Rebel for the Hell of It: The Life of Tupac Shakur

Armond White, Author
Armond White, Author Thunder's Mouth Press $13.95 (200p) ISBN 978-1-56025-122-4
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Paperback - 252 pages - 978-1-56025-461-4
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-7043-8049-3
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Raised by his mother amid a network of political radicals including the imprisoned Black Panthers Geronimo Pratt and his stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, the troubled, charismatic rap star, who died in a drive-by shooting last year at age 25, undoubtedly saw life as nasty, brutish and short. Seeking to situate Shakur as heir not only to his mother's politics but also to an eclectic African American musical tradition, White (The Resistance) analyzes Shakur's ""Thug Life"" persona. The author seeks to decode the racial and cultural significance of every aspect of Shakur's appearance, including his tattoos (""doubly meaningful: they created a tribal code and by the unique methods of primitive tattooing--prisoners use a cassette motor and guitar string setup to put messages in flesh--they indicate music industry indenture""). White makes some illuminating points, including a few arresting juxtapositions of Tupac's work with that of artists ranging from Stephen Sondheim to Merle Haggard. Overall, however, his analysis is marred by fuzzy thinking and pretentious writing. Shakur, we learn, had ""learned an impatient, multi-source agitation (from both the holy church and the wicked state) that, without a common moral impetus, proved to be political--though not perhaps moral: he preferred action; but in action without retrospection, agitation turns back on itself."" Gangsta-rap fans may howl at the book's convoluted prose and intellectual posturing, while others will scratch their heads over words that obscure rather than illuminate the tragically short life of Shakur and his violent and misunderstood milieu. Most Shakur fans may find Tupac Shakur, by the editors of Vibe, more to their taste. Illustrations. (Dec.)
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