On Friday afternoon, community leaders and over 100 local residents gathered on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 32nd Street in Oakland to celebrate the life of slain rapper Tupac Shakur and to commemorate what would have been his 41st birthday. Images of Tupac, the Black Panther Party and a picture of Africa filled the front windows of the nearby Black Panther Party office. “California Love,” Tupac’s hit song recorded with fellow West Coast rapper Dr. Dre, boomed through the speakers set outside. Children ran inside the small building and danced to the classic.
“The purpose of this event is celebrate a fellow Panther, Tupac, and get to know the community,” said Askari Mwari, an event organizer and member of the Black Riders Liberation Party, an offshoot of the Black Panther Party (BPP). “He was considered a major figure and organizer in Oakland and this is how we pay tribute.” (Several of Shakur’s family members, including his parents, were Black Panthers.)
The Black Riders Liberation Party was formed in 1996 by members of the Bloods and Crips gangs in a California Youth Authority college class in Los Angeles. As their political understanding grew, the founding members incorporated the philosophies of Huey P. Newton, cofounder of the Black Panther Party, and formed a political party with the goals of challenging oppression against African Americans as well as supporting Black nationalism.
Sponsored by the Panther Cubs Organization, a branch of the BPP, Friday’s event kicked off with the showing of the film Poetic Justice starring Tupac and singer Janet Jackson inside the group’s headquarters. THere was an also an open mic performance and a speech from Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. The atmosphere was filled with people sharing their memories of Tupac and talking what he would have been doing if he were still alive today.
Tupac Amaru Shakur — known also as 2Pac and Makaveli — began his career as a roadie, backup dancer and emcee for the alternative hip hop group Digital Underground in 1990. He launched his solo career shortly after releasing the controversial album 2pacalypse Now and reached mainstream success hitting Billboard charts with singles like “Holler if Ya Hear Me” and “I Get Around.” Tupac’s music dealt with social problems, racism and poverty in the inner city. In addition to making hip hop music, Shakur acted in films including Juice, Above the Rim and Bullet.
The rapper became part of the East Coast versus West Coast hip hop rivalry of the 1990s that pitted him against Brooklyn-based emcee Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, with each side recording scathing diss records against each other. During the height of the feud, on the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot and killed while sitting in the passenger seat of car driven by Death Row record label owner Suge Knight as they left a boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. As of 2011, Shakur has sold over 75 million-records worldwide, the majority of that coming after his death; seven of his 11 platinum albums were released posthumously.
“Tupac was able to relay and articulate the political dimension of Black social issues in a manner in which the average day brother could identify with,” said Mylike Oakkes, an Oakland resident. When asked what her favorite Tupac song was, she paused for a second, then smiled. “I have so many, but it’s probably ‘Dear Mama,’ because when I heard the song, I understood where he was coming from,” she said. “It touched me.”
Other attendees like Omari Smith said that Tupac was at his best when made the song “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” featuring rapper Snoop Dogg. “Pac had the cadence and the personality which is what made him such a big star,” said Smith. “You can hear his pain and struggle in all the songs he made. He was a poet.”
Three times a week, the Black Riders Liberation Party offers political education seminars and group readings and shows a film series about educating through entertainment at their headquarters. The group also sponsors monthly food drives, self defense training and a computer lab for children to do homework.
Homemade refreshments including chicken, macaroni and cheese and coleslaw were served to the community after the film as lines began to appear in anticipation for the food. Organizers also passed out literature and pamphlets including editorials and essays from members of the Black Panther Party. Articles on preparing healthy meals, local politics, and African American history filled the pages.
“Tupac’s music was all about changing the conditions of the people,” said Mwari. “You can do that once you can change their attitude.”