When most people think of rapper Tupac Shakur, the first thing they think about is his music. His hard-hitting lyrics opened people’s eyes and ears to the perils and predicaments that inner city youth face on a daily basis in the U.S. by appealing to both the mainstream music world as well as the streets he represented through his music.
The second thing people think about when they hear the name Tupac (or 2pac) is his life as a “thug.” From the “Thug Life” tattoo across his stomach to a prison sentence to the drive-by shooting that took his life, Shakur firmly planted himself in history as someone who would be forever respected as a gangster and revered as a visionary in the rap industry.
What most people have never heard is that Shakur spent three years of his youth enrolled in the Baltimore School for the Arts, “where he studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet. He performed in Shakespeare plays, and in the role of the Mouse King in The Nutcracker.” That’s according to Wikipedia, but I also wrote a 22 page paper on Tupac in college and found that info in about a dozen other resources.
Which brings me to my point. On one hand, you have an idolized, revered and respected rapper who universalized the Thug Life mantra by which he lived. On the other hand, you have a gifted student of the arts who ultimately aspired to act in major films (as he had begun to do before his murder) rather than rap and who had not only studied jazz and poetry, but had even danced ballet in The Nutcracker. Upon first glance, it would seem there’s a major disconnect between the two.
While plenty of concepts could be discussed in this overview – don’t judge a book by its cover, the importance of image and branding, etc. – the one I’m going to focus on is this: behind every great and noteworthy personality lies another layer (or 3) that we may never have realized existed. It is within those deeper layers that the greatest people of a generation find their separation from "normal" society. It is more than a book and the pages inside the cover. The intangible details are the fibers that make up the paper itself.
With Tupac, the cover of his book was “Thug Life” and what that lifestyle entailed (danger, street respect, fearlessness). The pages themselves were his upbringing in the arts and his ability to convert a performer’s passion into an image that he went out and lived every day. The sinewy fibers of Tupac’s deeper layers were the fascination, respect and adoration for fine arts (which few people ever grow to love so wholeheartedly) as well as his ability to turn that fascination into a constant quest to prove and improve himself on a personal, internal level that the public never saw.
The question I have for you is this: What is the substance that makes up your pages? What do your sinewy fibers consist of? What is the focus of your heart that the outside world rarely, if ever, gets a glimpse of? If you don’t know, do some soul searching and find out. And then let me know in the comments if you’re willing to share.