It was 1996, and I was 12 years old and in the 7th grade. It was my first year at Hosler Jr. High School (now renamed Hosler Middle School) in Lynwood, CA (Los Angeles County). Growing up in Cali during that time, especially in LA and its surrounding areas, Hip Hop played a huge role in the culture and vice versa. The whole West/East Coast beef was at an all-time high. I can’t speak on how it was in the East Coast, but out here in the West, pride in being from Cali was real. This pride was shown by people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and even gangs. No matter what hood or set you claimed, the twists of fingers that transitioned your hand into a “W” or “dub” would show your unwavering loyalty to the Golden State.
Me on the other hand, I wasn’t quite part of the norm at the time.
I’ve always been a music sponge since the tender age of 5 (possibly younger), having an appreciation for all types of music. But at that time, I was more fascinated with the Rock music of that era. I can recall being a big fan of Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, and many other big acts of the time. Don’t get me wrong, there was still some hip-hop at the time that I was rocking with. I was especially fond of Busta Rhymes and a few others, and one of them I’ll mention a little bit later. But hip-hop overall for me at that time was unattractive, especially with a rivalry that I thought was just absolutely silly.
I was definitely an outcast by my fellow Black folk at my school. Here you have this black kid, who publicly displays he’s a rock fan by his associates (fellow rock fans and skaters) and clothing (band tees and skater shoes).
Remember when I said that I was going to mention what other hip-hop act that I was a big fan of during that time? Well, that artist happened to be the Notorious B.I.G., and where I’m from, that was a huge no-no back then. To me, “the Black Frank White’s” music was more relatable empowering for me. As a pretty overweight kid, it was a breath of fresh air to see and hear someone with such girth display such extreme confidence and swagger (not to discredit Heavy D.), mixed with street smarts and toughness and the proof to back it up. Things that I had apparently lacked at that age. But looking back, Pac had exhibited those exact same qualities, but just in a different expression. An expression that I really couldn’t vibe with at that time. Possibly due to his highly publicized antics and troubles that really didn’t sit well with the 12-year old me.
September 7th, 1996
Everybody was quite aware of Shakur’s previous ambush in New York that lead to him getting shot multiple times and surviving. Nothing short of a miracle. However, no one could’ve predicted that that was not going to be the last time that we would hear about him being a shooting victim once again.
So, September 6th rolls around, and all eyes are on the big Tyson fight in Las Vegas. But eventually, hours later after the fight, word had spread about Pac getting shot yet again. Just like his current hit selling double-album’s title at the time, “All Eyez” would be on him within the next 6 days.
Everybody had complete faith and confidence that Pac would pull through. Even a non-2Pac fan such as myself had expressed such hope and reasoning that “if he had survived the first time, why wouldn’t he fight and make it through this go-round?”.
Oh how wrong was I and everyone else.
September 13th, 1996
I remember waking up that day, pumped and ecstatic, with great reason too. You see, every year around this time in September, Disneyland had their annual Firemen’s Night. Families of thousands of firemen and women were treated to this after-hours private affair. So, being the son of a Fireman, I had enjoyed this perk once a year. Plus, with the day being a Friday, what kid wouldn’t be hyped for the last day of the school week?
School hours had come and gone. It was a little after 4PM, and I had to get ready and take my shower for tonight’s activities. After that shower, I would be completely blindsided.
With my bathing towel still wrapped around me in my room, all of a sudden I hear the loud background of the TV with a Channel 7 ABC news reporter announcing the death of Tupac Shakur.
“What!!??”, I screamed.
My heart was heavy. I felt like someone had just sucker-punched me in the gut. I hadn’t experienced such shock from a death since my father had told me about the murder of one of my childhood best friends.
I was in such disbelief. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I honestly believed that this man was invincible enough to fight through this.
My first instinct was to immediately call my boy, Joshua, who I knew was a huge Pac fan. He hadn’t heard the news yet, so I ended up being the bearer of bad news. He was in disbelief as well. Two 12-year olds on the phone just trying to wrap their young heads around this whole situation.
The conversation ends. The incomprehension of this news was really slowing down my progress with trying to get ready for that night. But things had gotten more complicated with my thoughts.
“I wasn’t even a fan. Why am I caring so much about this? Why is this hurting me so much right now?”.
Being at the “Happiest Place on Earth” that night could not replace the heartache that I was feeling. I don’t think my family really took notice of my somberness, maybe because I was doing my best to hide my emotions and to have an enjoyable time, but I was feeling completely numb that whole night there.
It was common to get home pretty late after Firemen’s Night, usually way after midnight. Typically, it would be hard for me to fall right to sleep because of all of the adrenaline still rushing through me from the night’s activities. But this time. This time was different. My mind was still running just thinking about Pac.
Eventually, I’d finally get some sleep.
Little did I or anyone know that almost six months to the day, we would get blindsided yet again, but this time with the death of Pac’s chief “rival”, Biggie Smalls.
Twenty years later, I still would not be able to explain why I felt the way I did toward Shakur’s death. Truth be told, I wasn’t even as hurt when I heard the news about Biggie, but I know that was more disgusted than anything. I remember just thinking and saying at that time, “something’s gotta give”.
Fortunately, the Hip-Hop industry was in agreeance with my sentiment.