Tupac Shakur’s brief biographical film, All Eyez on Me (2017), brings forward two invisible key variables unexposed in the film on the competitive logic of capitalism: the exploitation that comes from without and the exploitation from within. Rap artist Shakur’s Black Panther activist mother Afeni Shakur played by Danai Gurira reveals the role of a single mother up against a racist paranoiac structure meant to bear weight on her fighting spirit. Her son would become a performing artist amongst all odds. The moving frames pan across Tupac‘s childhood witnessing violence, the choke hold, and harassment exercised by the core centers of power against the dispossessed. This experience would mark Tupac Shakur’s life and influence his lyrics.
The bling, bling, the gold, and thirst for control reign throughout the film. The film’s undisclosed transfer of generational stress* laid upon marginalized communities as a form of geographical racism is telling: an inhibitor to a healthy social and psychological start. Is there such a thing as generational stress? Are such obstacles of a traumatic experience a human collateral cost?
Like the blues, jazz and hip hop, rap is a product of its time. The neoliberal assault known as Reaganomics meant the decreasing of social investment, increased military spending, and the deregulation of domestic markets; this deliberately policy took a toll on underserved neighborhoods and communities as did the pumping of crack in the streets of South Central Los Angeles to finance the war against Central American Liberation Movements during the 1980s, the predatory assault on social programs, battering rams busting doors and drive-by shootings, violence, the exacerbation of gang conflicts, Pete Wilson’s 187 assaults against immigrants, police brutality, and the beginning stages of the Central American gangs known as Maras were. The feel is there for Tupac to rap to narratives that are close to home.
His lyrics are charged with a social realism as real as flesh. There is money to be made and Tupac’s rap was ripe for exploitation by record labels. The film is set in a typical Hollywood framework: sex, power, and money.
Tupac reached legend- like status for thousands. He made it out of the hood. One foot in and one foot out up against the seductive power of capitalism Tupac juggled between rapping for liberation and rapping for fame and money. Under the bling, bling and practically owned by the devouring record label mafia like boss from Deathrow Records, the probability for any transition was nowhere to be found. Once one enters any core center of power it ends up becoming one’s truth. That is precisely what occurred; he became an instrument of power. Tupac found himself like many others under a modern re-incarnation of indentured servitude. He was living a quagmire of contradictions that did not allow him to transit through, across and out of such contradictions, not by choice but by the circumstances that surrounded him since birth. A Rolling Stone article, ‘Tupac Shakur Bio’ the reader is briefed with all the successful achievements of Tupac’s music career never once singling out the challenges capitalism posed on his choices. In a film review by Variety, Tupac is painted as militant with no cause a sexist and a nihilist. Variety seemed to have paid no attention to the pressures of a patriarchal system imposed on Tupac’s view of life. He was society and society was him. In his most celebrative homage song dedicated to his mother Dear Mama Tupac acknowledges his mother’s love as a single mother confronted with multiple (who measured his life in increments of five years) limitations in the following lyric, “Mama it aint easy raising a man” and “My anger wouldn’t let me feel for a stranger.”
Capitalism lives through its contradiction by footing the bill onto the working class, the global south, the poor and minorities. It will co-opt even a revolutionary message if there is money to be made in turning it into a commodity. It is capital’s instrument of modus operandi known as structural adjustment. Keep rolling neoliberal profits and gains at the behest of entire communities and nations. It could careless for the stress and pressures experienced under hostile conditions in low income and working class neighborhoods.
Tupac found himself under constant harassment by the conservative hegemonic media and news outlets that so often pretend to exercise objectivity and a liberal point of view. He was expected to answer for every black man. Can every reporter answer for every other reporter? All Eyes on Me puts forth the racial profiling towards black youth. We can add Latinos and Native Americans to the list. Everything he said and did was scrutinized in ways that no Caucasian artist underwent. The opportunist reporters and journalists never once dared to see him beyond a story without its traditional structure of vilifying black artists. Tupac spoke truth at the right time in the most unexpected way. “That’s just the way it is” sang Tupac. Internalizing the totalizing domination of power, life in the hood reveals for Tupac the hurdles, obstacles and the speed bumps laid out at every cross road in the hood. The following lyrics are revealing:
‘Mama’ asks Tupac ‘How did you do it!’
‘There is no way I could pay you back!’
‘But the plan is to show you I understand!’
The lyrics continue:
‘I hung around with thugs even though they sold drugs they showed a young brotha love!’
Ready to bust and cap at every disagreement, capitalism constantly emerges from the ashes of war by its use of violence. It is no small thing to lose someone to a stray bullet or at a cross fire incident, but the very same system that governs today and its use of violence distinguishes itself to prior civilizations. It has been said that war is what has birthed all societies. Yet nothing compares to the amount of aggression exercised by powerful nations today in destroying the seeds for any alternative to capitalism. Its instrumental logic, a form rationality that serves to justify violence is, embedded in all spheres of society; home, culture, work, politics, music and sports. Capitalism is tied to the production of conflicts worldwide from a micro (neighborhood/individual) to a macro (country/collective) environment. Its use is particularly directed against a logic that steers away from any act which attempts to reject the use of violence as its main protocol. It must establish norms that allow for the exploitation amongst society. This brings up philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s point: that the more progression/industrial the more violent and punishing a capitalist society becomes. We can change the industrial today to technological. Violence is necessary for the dominant and realist rulers of capitalist economies and world structures; it facilitates every excuse to keep every corner of the world on the line of fire. In Tupac’s world, it is nothing but a “Gangsta Party” with rules, regulations, and laws that institute social injustice.
A self made millionaire Tupac like several others who are not millionaires tragically bit and continue to bite the bait that strung and strings from the end of the fishing pole held between the hands of a Machiavelli: the multiple progression of division placed over every other division. In other words, he packed the binary conflict inherited in capitalism: competition over cooperation, domination over solidarity, West Coast vs. East Coast, us against them, peace or war, love or hate, and the patriarchal hierarchy towards women in particularly women of color.
The illusion of the powerless with one life to live singing down to the underdog Tupac’s song “Letter 2 my Unborn” calls out to the dear Lord for his concern in case he passes away; will his unborn seed feel love or be cursed to thug life? Can God be the only one to judge Tupac? Or is God an obstacle to his liberation when all is left in the hands of God? Like his song title, “Only God Can Judge Me” reminds us when encircled and devoid of a healthy sane surrounding, God becomes the immediate savior or luck charm of hope. To paraphrase Karl Marx, if religion is the opium of the masses it is because politics have failed the people.
Hood life with limited opportunities exposes loyalty as a vice that secures the emotions necessary to carry on were the ideology of liberation cannot. Tupac’s experience points towards the hostility from within towards one another. Patience and diligence are zapped away from meeting liberating virtues that can facilitate a kinder approach towards one another in difficult settings. Thug life is real, it oxides many to rust behind bars and others to keep up the negative projection of toughness from the highest echelons to the closest friend a prerequisite for survival in the hood. Ghetto making of neighborhoods known as hoods don’t spring from nothing. They are an accumulation of social divestments and exclusion via racism. All Eyes on Me is made with the intent to bank in some change and less to do with bringing social awareness.
*Generational Stress crosses over generation to generation the unstable preconditions of emotional, spiritual, psychological stress that derives from ill will, lack of opportunities, and to an extend a fatalistic view of life given the surrounding circumstances.