Against All Odds

Jose Vilson Jose

2Pac In Backwards Hat & Chain

2Pac In Backwards Hat & Chain

Today will mostly be remembered for 2Pac Shakur’s birthday. The once and still prolific MC carried on a legendary life, evidenced by his persistent legacy and demigod status within multiple communities. He constantly ranks amongst the most profitable dead celebs, and his style continues to pervade some really popular MCs. People like me were also captivated by the man’s intelligence and his allusions to some of the most sacred and revered text we know to this day, and his profound understanding of the plight of the average urban Black male. Yet, we always found him such a contradictory figure, from his misogynistic lyrics to his thuggery, a reflection of his hopelessness in many ways. My late cousin could relate.

Those of you who know me personally also know that last year, my cousin died from an apparent drug overdose. (Even the details of that are shady). My thoughts turn to all the photos in his house, from graduating my same elementary school, to getting his high school diploma. I remember our fights, and the time he came back from jail after almost a decade, swearing off his previous lifestyle, only to walk away from his house when we dropped him off. I remember the random visits to my house, asking for money, or him calling from another small jail stint. I remember him coming to my house and doing little jobs for a few bucks, but suddenly disappearing once when we gave him a $20 to work on something. The next time I saw him was under a sheet, with his mom crying over him, and his brother checking under the sheet to reaffirm what he already knew.

It’s not that these men have some need for friends. Both were handsome in their days alive, and quite popular in their respective fields. My cousin had 2 beautiful daughters, and 2Pac left plenty of disciples and wannabes. They didn’t lack for intelligence, and their toughness is unquestioned in most sectors. We who are social polemicists and “thinkers” often criticize people like Pac and my cousin because they’re somehow “wasting” their intelligence when they spent the last year of their lives almost wishing for death. We can hear the tears seep through Pac’s music, where at once he’s forgiving enemies and wishing death upon everyone in his way, including himself. With my cousin, I saw the rings under his eyes and his facial expressions, tired from the crap the world had to offer him.

This is where many of you will be tempted to say, “Well why didn’t your cousin get a job and make something of himself?” My reply now, and will always be, “What are we doing for these cases when that’s not possible?” And when will we realize that the American Dream doesn’t look the same for everyone? When do many of our prophets, living or dead, get their props for booming their voices for the losers of this capitalist society? We can always be positive, but eventually, we also have to see the ugly, even from brothers so handsome.

Their deaths always give me pause in a way very few of us can understand. Even with such ostensibly different lives like my cousin and Pac’s, it’s almost like the way they met the end of their respective roads converged upon death. Ironically, on the same day my cousin died, my heart almost failed on me. But like today commemorates for so many of us, I chose tehse two men as inspiration to keep living.

A small part of me knows that I gotta keep a message of hope alive, against all odds …

Jose, who wants you to know I ain’t mad at ya …