Bayo at the gym always pulls into the parking lot with 90s rap thumping out of his car. You feel the beat before he comes into view, then as he parks, people look over, recognise the song and smile at him. He is in his late forties with a salt and pepper beard, and I am often surprised by how many people sing along to his golden age nuggets.
Last week, he came in playing Hit ‘Em Up by 2Pac. That got a huge response from the loitering crowd and I thought about how decades after 2Pac’s death, we were still listening to this track. Tupac has been dead for 26 years, and people who were born long after will still be bopping their heads to this song with all of the anger blooming off it.
A diss track is a curious act of perseverance because of how long it takes to create. Tupac Shakur was shot in November of 1994. He was in prison from February to October of 1995, and the song was recorded and released in 1996. In that time, Tupac, mostly in jail, had to write the lyrics, find a producer, sample songs for the hook, and get a group of three other people to sing verses on it; all while maintaining sufficient fury to keep the project moving forward.
After the song was completed, when they got together to shoot the music video–which involved a full crew, video editors, location scouts, costume designers, impersonators for Puffy and Biggie and probably caterers–I wonder if 2Pac had a moment of peace waiting to shoot a scene where he looked around at this mass of people he had gathered in the warehouse studio and said to himself, “I am no longer upset but I’ve made such a banger so it’s too late to back out now.”
As always happens when I think of 2Pac, I remember he was in his early twenties when all of these happened (23 when he was shot, and 25 when he died). And even though he had tasted love, death, and fame, and the struggles of creating art and of inequality, perhaps one can be forgiven at that age of excesses. Now, if someone does something particularly annoying like cut me off in traffic, in the time it would take me to drive to a safe spot so I could tweet about it, I’d have lost my train of thought. But there’s no telling if someone tried to kill me, I might memorialise it in an expletive filled song and would even make time to record a clean version for radio play.
There is a Bloomberg interview with Donald Trump where he is asked by the interviewer, as a follow up to saying the Bible is his favourite book, what one or two of his “most favourite” Bible verses are. He flubs the question, he doesn’t want to talk about it, it’s too personal.
But it is kind of a trick question, right?
Like what is your favourite Bob Marley song. If you say, “Redemption Song,” people scoff, “Pfft, everyone knows Redemption Song,” because you only get credit if you mention a song that only someone who says Bob Marley is their favourite artist would know.
Poor Trump, imagine if he had said John 3:16 or Genesis 1:1, and worse yet, had gone on to misquote it.
The same thing happened to me once, and when I pulled out a part of a popular psalm, my answer was met with mockery.
Since then, I have been on a search to prevent my own bible trap moment; to find the right obscure quote to drop when I am cornered. Now when people ask me about my favourite verse, I raise my head to the sky with a beatific look on my face, and say barely audibly, “2nd Timothy 4:14.”
Don’t worry if this is not immediately familiar, I will give you all of the context you need.
Paul had been a ranking member of the Pharisees. He had spoken to God and at least two heads of government, been blinded, bitten by a snake, shipwrecked, had held on a piece of wood and drifted at sea for days, been publicly flogged, stoned and left for dead.
After all of this, Paul, at 60, was in prison, writing the final letter of his life to Timothy, his mentee and adopted son.
He could see his death approaching and had a feeling in the back of his mind that this letter would at least be read aloud to the immediate congregation at the next church meeting, and maybe distributed and read by millions of people around the world for centuries later.
Paul packs the letter with parting lessons. He talks about shame and suffering, he says he has fought the good fight and finished the race. But an unknown man, Alex, had done something to vex Paul, and in his dying days, Paul could not let it go. So at the end of the letter, sitting at his desk, with calluses on his hands, scars on his back, chains on feet, he couldn’t resist:
“Finally let me tell you,” Paul writes, “Alexander the metalworker did me wrong. Only God can judge him.”