or not–he’ll be a hero, perhaps go to prison a hero. And if he dies while he’s still young, bleeding on the sidewalk, Tupac Shakur will be posthumously knighted, a champion, his funeral packed with devastated homiez, all feeling verified, Pac’s death proof of their truth. They are already living and dying through Shakur in the streets. And in Bel Air, but quietly.)

We passed through the security checkpoint at the sprawling complex that would burn to the ground a year later during the Oakland firestorm. And amid the landscaped greenery, right above the turquoise swimming pool, we left the long black car quickly, like there had been a stink there. From a window in the apartment, I saw Tupac tongue-kissing Jennifer or her friend. And Sleuth, Digital’s road manager, who had spent and would spend more time being Tupac’s sometime friend and sometime keeper, said, “You wonder why these niggas is crazy.”

Tags: Tupac