When Thugs Cry: Read A Never-Before-Told Story About Tupac Shakur
As told to Okayplayer by acclaimed author + founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, Adisa Banjoko.
[It was] October 20th, 1991 [and] the hills of Oakland caught fire. What started as a small brush fire quickly burned down large a part of the city. Ashes floated downwind as much as 30 miles away. Depending on where you lived in The Bay, the sun was orange from all the smoke. That wasn’t the only thing burning however.
Racial tensions across America were red hot. A few days before, Tupac Shakur was approached by Oakland Police Department for allegedly jaywalking. Apparently, when he told them his name, “Tupac Amaru Shakur,” they laughed. They mocked his mom for naming him Tupac. ‘Pac got upset and he yelled back at them. He was beaten by the police pretty severely that day. He would later sue the city and win $42,000.
I called ‘Pac to interview him for the newspaper [I was writing for] shortly after. At the time, it was for The Commemorator. It was a newspaper founded by the O.G. Black Panthers. One of the founders was Bobby McCall, as in the father of Money B of Digital Underground. He gave me my first regular writing gig at The Commemorator. My column was called “The Bishop’s Baseline” and I had called Tupac the day after the incident to get a quote from him. He was too angry and still healing to really do an interview with me.
The evening as the firestorm raged on, Public Enemy and Anthrax were doing a show in town. With all of the political and racial tension rooted in the Bay, this show was going to be really wild! Some were already saying that the burning taking place in Oakland was happening most in the hills—where most of the rich whites were living—and was karma of the city’s abuse of black people. I was also writing for The Source and Rap Pages around that time, too, so I had to go to this show. Chuck D and I had met a year or two earlier through a rapper named AK Black. I left for the venue super early because I was afraid that the bridge might get shut down or the officials of the city might tell people to stay indoors.
When I got to the venue, as I said, it was super early. People were still setting up the stage. I was told that Chuck D and activist/educator Harry Allen were upstairs. When I got there, Chuck was asleep on this super-narrow orange table, dressed in all-black with a yellow-and-black Pirates hat. Where he was laying was connected to the wall with this long, vanity mirror. It was just as wide and as long as Chuck was. The lights were on bright and his hat covered his face as he was lying there like King Tut. Harry was also in the room in all-black, sitting at a black card table set up in the center of the room wearing this baby blue kufi. His head was resting on his hands which were palms down on the card table. Other than them, the room was perfectly empty and perfectly silent.
The first thing that struck me was that there was no security, no S1W‘s or Fruit Of Islam at the the door, in the room, or even in the hallway. It seemed dangerous for them to be unprotected during these times, so I stood at the opening of the door for about 30 seconds. I was contemplating leaving or sitting in the hallway to just let them rest. Right then, Chuck’s spidey sense went off. He took the baseball hat off his head and he looked toward the door where I was.
Recognizing me instantly he put the hat back over his head laying back casually, and said, “‘Sup Bishop?” he said sleepily. “Ain’t you supposed to be putting out fires around here?”
Harry sat up with his eyes wide open trying to reorient himself from his slumber.
We talked for bit about the fire and then Chuck asked me about Tupac. I told him I just talked to ‘Pac and that he was injured, mad and sad over what had happened to him with the police. All three of us spoke about how the pattern of being beaten by police unprovoked was getting out of hand.
He sat up on the orange table and said, “Listen Bishop, I’m gonna dedicate a song to Tupac tonight.” He went onto say how he had love for him and he felt his pain. “If you see him, tell him [that] PE got his back.”
I responded with “OK,” and then I left them to go rest up before the show.
Slowly, but surely the venue became jam packed. It was then, right before the show started [that] I saw ‘Pac. His eye was still swollen and shiny. If I recall, I think he had a shoulder brace on or some kind of arm bandage. There was about 25 people between us. We could see one another clearly, but the music was playing super loud.
I said to him, “Hey, ‘Pac, I saw Chuck and PE’s gonna do a song for you tonight!”
He yelled back, “What?!”
I repeated myself two or three times. Tupac pointed to his head and shook it, smiling as if to say back to me, “I can’t hear you man!”
I nodded. Soon after, I think Young Black Teenagers took to the stage. After them, PE came on and in the middle of their set, as promised, Chuck D stopped the music. He talked about the firestorm that was raging not too far from us outside, about the police brutality going on in the streets and talked about how PE had love for ‘Pac.
I actually don’t remember what song they performed. In my head, it was “Shut ‘Em Down”. However, what I do remember is the energy in the room more than the music. I turned to Tupac to scream, “That’s what I was trying to tell you!!” There was a visual symphony of bodies jumping, fists pumping and people yelling cries into the heavens for justice right before my eyes. I scanned the crowd looking for ‘Pac. I couldn’t see him. Then I caught his eyes amongst the swarm of people.
In this sea of pulsing movement one man stood still. It was Tupac. The ocean of bodies pulsing were shoving him back and forth, but he was still. Perfectly still. Almost stone-cold stiff. His eyes were fixed on the stage. Slow tears fell from ‘Pac’s eyes as the Prophets of Rage tore the stage down. My eyes moved between ‘Pac and PE. I can never explain the power of being present in that moment. I can only say that it was a sacred moment to witness. One of the many things [that] I will never forget about my homey.
Be sure to check out + cop his latest book, ‘Bobby, Bruce + the Bronx’ by clicking here.