by Keith Reed —
Like most Gen-Xers, I know exactly where I was when the news broke that Tupac Shakur had expired at Las Vegas’ University Medical Center. To say the news ‘broke’ is an exaggeration. As a college student, I was volunteering in a small office on the second floor of 145 Kennedy Street in Washington, D.C. Downstairs was the headquarters of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., upstairs a makeshift nerve center for the organizers of the Million Man March.
A year after the March, its conveners were still working to channel its energy into a movement for accountability and improvement for Black men, and as part of that work, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, himself a Sigma, was working behind the scenes to mediate rap beefs that had spilled into the street. That’s how it came to be that on that Friday evening, I was there when Chavis got a call that Pac had succumbed; I spent the rest of the night booking radio interviews for him while trying to process the silencing of one of our generation’s prophets–a man who had seemed invincible until six days earlier.
The arrest was coming:
Friday’s news of an arrest nearly 27 years later brought me, like many, back to where we were on that day in1996. It also brought me to the consideration that where I was physically that day is a lot less important than where I was in life. I was 19 when Tupac died, an age at which the six years between his age (25) at his passing and mine seemed like it could’ve been 20 years. I wasn’t a father yet. Hadn’t gotten my first real job, financed a car, rented an apartment, caused or processed heartbreak. The ‘90s being the spectacularly violent decade that it was, I was intimate with death vis a vis the funerals of too many young Black men I’d known.
Nothing forces you to process death’s finality like the passage of time. Three decades later, with grown sons, a life partner, having traveled the world and accumulated a life’s worth of experiences beyond what any of my dead friends could have imagined before their early passings, the enormity of the loss is finally in full view. When Black men die young and over bullshit, like Tupac did, it makes all of us immeasurably poorer.
That’s the context that the jailing of 60-year-old Dwayne “Keffe D” Davis should hold. If you’re old enough to remember September 1996, you’re not about who was arrested. Hip-hop journalists and crime reporters got to the bottom of why Tupac died and who was involved damn near the day after he died. Davis has been a minor-league YouTube celebrity largely by repeatedly confessing his involvement in Tupac’s death and other crimes for about the last five years. There are lots of people in jail over less than admitting out loud that they were in the car, touching the gun and with the people who committed a fatal drive-by on one of the most famous people on earth.
Who would Tupac be right now?
But our fascination should be less about the dude in jail, who, having misspent the first five decades of life might now be about to live the rest of it in a cell. Our collective thoughts should be of Pac, and the memory of so many others like him, who were taken out in the first quarter of a long game.
At 19, I thought I was pretty smart, but at 46 I’ve lived long enough to know there’s a lot more to being good at life than how great you think you are. Tupac would be 52 today. At 25, he was brilliant, but we never got to benefit from his genius being tempered by age, maturity, trauma, love, loss, tragedy and the changing of eras.
Had he lived, what might he have reconsidered?
Would hip-hop’s bent toward commercialism and away from the gangsterism and militancy of his day have affected his writing?
With so many of his contemporaries and followers in hip-hop having become wealthy moguls, would he have followed suit as an entrepreneur?
Would he have been a mentor to younger artists? A father? A grandfather? A husband? A renouncer of misogyny in hip-hop who spoke out against rape culture? Or, none of the above?
The shame of it, besides the fact that law enforcement ignored the obvious for nearly 30 years, is that all we can do is imagine.