Book Review: The Rose That Grew from Concrete

Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack
in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned 2 walk
without having feet
Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams
it learned 2 breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else even cared!

I picked up The Rose That Grew from Concrete, a collection of Tupac’s poetry that he wrote from 1989-1991 (so he was 19-21), after Susan over at BES reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s After Tupac and D Foster. At first, I was going to read Woodson’s book, but then I saw Tupac’s poetry on the shelf and knew I had to read it first.

What can I say about Tupac Shakur? I remember watching the “Brenda’s Got a Baby” video on The Jukebox Network. I saw Juice (and Gridlock’d) in the theater. I remember his road trip with Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice. I remember his guest spot on A Different World playing Jada Pinkett’s best friend from home who didn’t quite get college her and why she was going out with a boy who wanted to wait for marriage to have sex. I remember explaining to my mom how much I loved “I Get Around” even though I knew it was so problematic (and it’s still my favorite 2Pac song).

I remember finding out his mom was a Black Panther (yay!) who spent most of his youth addicted to crack (boo).

I remember when he joined Death Row; I remember the feud.

And I absolutely, 100% remember where I was when I found out he had been killed. It was my freshman year of college, and I was riding around with my friend, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. And Tupac Shakur was dead.

But mostly I remember riding around in the car with one of my close friends who loved his music, rapping along with the windows down after work. I also remember when the Don Killuminati album came out, and I was in this boy’s dorm room, listening to the first few seconds of the CD over and over because he was convinced that if you listened closely enough, you could hear Tupac say, “Suge shot me.” Seriously. Over and over again. (This same boy also listened to “Hit ‘Em Up” over and over, but that’s because it’s funny.)

So that’s what reading Tupac’s poetry was for me: a trip down memory lane. It made me remember what I knew about him and about my experiences with his music.

The foreword (written by Nikki Giovanni) promises to show Tupac’s “sensitive soul”—a soul Giovanni says people want to obscure and overlook because “after all, if he loves, if he cries, if he cares, if he, in other words, is not a monster, then what have we done?” (Tupac’s bio is largely about the trouble he got into with the law. Make of that what you will.)

Sometimes when I’m alone
I cry because I’m on my own
[…]
It’s painful and sad and sometimes I cry
and no one cares about why.

Here’s what I know: Tupac died too young. But he also expected it. The last poem “In the Event of My Demise” addresses this expectation directly:

I will die before my time
Because I feel the shadow’s depth
So much I wanted 2 accomplish
Before I reached my death

He was only 25 when he died, which I didn’t know at the time. I thought he was much older because, for me, he had been around so long. I knew he was young, but my 17-year-old mind thought he was in his thirties at least.

But my experience of reading the book tells you nothing about the book. It’s set up interestingly with the handwritten poem on the left and a typewritten poem on the right. Reading the poetry online does not provide the same experience because some of the line breaks are wrong, which I discovered when I searched for a link to the book. For example, in the title poem, one site had the first line break after “grew,” which totally changes the meaning of the poem (hello, there’s a reason “crack” is the last word on the first line). So, if you want to read Tupac’s poetry, I highly recommend reading the book, and NOT finding the poems online.

My favorite poems are the ones about his mother because you can totally feel his heartache coming through. One is “When Ure Hero Falls” which lets you see the complicated relationship he has with mom, and then there’s a poem dedicated to crack called “U R Ripping Us Apart!!!” which also talks about his hero. It’s just really sad. I’m glad she got clean and they did repair their relationship before he passed away.

There are also poems about love and women. There’s a poem about his girlfriend’s miscarriage, about his resistance to government assistance. There are a couple of poems dedicated to Jada, which I’ll admit, made me smile. Poems about bravado and heartache. Poems that run the gamut.

I’ll admit, part of the charm of reading the poems it that they’re by Tupac. Because, honestly, some read like emo poetry that a nineteen-year-old might post on his MySpace page or blog or as his AIM away message.

I don’t think the content or sensitivity would really be a surprise to anyone who actually listened to Tupac’s music. He had songs about teen moms and loving his mother and saying good-bye to people.

I’m not so sure how the book would read to a non-fan of Tupac, or someone who wasn’t a participant of his generation of music. As I said, quite a bit of it reads as emo poetry. But I think anyone interested in Tupac as a figure should definitely read this book to hear about Tupac and what he thought as a young man in his own words. It definitely adds a different dimension to the persona of him as a “gangsta rapper” (as soon I typed that “Gangsta Party” popped in my head. True story).

But 2morrow I c change
A chance to build anew
Built on spirit, intent of heart
and ideals based on truth

POC Reading Challenge: 11/15

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6 comments

  1. Pingback: Black North American Authors « Diversify Your Reading
  2. Mark

    He’s the greatest rapper in my opinion. Maybe many people think he’s not but I do. I can’t stop listening to his songs times and times again.

    Like

  3. Pingback: 2010 Wrap Up « The Englishist

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