His Roots was in the Struggle

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Review of 'Tupac: Resurrection', director Lauren Lazin

Tupac Shakur is the Janus-faced poster boy for the hip-hop community. He lived the life, walked the walk, and paid bitterly for the myth he promulgated and tried to challenge. Tupac: Resurrection offers a personal, warts and all view of the life of the man who became the biggest selling rap artist of all time. Eerily, it seems as if Tupac is talking from his grave, as his prescient narration guides our interpretation of the abundance of imagery, stills, home videos, TV interviews, and excerpts of pop videos and stage appearances. This continuing narration from Tupac, which also includes his poetry and journal writings, builds a compelling and intimate portrait of a hugely talented black rapper.

What made Tupac emblematic of the hip-hop generation was his roots in Afro-American black radical culture and politics, which then directly contrasted with his more backward-looking obsession with gold chains, the sexist chatter about 'hoes and bitches', and encouraging East versus West Coast gang wars. The documentary begins with images of Tupac's upbringing in a Black Panther household - as he describes it, his 'roots was in the struggle'.

His mother was a senior figure in the movement, which he notes was no mean feat for a woman. She was arrested and sent to jail while pregnant with Tupac. He acquired a political consciousness from his mother that remained with him all his life. His birth father and godfather were also members of the Black Panthers. In later years he took on the unwanted mantle of spokesman for a generation of young blacks. Initially he chafed against his responsibilities but was soon to embrace them with the doctrine of Thug Life, a defence and celebration of America's black underclass. Growing up in a poor neighbourhood in which his mother succumbed to crack addiction, he was painfully aware of the harshness of life under capitalism. He makes some pointed remarks exposing the image of homeless Washington blacks living cheek by jowl with the White House which couldn't house them, and he thought the rich and poor should change places every week.

The narration testifies to the fact that he was an intelligent, articulate and outspoken rapper, often wickedly funny and oozing the kind of easy charisma that envelops you from the screen. As a teenager he read a great deal and kept a diary, all fuel for the eloquent raps in his professional life. His aim as a rapper was to show the horrors of urban existence for blacks - a battlecry to America, with the crooked police as his mortal enemy, the latter no doubt underlined when he was arrested for jaywalking and told that he should learn to be a 'nigger'. He uses a wonderful metaphor to describe how his generation feels about the abundance of wealth for the rich and nothing for themselves - tired of asking politely, they were now demanding food with menaces.

But sadly there was another side to Tupac that revelled in violence, glorifying lumpen street culture in all its excesses. He was sent down for sexual abuse of a woman - in fact he was arrested 12 times. After leaving prison he got caught up in a struggle with rival rappers. On TV he decries the rivalry between his West Coast rappers and the East but then devotes an unseemly amount of creative energy into dissing his fellow black rappers. We then see CCTV footage of Tupac beating up an East Coast bro. He paid the price and lost his life in an intergang shoot out. The eerie sense that he's talking from the grave arises from the fact that while lying in hospital he prophesied his own death, and spoke of the lessons he learnt and the mistakes he made in his life. It provides a poignant undertow to a well made MTV-style documentary which honours his legacy with dignity.