Op ed

Tupac’s Musical Lifeworld

Music represents rhyme. It is a lifeworld, an aesthetic environment furnished with systematic rhyme. Music exists first in the mind of the artist as a subjective world, which is later released in a manner of objective drama. The genius contemplates music, conceptualizes it, becomes it. The content of any artwork is a direct or implied reflection of the mind of the artist. The artist is man, just like any other man or woman, with mental content drawn from a jumble of experiences and ideologies. Yet it requires genius to re-orientate this jumble of experiences into rhyme capable of appealing to the taste of the critical listener.

Hip-Hop as a musical genre was fundamentally formed from a lifeworld characterized by conflict and social sham. Such manner of existence is referred to as Ghetto. The ghetto is a derogatory term used to describe the shabby slums inhabited predominately by impoverished blacks and social miscreants in America. That reference now goes beyond America; Ghettoes exist everywhere. There are Ghettoes in Europe, Africa, Asia, etc. The music of ghetto plays a particular tune; plays the tune of struggle, of violence, of death, of revenge, of injustice. These dark aspects of life and the need to escape from them are the very expressions of traditional hip hop genre.

As a being realized within this framework, Tupac saw himself as a concrete situated instance of Blackman’s struggle. He saw himself as a phenomenon that at once represents this lifeworld and also is part of it. His drama starts therefore at this realization and hence he built the social problems existing in his community into his own music; this music is a pure mirror of his own personality. To change the environment, to uproot the discordant music of social denigration, Tupac offered himself, sacrificed himself as a symbol of black struggle.

The character of hip-hop rap flow is peculiar in its presentation. There is first a maelstrom of booming beating, followed sometimes immediately by a ‘rat-a tat’ of rhythmic raps or seconded by lyrics and then the raps. Generally, raps follow this procedure, but what influences the uniqueness of each orientation stems from the peculiar genius of the very rapper.

The Tupacian rap flow is unique. It involves a stream of highly sequential and systematic report of firm assertions flowing on the groundwork of variable lyrics, sounds and beatings. One can imagine the eerie feeling of dread and mysterious sense of defiance that is directly evoked by tracks like ‘Hail Mary’, Hit’ em up, Trade in War Stories, etc. The manners in which the different tunes are phonetically arranged suggest simply the very factor which the artist wants to communicate. This is the work of literary genius at play. In Hail Mary, the artist declares ‘let’s go deep into the solitary minds of a mad man’. The mad man here is Tupac who represents the society filled with ‘screams in the dark’ and where ‘evil lurk’. The solitary mind of a mad man represents a babel of hyperactive forces pushing to and fro within the mind of a social victim. The social victim has become “mad” from a too constant exposure to unsavory experiences. Now he is solitary in his pain and dilemma. The screams in the dark are the unspoken protests, the silent defiance, the punishing fatality of living a meaningless life. The tension is intoxicating, suffocating, maddening. The outflow of phonetic features here plays out the message of an inherent social discord in a musical fashion.

The style employed in ‘Hail Mary’ is different formally from the style used in the ‘Me Against the World’. In the Hail Mary’, Tupac actually sought to analyze the society from examining the subjective temper of an integral aspect of the society. He himself was that subjective temper. So he was actually doing a meditation, introspection, self disclosure. But in ‘Me against the world’ he was presented as a disinterested critic of the society which presents itself to him as would a cadaver to a dissecting scientist. Here, he was clearly direct, pinpointing with articulate emphasis the inherent evils in the society. Hence there is here a change of style, a change of tune, a restructuring of the phonetic shape and musical cadence. The ‘Me against the world’ observes the society from the view point of one who had been in the society, but had, more or less, retained comparative sanity despite the attendant psychic trauma. Here, the observer, the aesthetic contemplator sets the world at a distance and rightly gives report of a subsequent observation. Here Tupac talks in an aloof manner, outlawing himself and projecting a future world. Hence he said

With all these extra stressing the question I wonder is after death, after my last breath will I finally get to rest through this oppression

He speaks here of the after life, of eternity. Tupac ingeniously weaves the lifeworld of his existence into his musical flow.

In the Hail Mary, Tupac delves into the mind of the social victim. He presents the trauma such goes through. He talks of “screams in the dark”. The use of “Screams” here connotes protest, defiance, fear, horror, pain. “Dark” here makes reference to dilemma, uncertainty, ignorance, poverty, hopelessness, death.

The same theme was also pursued in Baby Don’t Cry, though this one was specifically dedicated to women. Observe these statements:

Now here’s a story about a woman with dreams
So picture perfect at thirteen, an ebony queen
Beneath the surface it was more than just a crooked smile
Nobody knew about her secret so it took a while
I could see a tear fall slow down her black cheek
Shedding quiet tears in the back seat; so when she asked me,
“What would you do if it was you?”
Couldn’t answer such a horrible pain to live through
I tried to trade places in the tragedy
I couldn’t picture three crazed niggaz grabbing me
For just a moment I was trapped in the pain

The words above as used in the ‘Baby Don’t Cry’ are almost like a live drama. The words compel a picture of a common social tragedy – the trauma of rape. In listening to the words, one is as it were dragged into oneness with the female victim herself. The picture plays itself out like a flash of horrible pain.

So many tears’ witnessed a radical transformation of the entire Tupacian phonetic format, but with that indefinable Tupacalyptic essence still distinguished in the artwork. The artwork is supposed here to represent the subjective muse of a sober mind on the eternal mystery of his existence. Tupac here creates a solitary world of self contemplation. It was a masterpiece of arts, a phonetic textualization of an enigmatic cosmic discourse. The dialogue happens as an inter-subjective interaction between a soul and God. That is the sense of mystery in arts.

Tupac had allowed art to be a medium of self expression of personal deep seated passions. Just like in Marie Corelli’s novel Sorrow of Satan where a writer Mavis Clare, obsessed with the pang of pains caused by criticisms, formed an aviary where she carefully housed birds named after those critical censurers, Tupac saw arts as a manner of periodically venting deep-seated inner feeling. Mavis Clare’s birds were named after her critics and so she feels pacified. Tupac creates arts representing the various passions he underwent and so his passions are spent. He transforms the very bitterness passionately felt into artworks with aesthetic value and invaluable economic worth. Tupac’s ‘Hit ’em up’ and ‘Are you turning on me’ are condensed outbursts of passionate feelings constructed into arts. In listening to the “Hit’ em up’ one feels the heat, notices the steady rise in the stream of passionate outbursts and its subsequent exhaustion. Through the vicissitude of the rap flow, curse words reverberate, defiantly naming and denouncing the reasons and characters tributary to the passion expressed. The Hit’ em up’ is an expressive behaviour of a wronged mind openly challenging the defaulters of a fair game. There we see Tupac saying in a heat of wild rebuttal

Fuck mob Deep

Fuck Biggie

Fuck bad boy …

And if u want to be down

With bad boy, then fuck you too

The sequence is the same. The rhyme flows uniformly in a passionate alliteration. Here there is economic value attached to the enterprise. Tupac himself said he ‘makes money out of curse words’. In an interview, he said

I don’t want it to be about fighting. I just want it to be about money.

As we earlier asserted, Tupac’s life is music. And music is the cultural locale, the very lifeworld in which he exists. All aspects of his life are ingeniously built into his peculiar musical poetry. Tupac is the definition of the Blackman within the stark reality of his existential and social lot. Tupac is the ghetto. He made himself so. He is the stage on which the entire social experience of the Blackman is played and resolved.

Culled from the book Tupacalypse by Philip Obioha

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