SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco -- TUPAC SHAKUR is a punk. Worse than that, he's a punk masquerading as a role model.
In the April issue of Vibe magazine, the rapper-turned-actor-turned-shooter speaks from jail on Rikers Island and does his best to spread enough manure to fertilize the Nebraska cornfields.
Tupac Shakur, 23, who was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison last month on a sex-abuse charge, would have us believe that he's been freed from his "addiction" to pot-smoking, club-hopping and his "Thug Life" persona. Now that he's recovered from five gunshot wounds suffered when the Thug Life turned on him, and now that he's serving his time for sexually abusing a young woman, Tupac Shakur is announcing that his tough guy crap was just an act and he's a changed man.
"The addict in Tupac is dead," he preaches to writer Kevin Powell. "The excuse maker in Tupac is dead. The Tupac that would stand by and let dishonorable things happen is dead." God let Tupac live so he could do something extraordinary, he explains. When he's released (not before summer 1996), he plans to start an organization called Us First. Its mission: to help the young.
"I'm going to save these young niggas, because nobody else wants to save them," said Tupac Shakur, a Baltimore School for the Arts alumnus. It is these words that are particularly galling.
Yes, bad men can change. Five bullets and a jail term have a way of doing that. But Tupac Shakur can talk all he wants. Until he gives up the killer of 6-year-old Qa'id Walker Teal -- a little gap-toothed Marin City boy cut down by gunfire because Tupac Shakur and his entourage got into a fight with some of the rap star's former acquaintances -- the savior-to-be of black youth will always be no more than a two-bit punk. Worse than a thug, a coward.
Police and eyewitnesses have run through the events of Aug. 22, 1992, countless times. Tupac Shakur shows up at the outdoor celebration of the 50th anniversary of Marin City, a former shipbuilders' town gone to ghetto, with all the trappings: drugs, poverty, young people looking for any way out. As a teenager, Tupac Shakur spent some time in these housing projects, learning the street life he later romanticized in his music, learning mostly to get his butt kicked, if his friends from that period are to be believed.
In any case, he comes back and an argument starts between the visiting celebrity's group and some locals. A gun is drawn, and bullets are sprayed across the playing field where the celebration is taking place. Witnesses describe the shooter as a member of Tupac Shakur's party. One bullet smashes the brain of Qa'id Walker Teal, drains the lifeblood from one of the young black children that Tupac Shakur now values so highly.
The police investigation into the killing has stalled. With no one willing to step forward and identify the triggerman -- including PTC Tupac Shakur, the man whose love of his people knows no bounds -- Qa'id's murder remains unsolved.
"Thug Life," an expression that Tupac Shakur has tattooed in huge letters across his belly, "to me is dead," the rap star tells Vibe. "If it's real, then let somebody else represent it, because I'm tired of it. I represented it too much. I was Thug Life. I was the only nigga out there putting my life on the line."
This is something to be proud of? Thugs like Tupac Shakur are not revolutionary heroes. They are hoods, and they bring only misery to their community.
Rap music isn't the villain here. It is the only music that has a direct line to the inner-city streets, and some of the raps -- including some of Tupac Shakur's better works -- have an immediacy and realism that can only come through experiencing adversity on a daily level.
What is criminal is preaching honor and truth when it's just another type of deceit. Tupac Shakur was more honorable when he was just a low-life sleaze living his sleazy life with a "f--- everybody" attitude. At least that was real -- he was a loser and he didn't care.
But his transformation in the pages of Vibe makes the stomach turn. "This Thug Life stuff, it was just ignorance," he goes on, sounding like he's practicing his speech to the parole board. "I never killed anybody, I never raped anybody, I never committed no crimes that weren't honorable -- that weren't to defend myself."
Now he's primed for the big finish: "I'm going to show them the man that my mother raised. I'm going to make them all proud."
But unless and until Tupac Shakur calls the Marin City Police Department and explains exactly what happened on Aug. 22, 1992, exactly who killed Qa'id Walker Teal, he will be living a dishonest and worthless life.
Craig Marine wrote this for the San Francisco Examiner.