Sunday Book Review: The Poetry of Tupac Shakur

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Image via Getty Images/Raymond Boyd

Sunday Book Review is a recurring feature devoted to bridging the gap between music fans and music books. We aim to give you a taste of new and classic books that dive deep into the psyches of musicians. Tweet requests @nmcalone.

Tupac Shakur is the closest we as a culture have come to making someone immortal through posthumous art. We’ve sprayed lighter fluid on the fire of his memory so many times it’s become a running joke that he’s not truly dead, to expect him “like you expect Jesus to come back.” We’ve watched his hologram strut on stage at Coachella, listened his six posthumous solo albums, and debated who should play him in the upcoming biopic. But most of these “products” feel exactly like that word sounds, ghost lines from Tupac packaged with verse after verse from his Outlawz crew, a shimmering phantom that for all its likeness looks more like a videogame character than Pac himself.

The Rose that Grew from Concrete, a book of poetry Tupac wrote between 1989 and 1991, published in 1999 by Pocket Books, feels decidedly different. It’s a snapshot into the life of Tupac before he became 2Pac: Rap Superstar. It’s unedited, having been copied straight from the lined notebooks Tupac wrote on, and there are no guest verses. This is Tupac as he was in his late teens, armed with the hazy foundations of thoughts that would anchor his raps, and with his penchant for using the number “2” in place of the sound already solidified.

While some lines in this collection can feel a bit clumsy or cheesy, as Tupac reaches for obvious poetic devices or images, there is an incredible honesty that pervades the poems, and a lack of posturing that reminds one how genuinely expansive Tupac’s heart was, and how sad it was he was taken from the world so soon. We’ve extracted key lines from the ten most moving poems in the collection and given them some context. Read on.

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