BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Eric Dyson,
on the cover of your book "Holler If You
Hear Me," you have a little saying that
says "Searching for Tupac Shakur."
Why are you searching for him?
Professor MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, "HOLLER IF YOU HEAR ME: SEARCHING FOR TUPAC SHAKUR": : Well,
because he's disappeared from the
common light of our public life, and he's also a--a murdered
figure who still has a shroud of mystery around him. And I
wanted to find out if I could determine who this real person
was, the mythology about him being a thug, about him being a
poet, about him being a black revolutionary, his pedigree
inherited from his mother. I wanted to figure out what's the
real Tupac Shakur about, who was he, what drove him, what
passions ignited him and, ultimately, what was the meaning of
LAMB: When was he killed?
Prof. DYSON: September 13th, 1996.
Prof. DYSON: He was murdered in a drive-by. He was
driving--well, Suge Knight, his record company label head,
was driving a 750 black BMW, and Shakur was riding,
unfortunately, shotgun, and someone drove up in an
automobile and, according to either story, stuck a hand out
and fired several fir--rounds into the car door or got out and
then actually shot at the car door with Mr. Shakur there,
trying to get into the back seat, Mr. Knight pulling him down.
And two bullets went through him, and he lingered for six
days, but technically from the 6th through the 13th, seven
days. He died on Friday, September 13th.
LAMB: How old was he?
Prof. DYSON: He was 25 years old.
LAMB: Why do people think he's still alive?
Prof. DYSON: Well, I think that, first of all, his--the--the kind
of numerology that he delved into on his last
pu--posthumously pu--published album, which was "Makaveli,"
so he adopted the Machiavelli character, although he changed
the spelling, M-A-K-A-V-E-L-I. And people thought, well,
since Machiavelli in "The Prince" talks about faking one's own
death to maintain power, that Tupac Shakur knew that he
was going to, quote, "be alleged to have died," and therefore,
he faked his own death to escape the rat race he was
involved in, to escape the thug life, viciousness that he had
become involved in and to escape his record contract with a
company that had got him out of jail, but that now he wanted
to leave for greener pastures.
But furthermore, I think, young people believe that Tupac is
alive because he's the first black person to integrate this
immortal class of figures like JFK and Elvis who, are believed to
still be alive by their fans. There was something charismatic
and tragic about Tupac at the same time, and many of his
fans believe that given, his own addiction to drama, that this
was the ultimate drama: to--to escape by pretending that
one was dead, so that one could move on in different spheres
of one's life. But in the case of Tupac, especially for young
black people, I think partly what's going on is the deflection of
the reality of death; that is, that people who make some of
the decisions and choices he made end up being murdered as
a result--as a consequence of the--the lifestyle that they
live. And I think Tupac certainly was a representative of a
destructive as well as edifying lifestyle for young black people.
LAMB: It's entirely possible that people who regularly watch
this program have never heard of Tupac Shakur.
Prof. DYSON: Absolutely. You know, he was a young man who
was born in the ghetto of New York, in Harlem, to a mother
who was a revolutionary Black Panther figure, who was
accused of--along with 20--20 other Black Panther figures--of
attempting to blow up fire stations and to bomb railway
stations and so on in New York City. So she was taken to trial
along with her co-defendants. She represented herself and
represented the rest of the Panther 21, as they were called,
and she showed an enormously intelligent defense of their
position and got them off.
Right after that, a--a month after that, Tupac was born,
named after an Incan Conquistador whose body was ripped
apart by Spanish conquerors. So here was a very powerful
figure, Afeni Shakur, who became the darling of the left liberal
wing of American politics for, you know, maybe a
couple--maybe about a year. After that, she was left to her
own wits. She became a--a legal assistant, as it was then
known, and tried to support her family, but had to go on
welfare; had a daughter, Sekyiwa, in 1975, with Mutula
Shakur, who himself was a black--revolutionary Black Panther.
So Tupac was nurtured in an environment where he believed
that black people should struggle for self-determination, that
they should struggle against white supremacy, that--that
they should oppose it with everything that was in them: their
head, their heart, their soul, their bodies.
As he grew up, his mother became a--addicted to crack
cocaine. As a result of her addiction to crack cocaine, Tupac
suffered a series of, shall we say, you know, domestic
setba--domestic setbacks. He went from home to home. He
was homeless. By the time he was 13, he had lived in 20
different places. He went on to become a serious actor,
joining the 127th Street Ensemble in New York, where he
performed the part of Travis in "A Raisin in the Sun," the play
by Lorraine Hansberry, for Jesse Jackson's 1984 campaign. So
early on, he enjoyed the spotlight and enjoyed his comradery
with these famous black figures.
He went on to leave New York at about the age of 15, moved
to Baltimore with his mother and became a--a member of the
Baltimore School of Arts there, which is a very renowned
school. And he was an--an--an enormously gifted actor.
Everybody there says he was tremendous. Even in a school
that was known for its extraordinary thespian talent, he stood
out because of his spookiness, because of his intensity,
because of his mastery of his craft. He also studied ballet and
art, began to write poetry, began to rap a bit, met the
actress that would eventually become Jada Pinkett Smith,
who became one of his close friend; moved from there at age
17 to Marin City in California, and there attended what they
call Mount Tem High School, one of the elite schools in a very,
very nicely sequestered school district there and was known
also for his acting, but became disillusioned with school
because it no longer fit his view of the world. And his view of
the world was, `I'm a young black person trying to struggle
for an authentic identity and to articulate my viewpoints
about the world, and it's not being supported in school.' So he
became a rapper after that.
LAMB: The name Shakur, where's that come from?
Prof. DYSON: It's a--an Arabic term, Tupac Amaru, a shining
prince. And Shakur was the common Muslim name adopted by
many of the members of the Black Panther Party. Mutula
Shakur, Assata Shakur, who was formerly known as Joanne
Chesimard, who was accused of murdering a--a policeman in
New Jersey, a state patrolman, and is now living in Cuba and
is--in fact, one of the theories about Tupac's disappearance
is that he's in Cuba with his a--adopted godmother, Assata
Shakur, chilling out from the vicious chaos of his life.
LAMB: His mother, you say her name is Afeni?
Prof. DYSON: Afeni Shakur, right.
LAMB: Where does she live?
Prof. DYSON: She lives now in a--in Stone Mountain, Georgia,
with--in a house that Tupac bought her with the proceeds
from the down payment on his first three albums for Death
Row Records. Death Row had--label head Suge Knight, which
is now called Tha Records, not Death Row Records, since he
has been released from jail. He was in prison for--for--for four
years. He went to prison where Tupac was in Rikers Island
and the Clinton Correctional Facility and had him sign a
three-page, handwritten contract that was the basis of their
relationship--professional relationship and the last company
for--for which Tupac worked. So he signed that contract. He
said, `I need a house for my mother.' And so a house was
purchased for Tupac's mother, and that's the house in Stone
LAMB: How much did she cooperate with you for this book?
Prof. DYSON: Very much so. She was very cooperative. I
thank Geronimo Pratt, another Black Panther who served 27
years in prison until he was released a--a--a client of a then
young, unknown attorney, Johnnie Cochran. So Geronimo
Pratt forged a connection between me and Ms. Shakur, and
she was quite cooperative and very moving and touching and
quite honest about her own faults, her own f--frailties and her
LAMB: How old is she now?
Prof. DYSON: She's in her early 50s.
LAMB: And why does she want a book written about her son?
Prof. DYSON: Well, because she understands that Tupac was
a--in--in the words of Hegel, a world historical figure; he was
a very important young man, even though mainstream society
may not have been attuned to his importance. She
understood that this was a figure who was not only important
for African-American youth or for pop culture, but he is a
figure in whom we can see the contesting will of somebody
who wants to be smart and intelligent, on the one hand, and
on the other hand, somebody who got caught up in some
self-destructive habits. She sees her son as an exemplar of
the best and the brightest of African-American culture, and
she sees him as a symbol of a generation that continues to
fight for legitimacy in a culture that often doesn't recognize it.
LAMB: We're going to run a little excerpt from one of his
albums. I--and it's actually an excerpt from the--I don't know
if you--do you call these songs?
Prof. DYSON: Yes, I guess, they--they are songs. Right. True.
LAMB: And this is the one a--about his mother, "Dear Mama."
What's the--what's the origin of this?
Prof. DYSON: Well, Tupac had written his mother a nine-page
letter when she indicated that she was in recovery for her
crack addiction. And he said to her, `I appreciate what you've
done, but you can't expect me overnight to accept your word
that you will stay clean simply because you said so.' And so
he struggled mightily. This is right when he was becoming
famous--struggled mightily with her decision to go into
rehabilitation and whether or not it was a legitimate one. He
certainly understood later on that it was.
So this was his way of making up with her in public, of
forgiving her, of offering an olive branch, so to speak, to--to
bring more tranquility to their domestic relationship. And so
this "Dear Mama" was him speaking from his heart, a--a--a
gesture of love, a gesture of also criticism, but an
acknowledgment that, `You are a serious woman, and that
there have been serious odds against you.'
LAMB: Have you ever--did you ever meet him, by the way?
Prof. DYSON: Never met him.
LAMB: Let's run this excerpt from "Dear Mama" and then get
your reaction to it.
Prof. DYSON: All right.
(Audio excerpt from Tupac Shakur's "Dear Mama")
(Graphic on screen)
When I was young me & my mama had beef 17 years old
kicked out on the streets Though back at the time, I never
thought I'd see her face Ain't a woman alive that could take
my mama's place Suspended from school; and scared to go
home, I was a fool with the big boys, breakin all the rules
I shed tears with my baby sister Over the years we was
poorer than the the other little kids And even though we had
different daddies, the same drama When things went wrong
we'd blame mama I reminisce on the stress I caused, it was
hell Huggin on my mama from a jail cell And who'd think in
Heeey! I see the penitentiary, one day And runnin from the
police, that's right Mama catch me, put a whoopin to my
backside And even as a crack fiend, Mama You always was a
black queen, Mama I finally understand for a women it ain't
easy tryin to raise a man
You always was committed A poor single mother on welfare,
tell me how you did it There's no way I can pay you back But
the plan is to show you that I understand You are appreciated
LAMB: How popular was he at his height?
Prof. DYSON: Oh, extraordinarily so.
LAMB: I mean, like money? How--did he make a lot of money?
Prof. DYSON: Well, he made a--a--a ton of money and spent
a ton of money because he had, you know, some argued up
to 40 friends and relatives that he was taking care of at the
time of his death. But his second album debuted at the top of
the charts. His third album, "Me Against The World," debuted
when he was in prison for a charge--a conviction of sexual
abuse. He had been charged with sodomy and rape, but he
was a--acquitted of those charges and accused of forcibly
touching a woman's buttocks.
So he--his album debuted at the top of the charts, and his
next album, "All Eyez on Me," which was the first double album
in the history of hip-hop culture, went on to sell something
like seven million copies. So he was extraordinarily popular,
made it into a--a--a--a huge you sum of money and spent a
huge sum of money because he was a very compassionate
young man who believed that he was responsible for taking
care of his family.
LAMB: Was your--when he died, was there money left?
Prof. DYSON: Well, there's--that was the argument. Death
Row Records claimed that Tupac owed them money as a
result of his lavish lifestyle, living in the Peninsula Hotel, the
cars that he purchased.
Prof. DYSON: The Peninsula Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
And the cars that he purchased, and just lavishing gifts on
women and so on. Whereas, the estate that was headed by
Afeni Shakur, his mother, claimed that he was owed millions of
dollars. So they went to court and finally settled by giving the
rights of that music to Afeni Shakur and Amaru Records, but
he certainly has generated millions of dollars since his death
and continues to--his estate continues to collect money.
LAMB: By the way, why did Suge Knight go to prison?
Prof. DYSON: He went to prison because the night that Tupac
Shakur was murdered, they were attending a Bruce Seldon
fight and a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas at the MGM. At the
MGM, as they were exiting the fight, somebody told Tupac
Shakur, `We think we see a guy who snatched one of the
Death Row pendants,' from one of their fellow artists. Tupac
then pursued him. His name was Orlando Anderson. All of
them--that is, the--the entourage of Tupac and Suge Knight,
began to get in kicks and hits and to a--a--assail the young
man. He pressed no charges. He was allegedly a member of
the Crips. Suge Knight was allegedly a member of the Bloods.
And Tupac was closely allied with him. And he was brought up
on charges of--of violating his probation. He had a
pri--previous charge involving guns and so on. So he was sent
to jail for nine years. He served about four and a half years of
LAMB: You--you got into this how?
Prof. DYSON: Well, I--I'm a fan--a huge fan of hip-hop. I was
a teen father.
LAMB: Well, first, what's a hip--what does it mean by
Prof. DYSON: Well, hip-hop is the term assigned to rap
music--not only rap music, but the larger culture out of which
rap music issues. Some say Ko--DJ Kool Herc came up with
the term. Some say o--oth--who is a famous person within
rap music. Some say it was somebody else. But the term
suggests something about the beat, the rhythm, the passion
of urban street life. And I was a huge fan of that kind of
music because I was a teen father. I knew my son was
attracted to that. I wanted to find a way to be able to reach
him, to bridge the gulf, generationally speaking. But also
because I was a--a--a member of a family that was deeply
into music. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, in the inner city
there, and so my father and mother listened to everything
from blues to jazz and R&B, so I was deeply attracted to the
LAMB: How old you were when had your first son?
Prof. DYSON: I was 19 years old.
LAMB: How old is he today?
Prof. DYSON: He is 23 years old.
LAMB: Now one of your sons in here you quote saying--said
to you that had this--I mean, I--I get the quote. You
probably remember exactly what I'm talking about here.
Prof. DYSON: Right. That's--that's him. That's Michael Eric
Dyson II. He said, `Pops, you know, Dad, had you met Tupac,
I think he might have lived.'
LAMB: Why do you--why does he think that?
Prof. DYSON: Well, that's the generosity of a son thinking that
his father has the answer for young people who may be in
trouble, given some of his own experiences and the way I've
been able to manage some of the chaos in his own life, but
also because of our--the mutual love and admiration we
share. And he--he--you know, he understood that I loved
hip-hop culture and that I had enormous love for Tupac
Shakur. Long before he died, I was attracted to him as a
person who didn't possess the greatest skills in terms of what
rap music is about--poetic meters, intense focus on using
metaphor and simile and all of these other rhetorical flourishes
that are common to the lyric conventions of hip-hop. But he
had a heart that was huge and a vision that was--was
catholic, small C, and a vision that was complex. And I was
attracted to that vision, and he knew I was attracted to this
young man. So he felt that had I been able, as a Baptist
minister, as well as a professor and as well as a father and as
a black man, been able to reach out to him, perhaps he might
have been saved.
LAMB: Where do you make home today?
Prof. DYSON: I'm in Chicago. I teach at DePaul University, and
I live in Chicago, Illinois.
LAMB: What do you teach?
Prof. DYSON: I teach religious studies. I teach classes. I'm a
university professor, which means pretty much I can teach in
any department I choose. I'm--my base is in religion and in
philosophy, and I teach courses in critical race theory,
courses on popular culture, courses on the radical legacy of
Martin Luther King Jr. recently.
LAMB: And where did you get your own education?
Prof. DYSON: My undergraduate is from Carson-Newman
College, a small Southern Baptist school 30 miles outside of
Knoxville, Tennessee, in Jefferson City, Tennessee. I did a BA
there. My MA and PhD are from Princeton University in religion.
LAMB: What did you do after Princeton?
Prof. DYSON: I left Princeton to teach at Hartford Seminary
for a year, and after I left--and direct a poverty program. And
then left Hartford to go to Chicago for the first time for three
years from '89 to '92 to teach at Chicago Theological
Seminary. I left there in '92 to teach at Brown University for
two years. And then there on to the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill for three years, teach--I taught at
Columbia University of New York for two years. And now I've
been in Chicago--this is going on my third seme--third year.
LAMB: There--there's a lot of black culture in your book.
Prof. DYSON: Yes.
LAMB: For people who never thought of it, never read about
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: I want to ask you some of these things that you write
Prof. DYSON: Sure.
LAMB: What's a homey?
Prof. DYSON: A homey is one's friend, one's associate, and it's
the kind of ebonocized or ghetto discourse, the hip-hop
ghetto discourse that suggests this is my homeboy. It's a
shorting of homeboy. And homeboy is the sig--signifying a
friend, a friend close to the heart, somebody that I grew up
with, somebody that's in my neighborhood that I kick it with.
"Kick it with," associate with. And so homey is the shortened
version of that.
LAMB: What's a ho?
Prof. DYSON: A ho is, in--in many ways in hip-hop discourse,
a derisive term referring to a female of loose sexuality. That's
its specific and technical term. More loosely, it's used for
young black women or Latino women perhaps within the
hip-hop and ghetto culture who are viewed to be easily
LAMB: What's a bitch?
Prof. DYSON: A bitch is a woman who is viewed as--that's
interesting--a--a woman who is viewed as not only a ho, but
a person who will be quite nasty and temperamental in the
aftermath of whatever sexual transaction might take place.
On the other hand, given the kind of patriarchal culture that
is--that is just endemic to so much hip-hop, a bitch may be a
woman who refuses to engage in sexual exchange and liaison
with a--with a young man or one who since--has a sense of
her own dignity and possesses a sense of her own identity
who doesn't give in easily to the whim and caprice of a man.
So bitch is a pejorative term, a nasty term, a derisive term,
used for a wide variety of women. Unfortunately, even in this,
quote, "positive songs"--think of the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Me &
My Bitch," he didn't mean that derisively. He meant it as a
term of endearment. Some women in--in hip-hop call
themselves bitches, each other bitches. And many of the men
who call women bitches don't mean anything negatively by it.
That's the kind of terminological twists that have gone on in
hip-hop culture that are very controversial.
LAMB: As you know, on the Internet, all the--the words for
these tunes that he sang are there.
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: And--and I don't know--I can't be sure, but most of
them, we couldn't read.
Prof. DYSON: Right, right.
LAMB: Pr--primarily, you couldn't read it because of one word
that's used all the time, the F-word...
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: ...or put `mother' in front of it, which is used. I always
wanted to know, why is that such a--why--why is that used
so often in--in this culture?
Prof. DYSON: Well, I think that there's something sensual and
something earthy about the--the F-word, the MF-word, in
particular. Technically, of course, F-U-C-K, fornicating under
consent of the king. So it's a kind of twist of a King James
terminology into the--the transience black culture. What's
interesting is that there's a sensual characteristic--it--it's
a--it's a catch-all term. It can be something negative, it can
be something positive. `Hey, you my MF,' or, `Watch out,
MF.' So it's an all-purpose term that has allowed a wide range
of emotion to be condensed into its--into its use. And so I
think that--that many African-American so-called
ghetto-centric youth--that is people who are attached to the
ghetto, to the inner city and not just there, by the way--find
a kind of verbal release kind of--an erotic attachment to this
very sensual and very charged terminology.
The same way with the other word; that is the N-word. And
Tupac used that word quite frequently. In--in the larger white
supremacist discourse, it's called nigger. But Tupac and many
African-American youth--and not only youth--talked about it
as nigga, N-I-G-G-A. Now he said in one of his songs, "Words
of Wisdom," N-I-G-G-A meant for him never ignorant, getting
goals accomplished. Some black people don't buy that. They
see altogether negative connotations associated with the
word, no matter how many black people try to transform it
into something different. That's why in my book, I talk about
those who are reservationists, who have reservations about
the term, and those who are revisionists, those who say, `No,
we can do something with it.' Like gay and lesbian people take
the word `queer,' which is meant as a pejorative and
something negative, and say, `You're darn right I'm queer,'
and use it as a term that is positive. Black people have
attempted throughout their own history to take and seize the
term nigger and turn it around to make it something positive.
LAMB: There's a picture here. This isn't the best, and I can't
find the best one, but on--on his body were several tattoos.
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: And this looks like an earlier version from when he was
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: But if you look real close here, you can see 50 Niggaz.
Prof. DYSON: Right. Right, right.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Prof. DYSON: Well, that was his term. That was his belief.
That was his inscription on his body to suggest that he was
down with his homeys in all 50 states. All black people who
were part of the ghetto economy, the illicit, the underground
economy, selling drugs, being a thug or just black people
caught in the environs of the inner city, he was representing
them. Fifty Niggaz behind me in all 50 states. That is, black
people in every state of the United States of America are
joined into my body and joined with me in the struggle against
LAMB: Here's another photograph. Actually, this is a better
Prof. DYSON: Yeah.
LAMB: But first of all, I wanted to ask you about right there
on his stomach is Thug...
Prof. DYSON: Thug Life.
LAMB: Thug Life.
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: What's a thug and what's thug life?
Prof. DYSON: Well, for Tupac, a--a thug was a person who
had nothing. It was--it was more useful than the term
gangsta. Gangsta was the term as--associated with so-called
hard-core rap by the mainstream media, but Tupac believed
that thug was much more resonant because it was suggestive
of an illicit economy, an underground economy and a black
person who had nothing and who was willing to hustle for
anything that he could get. Thug life, for him, meant
something very specific. It meant the hate--it--it was
another acronym. The hate you gave little infants F's
everyone. And so his point was that a thug was a person who
had nothing to lose, a thug was a person, who, as a result of
mistreatment by the American government, was--had risen to
become its worst nightmare, and becoming its worst
nightmare was intelligent about the ways in which it resisted
the forces of oppression. So he believed that something
positive was going on when he talked about being a thug.
LAMB: If you notice here, this is the way he dressed. He has
his underwear on there with the jeans that he's got...
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: ...on his--on his hips below...
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: ...and then the--the baggy trousers. And as--as you
know, that's everywhere.
Prof. DYSON: Right.
Prof. DYSON: Right, right. Right.
LAMB: ...white and black kids dress this way.
Prof. DYSON: It's universal. It's a low-slung sagging jeans that
is imitative of the prison culture. One of the reasons...
LAMB: The prison culture?
Prof. DYSON: Right. Absolutely. Shoelaces not in the shoes.
That was a result--of course, in prison, they didn't want
people to hang themselves. No belts on the trousers. So in
one sense, partly, it is inspired by prison culture, and the way
in which prison culture, of course, is so tied up with black
masculine culture for the last 25 years, given the
extraordinarily disproportionate numbers of black men who are
in prison. So that filtered back through, prison culture, and
the irony, of course, is that black men who
were--who--and--and Latino men who helped perpetuate that
culture can't enjoy the enormous sums of money that are
reaped as a result of, you know, the--the designers who
make, you know, money off of that, you know, Tommy Hilfiger
and others who make enormous money off of that. So it's very
controversial in these conditions.
LAMB: Tommy Hilfiger a white?
Prof. DYSON: A white designer who has made enormous sums
of money off of the styles and dress of African-American
LAMB: Has that ever bothered African-Americans?
Prof. DYSON: Absolutely. Well, there--there are even
conspiracy theories out there and rumors about Tommy
Hilfiger. One quote said that Tommy Hilfiger went on "Oprah"
and suggested that he didn't like the very black people that
were attracted to his dress. Of course, that was easily
discounted because he never appeared on "Oprah" to say
those words. But the--that was a way, I think, of the
everyday black person to discount the way in which Tommy
Hilfiger has made enormous sums of money off of black culture
and reaped enormous benefit without being perceived to be
part of that culture or at least giving back to it or at least
even attracted to it. So there was some kind of gossip that
was a form of social critique directed to him.
LAMB: I noticed that a lot of his friends shortened it from
Tupac just to Pac.
Prof. DYSON: Right. Exactly. That was a--a way of showing
love and affection and as a nickname.
LAMB: There's a picture here also I want to ask you about it
because around his neck is a cross.
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: What is that for?
Prof. DYSON: Well, you know, the Jesus piece, as the
hip-hoppers call it, the rappers call it, the cross, that is
usually diamond-encrusted or with platinum. My son even has
one, certainly not nearly as expensive as that one. But it's
suggestive of the religious traditions of black culture. It's
suggestive of a style and a trend within hip-hop where one
gives kudos to God, even as one talks about killing one's
neighbor. But it's also suggestive of Tupac's deep and
profound spirituality. And there it is again. Him always
professing a belief in God, a non-traditional, an unorthodox
one to be sure, but nonetheless a deeply spiritual person who
was preoccupied with God on many of his albums. There's
a--a song called "Only God Can Judge Me Now," where he
says, `Somebody help me. Tell me where to go from here
because even thugs cry, but do the Lord care?' So he was
deeply and profoundly obsessed with God in much of his
LAMB: Was he political?
Prof. DYSON: Deeply political. In fact, he began as a very
political animal. Tupac began as a kind of, you know, rapper
who was more associated with the, quote, "positive and
political rap" of, say, a person like Chuck D. Chuck D is the
head rapper of the group Public Enemy which rose to
prominence in the late '80s and early '90s in America, and
X-Clan, another group from the East, that was deeply and
profoundly cultural and political, African-centered, conscious
of their cultural roots and deeply determined to bring, you
know, change to American society. So Tupac initially was just
part of that because he was a child of a Black Panther. He
talked about being the child of a Black Panther. He has a song
on--"Holler If You Hear Me," from which my book is--title is
taken where he says, `Just the other day, I got lynched by
some crooked cops, and to this day those same cops on the
beat getting major pay. But when I get my check, they takin'
tax out so we payin' the pigs to knock the blacks out.' So he
was deeply political. Even as he evolved and grew to embrace
thug culture, he was always political in the midst of that.
LAMB: You say that Snoop Doggy Dogg, or Snoop Dogg, as
they call him...
Prof. DYSON: Right. Yeah.
LAMB: ...would not be interviewed by you?
Prof. DYSON: Right. I attempted to interview him, not on the
most auspicious occasions, but I attempted to get at him at a
free concert he was giving for one of the shoe companies for
whom he endorsed shoes, and...
LAMB: Tell that story around--how you tried to get to him.
Prof. DYSON: Well, I, you know, tried to--all the other
channels of writing and talking and calling folk and so on, and
getting other stars to call him, and using whatever little
leverage I had as a--as an intellectual of--of--of--of--who's
notorious, perhaps, but nothing worked. So what I did is, I
attended this concert, and somebody who had seen me in a
hotel knew me and saw me and said, `Look, I'll get you into
the--to the green room, so to speak, and you can go from
there.' So I went there and...
LAMB: Who is he, by the way, for people who've never heard
of him? Snoop Dogg.
Prof. DYSON: This young--oh, Snoop Dogg?
Prof. DYSON: Snoop Dogg is one of the most famous West
Coast rappers who has a kind of Southern cadence to his talk,
and a--and a flow: `One, two, three, and to the fo'. Snoop
Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the do' ready to make an
entrance, so back on up, 'cause you know we're about to rip
stuff up.' So he has that slow cadence that is an index of the
great black migration that I'm sure his parents participated in.
They call it a `Calibama' accent, California, Alabama and the
Southern regions joined together. So Snoop Dogg is a very
famous rapper who was part of Death Row, who also recorded
with Tupac Shakur a couple of three songs, and I wanted to
talk to him because I knew he was a friend of Tupac's; I knew
he had appeared in his videos. I knew they were mutually
supportive of one another and admiring of one another.
But he also is in tremendous disagreement and in a very tense
relationship with Suge Knight, who is his former label head.
Tu--Snoop Dogg left Death Row Records when Suge Knight
went to jail and then joined with Master P's Priority Records in
New Orleans, and so--now he has his own record label--so
there was tremendous tension, and they were at odds. So
anybody coming up to him to speak about Tupac Shakur, the
des--or the Death Row days, I think sent a red flag up to him,
and he was quite cautious about that and I wasn't able to--to
get him. You know, I--he was walking along. I had a couple of
words with him, but nothing from him.
So I--I ended up interviewing people around him, and it was
just as useful if not more useful to me for my book and for the
purposes of getting a keener insight into who Tupac really
was. So I met with Larenz Tate, the tremendous, brilliant
young actor who's acted in several films, including "Dead
Presidents," the Hughes brothers' monumental film about black
participation in Vietnam and then the--the dreadful
consequences of returning home. I talked to him, and he gave
me some insight about Tupac as, quote, "the black Elvis." I
spoke to Ray J, the younger brother of Brandy Norwood, the
singer and actor on the recently canceled "Moesha" show, and
he stars on it himself, and he talked Tupac's thug life being
attractive to him because a thug, for him, meant being young
and black and getting money.
But I also spoke to Big Tre D, and that was probably the most
moving interview I did in that--that day and perhaps with the
exception of Afeni Shakur throughout the entire 60 interviews
I did. And I approached him; he was a Jheri-curled in
the--that's the style of hair that was lightly permed in the
late '80s that was common in black culture that men and
And so he was a throwback, so to speak, of the late '80s with
his cap on, there with his little daughter, freckled face, you
know, gang--thug life, but he was a very gentle man. And I
sat down to speak with him, and after speaking with him and
he told me about Tupac's genius and his work ethic and his
spirituality and the tragedy of his not being able to enjoy the
rest of his life like Michael Jackson or Donald Trump to see the
millions of dollars and the kudos that would come his way and
the accolades that would accumulate, he--after he finished,
he began to cry, silently sobbing into the napkins that I
provided for him for a good 20 minutes, just tears streaming
down his eyes, reddening his eyes. His daughter was in quite
a bit of consternation thinking that I had somehow done
something negative or awful to her father. But it was very
moving to me to see this so-called hard figure just wordlessly
pouring his anguish into this cloth, speaking so much about
the passion and love that Tupac generated in so many people.
LAMB: W--where's this all going?
Prof. DYSON: Well--in terms of the book or in terms of the
Prof. DYSON: Yeah.
LAMB: The culture and--and--and I know you have, for
instance, Stan Crouch is in your book...
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: ...taking another point of view...
Prof. DYSON: Absolutely.
LAMB: ...some strong criticisms.
Prof. DYSON: Right. Right.
LAMB: I mean, how many--in the black world--how many
people like all this and how many people don't like it? Do you
have any sense?
Prof. DYSON: It's deeply divided. I mean, there's a deep
division in black America precisely over hip-hop culture and
the--the tremendous tensions that go between the civil rights
generation, so-called, and the hip-hop culture. That's why my
book on Martin Luther King Jr., I talked about King and the
hip-hop generation. I lot of people got--a lot of black people
thought, you know, `That's really sacrilegious. How ridiculous
is that? And it doesn't have the real intellectual payoff that
you might think.' And my point was not to bring Dr. King down,
so-called, to Tupac Shakur's level. They're not moral
equivalents. I wasn't that silly. What I was trying to suggest
is that some of the same faults and foibles that we forgive
King for we nail these young kids for, and they're in the
process of growing up in public, and I wanted do suggest
There's a deep division in black America about the virtue or
the value of hip-hop culture. I happen to think that it's a
much more complex phenomenon that needs to be supported
and that needs to be criticized, to be sure, but also needs to
be examined for its complexity. And if we have one broad
stroke with which we paint the entire culture against the
canopy of our disdain, then we're really dismissing what is
essentially the most powerful form of popular culture for the
last 25 years and certainly the most invigorating black popular
culture of the last, you know, at least couple decades.
LAMB: Was Tupac Shakur a misogynist?
Prof. DYSON: He was at--at one level. He was...
Prof. DYSON: Well, because he used terrible names to talk
about women. He had tremendous resentment and disdain
for--and I coined this term--`femaphobia,' which is like
homophobia. It's not quite misogyny, which is the cruel hatred
of women, or sexism, or these sentiments expressed against
women, or patriarchy, which is the systematic belief that
men's perspectives ought to be the norm for the entire
society. What I meant by femaphobia was there's a kind of
resentment and a kind of fear of women that you see nurtured
in many of these enclaves of civic terror called ghettos and
slums, and Tupac participated in that.
But he was a misogynist as well, because I think, you know,
by using terms like `bitch' and `ho' for women, but also by
suggesting that they should be at his beck and call sexually,
you know, belied a certain kind of negative viewpoint of
women. But he was also embracing them. You listen to "Dear
Mama" and the beauty and the touching nature of his, you
know, celebration of his mother, or "Keep Your Head Up"--`I
give a shout to my sisters on welfare. If no one cares, Tupac
cares.' So he was both a misogynist and a person who could
deeply and profoundly embrace women.
LAMB: You wrote that he kept throwing his body, `his
beautiful, tattooed, wounded, conflicted, drugged, lurching,
representative, fighting, cursing, defiant, loving, needy,
sacrificial body in the way.'
Prof. DYSON: Yes. Well, Tupac, as all artists, was profoundly,
you know, expressive through his body, but even more so, the
tattoos on his body represented his projection to the world of
black masculine identity, what it meant to live to the lethal
limits of thug life, what it meant to be a nobody, what it
meant to be a "nigger," what it meant to be somebody who
had ca--aspersions cast against him. So he wanted to
represent, symbolically, black identity, black youth identity
and more specifically, black male identity. But his body was
very crucial to his message, his beautiful eyes, his eyelashes.
You know, he was seen as a pretty young black man who was
coming up, and--and that caused him quite a bit of
consternation because, you know, the association, the
er--the homoerotic association, so he wanted to distance
himself--himself from that.
But women were attracted to him profoundly because of his
sexuality and because of his sensuality, because of his
beautiful skin, his beautiful smile, his amazingly charismatic
presence. And that body, of course, was the source of both
pleasure and pain to him. I think he lived rather uneasily in his
body. He didn't--he rarely, if ever, bragged about being
good-looking, as some rappers are wont to do. He didn't talk
about his sexual prowess in relationship to his good looks. It
was only as a result of his connection to thug life, because
thugs are to have many women, to love none of them and to
get around, so to speak, that is, to be promiscuous. And in
that sense he talked about wo--female sexuality, but he
never spoke about it in terms of his own belief and his own
beauty, because I think he was quite uncomfortable with
that, as Danielle Smith, a former editor of Vibe magazine,
made quite clear.
LAMB: I just want you to ask a question about the--the rag
on the head.
Prof. DYSON: Right. The bandanna. Another...
LAMB: Yeah. Where does that come from?
Prof. DYSON: That's associated with gang culture in LA, and
before Tupac, the bandanna was seen as a--as a very
negative and provocative headgear, but after him it became
quite popular and people beyond gang culture began to adopt
it as a source of style.
LAMB: What do you hope your book does?
Prof. DYSON: I hope it educates people about the complexity
of this young man. I hope it opens their eyes and their minds
to receive some of his messages, while still being critical of
him, as I am in the book. I have an entire chapter about his
extraordinarily--extraordinarily powerful intelligence, the way
he read voraciously. He was--he consumed books in a fashion
that is associated with professors and not necessarily with
ghetto residents. And I wanted to reject and repudiate the
vicious stereotypes that prevail about not only Tupac but this
culture in general.
I'm not suggesting that all of them, or even most of them read
as much as he does, but I think that they are highly
intelligent. If you listen to some of the narratives of a person
like Mos Def, who's quoted on the back of my book, when he
said "You can laugh and criticize Michael Jackson if you want
to. Woody Allen molested and married his stepdaughter. Same
press kicking dirt on Michael's name show Woody and Soon-Yi
at the playoff game." So there's high intelligence in there.
There's narrative complexity, there's poetic intensity, and in
Tupac, here was a figure who read widely--feminist theory, he
read George Orwell, he read James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni.
He read broadly in self-healing arts, in method acting. I just
wanted to suggest that this was a complex, beautiful,
self-destructive, confused, edifying young man who brought
both the glory and the grief of black culture to live in one
LAMB: What's the story of Leila (pronounced lee-la)
Prof. DYSON: Leila (pronounced lay-la) Steinberg. Leila S...
LAMB: Leila (pronounced lay-la)?
Prof. DYSON: Yes, Leila Steinberg. Leila Steinberg is a
multiethnic white woman who lives--who lived then in
Oakland, California, or in m...
LAMB: And when? When are we talking about?
Prof. DYSON: We're talking about in the late '80s. We're
talking about--and she lived there before Tupac, but Tupac
moved there in the late '80s, and he met her in a park one
day. She was a teacher who gave workshops in the local
schools because she had children in those schools. She
wanted to make sure that they were being sufficiently
addressed in regard to their educational needs. And so she
volunteered initially, and then began to give--began to give
workshops on writing and poetry and rhythms and so on. And
she met Tupac one day in a park in Marin City.
LAMB: A white woman? A white woman?
Prof. DYSON: A white woman, yes. And she had danced with
him the previous night unbeknownst to her or Tupac.
LAMB: How is that?
Prof. DYSON: Well, because her husband was--her
then-husband was a DJ, and they gave parties, so not only
did she teach in school during the day, but at night she and
her husband gave parties that drew up to 10,000 kids.
LAMB: And he was a black man?
Prof. DYSON: And he was a black man, so they were
interracially married. And she was deeply attracted to hip-hop
culture because of its honesty, its visceral attachment to
black yer--urban and street culture, and because as an artist,
she knew that this art spoke the truth to power and to the
And so that night a beautiful young man came to dance with
her on the dance floor. Because she was so absorbed in her
own responsibilities that night didn't get a chance to get his
name, but the next day when she was reading her book in the
park, Winnie Mandela's book, "Part of My Soul Went With Him,"
he came up and said, `What do you know about Winnie
LAMB: By the way, how old is she?
Prof. DYSON: She's--now she's 40 years old, and--so Tupac
was then 17 and she was in the--near 30. And she said,
`Well, I--you know, I've just started to read the book,' and
he began to quote to her passages from the book verbatim,
so she was deeply struck. So they struck up a conversation,
one thing led to another. He went to her workshop that
afternoon, and then in short order moved in with her. She had
been looking for a rapper to bring some kind of social
conscientiousness joined to political responsibility to the
classroom as well as her workshops, and she found her figure
in Tupac and she became his first manager.
And even though she turned him over to Atron Gregory, who
was then managing a group called Digital Underground, which
was based in Oakland, California, she turned him over--turned
Tupac over to him, she stayed in contact with him, continued
to give him advice, continued to chide him, continued to
argue with him about his choices and decisions.
LAMB: What was her reaction when he was killed?
Prof. DYSON: She was deeply wounded, but she knew it was
coming. She felt that death was knocking on his door. He had
given to her a poem called "In the Event of My Demise,"
written when he was 21--21 years old. And so she knew that
in some fashion, some way, that Tupac's death, even though
she tried to deny it, was almost inevitable, made inevitable by
the choices he made, rendered inevitable by the lifestyle he
was living and the people with whom he associated.
LAMB: Who--who do people think killed him?
Prof. DYSON: Well, there are all kind of theories.
LAMB: Do you have one?
Prof. DYSON: Yeah. You know what, after poring over all of
this stuff, I think that what happened that night in the MGM,
at the Bruce Seldon-Mike Ty...
LAMB: Las Vegas.
Prof. DYSON: Right--Mice Tys--Mike Tyson fight in Vegas, is
that when Tupac led the volley of fists against this young
man, Orlando Anderson, who was a Crip, part of a gang out
there, the rival gang to the Bloods out there in LA, I think
that he sought revenge that night, or at least somebody in
the Crips sought revenge that night and, you know, as a
result of that gang warfare, rode up on Tupac, so to speak,
by drive-by and exacted revenge. But that's just a theory. I
have no proof of that at all, but given the kind of gang
retribution that goes on very commonly in Los Angeles
between the Bloods and the Crips, it would not be a
far-fetched theory to suggest that it was in response to his
beating of this young man.
LAMB: How are you critical of him?
Prof. DYSON: Well, I'm critical of the self-instructive choices
that he made in regard to talking about women the way he
does, and I devote an entire chapter to his complex views on
women. I'm critical of him in terms of trying to be a, quote,
"real nigger" and reducing an authentic black person to a
person who lives in the ghetto. Having come from the ghetto
myself, I understand that inclination and appreciate his giving
visibility to those who are often denied access to the
mainstream culture as legitimately positive people, but at the
same time to reduce the complexity of black culture to the
ghetto and to suggest that if you're not acting as if you are in
the ghetto and more importantly, that the ghetto is all about
being a thug or a pimp or a player, so to speak, a person
who's promiscuous with women, as opposed to somebody who
attends Sunday school or takes lessons with the local
musician, to reduce the complexity of the ghetto to even a
thug I think is misdirected. And to see black authenticity
linked primarily or exclusively to the ghetto is as misled as the
bourgeois sensibilities that try to distance black people from
the ghetto altogether.
LAMB: Was there anything about his lifestyle that you like and
you'd like to live yourself?
Prof. DYSON: Well, certainly having the luxury and leisure to
be able to--to support one's family, to have the economic
wherewithal to give sustenance to the people that you love.
That is remarkable, and people who have far more money than
he did don't do that. So his compassion, his altruism, was
extraordinary, not simply to his family but to his friends and
those people that he happened to meet. And so I--I envy him
LAMB: I--is there--in all of rap music, is there ever a message
in the--the music that encourages a young black person to
get out of the world of the ghetto and into another lifestyle?
Prof. DYSON: Sure. Even Tupac himself, in a song called "I
Ain't Mad at You," talked about the--the extraordinary
tensions that result when a person who had formerly been
part of a ghetto clique, you know, converts to becoming a
Muslim and as a result of that doesn't want to associate
anymore with that lifestyle, and Tupac says, you know, that's
fine, because get--I'm not mad at you. He says I'm not angry
at you for wanting to get out the ghetto. There are many
up-from-the-ghetto stories in hip-hop culture, similar to
Booker T. Washington's "Up from Slavery," reproduced more
than 100 years later, and the upward mobility and the striving
of young black people.
This is why I think there's an opposite extreme of celebrating
too much of materialism. You know, the bling-bling--the
bling-bling is the sight that is produced when a platinum or
diamond-encrusted watch reflects the light, bling, bling. And
so there's a bling-bling school of rap that celebrates
materialism and the acquisition of cars and so on that is just
as, I think, egregiously, outrageously false as anything that
goes on in their minds as being a fake Negro, that is a person
who speaks a certain way and whose diction reflects a certain
level of education. That is anathema to the so-called ghetto
resident, and I think this bling-bling culture is a ridiculous
exaggeration of the materialism that has really gutted so
much of hip-hop, at least one variety of hip-hop.
LAMB: Can you explain the story of Sean "Puffy" Combs? He
was accused and prosecuted of something he was acquitted
for down in Atlanta, I believe, if my memory corrects...
Prof. DYSON: Yeah, right. In New York, right.
LAMB: Yeah. Explain, though, how you go from Sean "Puffy"
Combs, P--Puff Daddy...
Prof. DYSON: Right, right, right.
LAMB: ...and then change your name--and it's totally
accepted--to P. Diddy. What does all that mean?
Prof. DYSON: Right. Well, you know, Sean "Puffy" Combs, of
course, an extraordinary entrepreneur whose empire is now
over $300 million, traded on his street credibility because he
started a record label, Bad Boy Records, that was the major
competitor for Death Row on the West Coast. So this East
Coast vs. West Coast was set up in part by the rivalry
between Bad Boy, which was "Puffy" Combs' label, and Death
Row, which was Suge Knight's label, and their major stars.
Puffy Combs' major star was the Notorious B.I.G., better
known as Biggie Smalls, nee Christopher Wallace, and...
LAMB: What happened to him, by the way?
Prof. DYSON: He was murdered in a drive-by six months after
Tupac was killed, in Los Angeles, after attending the Soul
Train Music Awards.
LAMB: Was he East or West?
Prof. DYSON: He was East Coast. So some people see that as
retribution for--and revenge for the murder of Tupac Shakur.
He died in March of 1997. So he was the major star for--for
Bad Boy Records. Tupac was the major star for Death Row
Records, and this East Coast-West Coast rivalry was
fomented by Tupac's, I think, lethal addiction to stirring up
trouble, and he believed, honestly at--at some level, although
I don't think he always believed it, that Biggie Smalls was
responsible for the first attempt on his life, which happened in
19--I think '93. No, no, I think it was in '95, as a matter of
fact, when he was shot five times when he was trying to get
into a recording studio in Times Square, Quad Studio, and was
obviously the victim of an attempted robbery. And he believed
that--later on that Puffy and Notorious B.I.G. set him up.
So Puff Daddy traded on his street credibility. He was both
the street-wise kid who could ring up enormous sales of the
hardest-core rap one might imagine on the East Coast, while
also trading in his Hamptons cachet by being, you know,
friends with Martha Stewart or throwing tony parties out in
the Hamptons. So he was both ends, and he was able to
cross that cultural divide. But he played on that thug image,
he played on that bad-boy image quite vigorously, but that
bad-boy image redounded on him in a negative way during his
recent trial, when he and a young man named Shyne Barrow,
who ended up being convicted of 10 years in jail, were
accused of shooting a gun at some people and sh--and
hitting--What?--three people in a nightclub in New York City.
Sean "Puffy" Combs was acquitted, Shyne Barrow was
convicted and is now serving 10 years in prison.
After that, Puffy had a kind of religious revelation and a
conversion experience where he said, `I'm going to change my
name.' You know, that's an old tradition, not only in black
culture but in religious culture, but in spe--black culture
especially. `I told Jesus it would be all right if he changed my
name.' So Puffy had a very public conversion from Puffy to P.
Diddy, and P. Diddy is just a term that--that is a term of
affection that actually Biggie Smalls gave to him before he
died, so he signified his conversion from the old bad-boy
image to the new image of a, quote, "cleaned up, reformed
rapper" who is quite more cautious about the thug image that
he promoted before.
LAMB: So Atlanta--I said Atlanta earlier--that had nothing...
Prof. DYSON: It was New York.
Prof. DYSON: It was New York City.
LAMB: What's the weed creed?
Prof. DYSON: Well, the weed creed is the almost uncritical
celebration of smoking ganja, of smoking marijuana in--in black
ghetto culture among young people, and Latino culture as
well. And the weed creed is about celebrating weed's
possibilities of not only expanding one's artistic vision, but also
as a symptom of one's ghetto authenticity, and Tupac
consumed copious amounts of alazay and Hennessey, his
drinks of choice, as well as enormous amounts of weed.
LAMB: Jada Pinkett Smith.
Prof. DYSON: Right.
LAMB: Did he want to marry her?
Prof. DYSON: He certainly did. In prison, when he was serving
an eight-month term for his sexual abuse, Tupac was going
through a conversion of sorts himself. He renounced, after all,
thug life. He talked to the journalist Kevin Powell in Vibe
magazine, and he gave an interview, said, `Listen, thug life is
over. It was something that was important. It was a stage in
my own life, but I'm through with thug life.' And he also said
that he wanted to become much more serious about his
commitment to furthering his life and his goals and his
ambitions, writing screen plays, and sed--etc.
But also he felt that this was the appropriate time to settle
down, so he extended an invitation of marriage to Jada
Pinkett and, of course, she summarily refused that, although
she told me that she considered it for a while. She said, with
my--given her own history, she said, of co-dependency,
she--she tho--she entertained it for a while but knew that it
was not the right decision. And I asked her directly, did she
and Tupac ever have a relationship--excuse me--other than a
friendship, and she said no.
But Tupac felt that she was a person who knew him because
she was, after all, a member of the Baltimore School of--of
Arts there and was a fellow actor, and she defended him to
gangs there and loved him as a brother. And as a result of
that he was deeply attracted and attached to her, but she
turned him down. He ended up marrying a woman named
Keisha Morris, but that marriage was annulled once he left
LAMB: He have any children?
Prof. DYSON: No, he did--had no children, even though he
had many songs--"A Letter to My Unborn Child," "A Letter to
My Firstborn"--he never got a chance to--to have a child.
LAMB: Some more terms: the player. What's that mean?
Prof. DYSON: The player is that figure in black ghetto
discourse who is the person who is a promiscuous person. He
has several women in his stable, is not completely or
exclusively available to any of them, but keeps them at his
beck and call.
LAMB: The mac.
Prof. DYSON: The mak is an i--a kind of superplayer, but a
person who is able to reproduce the vision of himself as the
supreme determiner of the fate of women, and he lives off of
the largesse of women. He lives off of their good graces, so if
he--she allows him to pimp them or allows him to use her car,
her sofa, her house and so on. He takes great delight and
pleasure in controlling women.
LAMB: The hustler.
Prof. DYSON: The hustler is more generically a figure who in
one sense is the person who is capable of using his or her
mother wit to make a go at life. More specifically, within
ghetto discourse, the hustler is the person who will do
whatever is necessary to get over and provide for himself or
herself or--but usually himself and his family.
LAMB: Have you gotten any feedback from Afeni, the wo--the
mother of Tupac Shakur, about this book?
Prof. DYSON: Yes. She's quite pleased. She cooperated with
me in doing this book by giving me an interview and allowing
me, you know--there was--this is not a sponsored book. It's
not an official book. It is an independently done book. It's an
exercise in cultural criticism, but she was very cooperative,
and she's very pleased that another book on her son is out
there it to try to dispel some of the myths, to try to speak to
his genius and to try to embrace him as a figure worthy of
LAMB: Do you listen to his music still?
Prof. DYSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm--I'm riveted by him.
I'm drawn to him. I view him as a kind of hip-hop Marvin Gaye.
His mood, his tone of voice, his beautiful eloquence, his fiery
declarations and sometimes his arrogance and bravura are an
interesting alchemical mix, and I think that, you know, songs
like "Unconditional Love," songs like "Keep Your Head Up,"
songs like "Dear Mama," but also his songs that are--that
prove his addiction to death--"Life Goes On," "Only God Can
Judge Me Now," his religious sensibilities that are seen on his
album "Makaveli" and the song "Blasphemy;" I'm just attracted
to his enormous and profound complexity and the way in
which he refuses to be one thing.
LAMB: Did--here is a picture of him when he was quite young.
Prof. DYSON: Yes.
LAMB: Did he know who his father was?
Prof. DYSON: He only discovered the identity of his father
when he was shot five times and recovering in a New York
hospital, when he awakened from his sleep in surgery to
discover his spitting image staring at him, thinking that he was
in heaven. It literally scared him out of that hou--hospital. He
left that hospital that day, ostensibly to get away from people
who might still be gunning for him, and he took refuge in
Jasmine Guy's house, the actress.
LAMB: What was his father's name?
Prof. DYSON: His father's name is Billy Garland. But he didn't
know initially who his father was until, you know, he was in his
20s. He had no idea who his father was. It could have been
Lumumba, the man who Afeni Shakur allegedly married.
But--who is also a Black Panther organizer. It could have been
Legs, who was a member of Nicky Barnes--the stable of Nicky
Barnes, who was a notorious Harlem gangster, or it could have
been Billy Garland, a Black Panther himself. He didn't discover
until he was in his 20s right before he--a few years before he
died that indeed his father--his blood father was Billy Garland.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book; author Michael Eric
Dyson. The book "Holler if You Hear Me: Looking for Tupac
Shakur." Thank you very much.
Prof. DYSON: Thank you very kindly.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.