Position Statements
Kawaida Analysis on Critical Issues
By Dr. Maulana Karenga

Rap, Death, Dignity and Struggle

Image of Dr. Karenga In discussing the death of Tupac Shakur, one of the first things we have to do is to develop an Afrocentric position in order to make sure we distinguish our position from the one that our oppressor has taken. We have to make a clear line of distinction between our position and the oppressor's evaluation and then accept the responsibility for giving a moral and meaningful interpretation of the incident. The oppressor will use this event to condemn Black people and young Black men under the camouflage of moral concern about gangsta rap. We must expose his tactics, criticize his selective morality and demand an equal criticism of similar white music. Having done this, we still must set our own standards of right and wrong, of health and illness, of the Good and the bad. For the oppressor cannot be our teacher; nor can we escape responsibility for our own wrongful acts by pointing out his. This is his way; to commit a Holocaust of Enslavement and try to equate that with a seven-eleven robbery. Our constant quest is to become and be the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense. And to do this we must constantly question and challenge ourselves.

From a Kawaida Afrocentric position, the first thing we have to do is admit this is a tragedy because a life has been lost. The loss of any life, and especially of any human life, is a tragedy. And it is not because Tupac Shakur was a popular rap artist but because he was a person and especially, a Black person. We are concerned about all human life, but we are especially concerned about Black life. We don't apologize for that. We start with ourselves.

The second point, though, is that this death is a painful reminder of the problematic character of gangsta rap and the street subculture that it has created. Gangsta rap belongs to the gang subculture, and it has for years served as a way to glorify and even to justify gangster life. Therefore, it's a reminder of how problematic it is, how deadly it is, and how it is consuming its own children, adherents, advertisers and promoters and mindlessly sacrifices a generation of potential giants. Thirdly, it is a painful reminder of the anonymous victim who goes unmourned except in small circles. When an anonymous Black person in the subculture is killed, as a community in general, people say "there it is again," and we go on. But now as a community we have stopped to discuss what has happened because a star has been killed. In the sadness we are reminded that this is going on in our communities and it's consuming not just artists and other people involved in gang subculture, but it's consuming Black people in general.

Especially is this a tragic lesson about the disrespect for human life and dignity so characteristic of gangsta rap. For not only does this street subculture destroy life, it disrespects it and deforms it. It has no real appreciation for human dignity. Thus, it not only consumes its adherents and savages women verbally and physically, but also deforms its own members turning them into shameless modern-day minstrels. Many have become minstrels who wilfully reduce themselves and their people to stereotypical images of man and woman as their genitals, the ignorant parading on the platform of illusions of knowledge, and the self-deforming name-caller addicted to the illusion that his oppressor's words are his own and that he is singing about reality rather than the deformed racist version of it.

Within the context of this tragedy, however, is a costly and compelling opportunity for the Black community to revisit the issue of gangsta rap and the issues which surround it, issues of violence, mutual destruction, misogyny, modern-day minstrelism, standards of artistic and social responsibility, and the awesome toll all this is taking on the Black community and our capacity to free ourselves and to live full and meaningful lives.

Finally, we must realize and resist the continuing attempt of the corporate world to benefit from the tragedy and creativity of rap. Early it discovered that it could sell racist stereotypes for a profitable price, seduce infantile millionaires into savaging themselves and their community under the concern for artistic and personal freedom and it will not miss the opportunity to increase its sales by turning communal and private pain into a profitable public spectacle. It will certainly convince young people and old that buying the records of one who has passed is the most appropriate and convenient way to honor the dead regardless of the problems posed for the living. Afterall, in a consumer society we are taught that buying is the way we can cure all ills from frustration and headache and other pain to ongoing oppression. But again, the oppressor cannot be our teacher and ours is the future that we dare conceive and struggle to bring into being.