OAKLAND, Calif. Hip-hop groups the Outlawz and Digital Underground helped keep Tupac Shakur's musical torch lit at a concert that was part of a weekend conference focused on the slain rapper.
The Tupac Amaru Shakur One Nation Conference (
TARGET="_top">click herefor photo gallery), held at McClymonds High School, with a concert held Friday in neighboring Berkeley, was a loosely organized party and communal gathering that sought to infuse hip-hop youth culture with a political agenda, using Shakur as the central figure.
"We can't really do what 'Pac was gonna do, but he told us a lot," Outlawz rapper Napoleon said before going onstage at the Berkeley Community Theater. "So we gonna let him come, gonna lead off where we left off on, man. [His most important message was] keep struggling. Don't never give up."
As the Outlawz danced and shouted out to recorded music provided by a DJ, a swarm of friends and volunteers including members of rapper Ray Luv's posse and Digital Underground singer Mystic (born Mandolyn Ludlum) swarmed the stage behind them. The group's wireless mics cast feedback through the muddy sound system.
Hussein Fatal, Young Noble, Idi Amin, Castro and Napoleon traded lines while the DJ switched records, then announced a tune from the upcoming third posthumous Tupac album, And Still I Rise. The crew belted out the verse "Change my ways/ Show a little mercy on judgment day" as the DJ laid out a melodic drum & bass groove.
The mics cut out and the house lights began to rise, then the Outlawz returned while listeners onstage threw plastic water bottles at the audience members crowding the front. The music stopped, someone yelled, "Stop throwing stuff!" and security cleared the stage of extraneous personnel.
"Somebody like Tupac comes along maybe once in anybody's lifetime," Digital Underground rapper Money B. said backstage. "His star shines so much ... like Elvis, he's gonna be around forever. I think his music's gonna last and last and last, because it was so from the heart. He didn't candy-coat much he spoke what he felt, and I think anybody can appreciate that."
Shakur's brief solo career yielded hits such as "Dear Mama" (RealAudio excerpt) and his "California Love" (RealAudio excerpt) duet with Dr. Dre, and it led to dramatic roles in the films "Juice," "Poetic Justice" and "Gridlock'd."
The rapper died in a Las Vegas drive-by shooting in September 1996.
At the conference, tables at the high school offered Tupac T-shirts,
poetry CDs, political pamphlets on issues such as former Black Panther
David Hilliard's campaign for Oakland City Council, efforts to gain a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal and California's controversial juvenile crime initiative, which proposes to treat young gang members as adults.
While the late rapper's sister, Skeyiwa Shakur, and his mother, former Black Panther Afeni Shakur, had been scheduled to address the conference, neither appeared.
Instead, a group of Black Panther Party veterans including Elmer
"Geronimo ji Jaga" Pratt blended several planned workshops ("Set
Trippin'," "Transforming Predators Into Nation-Builders," "The History
of the Black Panther Party," "Re-entry Into Society After Incarceration")
into a roundtable discussion.
"This is about trying to build a new generation of youth, of politicizing
youth," Hilliard said Saturday.
"You certainly are organized, because you have a movement, and that
movement is called the hip-hop movement," Hilliard said, addressing the
standing-room-only crowd. "What you lack is any real politicization. This
is an attempt at trying to give you an expression through politics."
Pratt, Hilliard and others spoke on the 1960s rise of the Black Panthers from an amalgam of rival street gangs, the need to squelch gang activity in favor of political activism and the need to turn the hip-hop movement into a vehicle for social change.
Other workshops explored "Male and Female Relations," "The Plight of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War," and "Tupac 101," led by Leila Steinberg, Shakur's early manager. A Town Hall meeting addressed the juvenile crime initiative, and, earlier in the day, a film highlighted Shakur and his music.
(Be sure to check out the gallery of images from the Tupac conference and concert in the SonicNet Music News of the World on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 1999.)