Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Notorious O.B.L.

I witnessed a dueling series of Facebook conversations this week between my brother-in-law Chad and his niece Jordan. One stream of comments contained political rants regarding the death of Osama bin Laden, and the other pitted two opposite points of view that epitomized the duel between generations on the relevance and quality of rap music in today's era versus that of the past. I read those comments during one of my cigarette breaks. When I returned to my desk, I was sharing the comments I had read with one of my coworkers named Bruce via instant messenger. Unfortunately, I had to leave my desk to attend a management meeting. The timing could not have been any worse.

When I returned to my desk, the only response I had received from my coworker was “first Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, now Osama bin Laden. I just don't get it.” As I typed my response, I looked at my screen to find that he had left for the day. I switched over to email to send him my response. I typed a very long retort that asked numerous questions. I wanted to know if he was trying to make a joke or if he had in fact made a serious and poignant point. Immediately after I pressed the send button, I received an automated “Out of Office” notification. He wouldn't be back in the office until next week.

I looked back at the IM I received from him over two hours ago (my management meetings tended to run about that long). What did The Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls) and Tupac Shakur have in common with one of the world's most notorious terrorists (besides just being notorious)? Was my fellow Caucasian trying to give me a subtle hint that rap music was not being recorded for our ears to absorb? And finally, where did Eminem fit into this equation? I couldn't collect my thoughts. I had to think about from where the comments came. They were plucked from the headlines of the nightly news and the lyrics of rap songs. I decided to look for clues.

In my thirty years on this earth, I have spent about half of them as a fan of rap music as well as many other types of music (basically, everything except country). I remember many conspiracy theorists listening to the albums that were released after the shooting deaths of Tupac and Biggie. Makaveli was the moniker under which Tupac's music was posthumously released. And at the beginning of the album, there is a whispered line that many believe says “Suge shot me.” This would have been in reference to Suge Knight; the strong-armed CEO and co-founder of Death Row Records by which Tupac's later albums were recorded. The investigation into Biggie's murder has recently been “reinvigorated” according to a CNN report, and Suge Knight is again a suspect in this 13 year old murder case. Could this Anderson Cooper “Cold Case” report be what my coworker was referring to?

No, I believed there was something else that linked these three men. I picture Osama as a “gangsta” of sorts. He had an entourage that went everywhere with him, he wore a middle-eastern “doo-rag” just like Tupac, and he had six wives during his lifetime just as Pac and Biggie had many “bitches.” Tupac and Biggie were titans of the rap industry whose throngs of fans took their lyrics as a gospel of sorts. Osama was the leader of a terrorist group called Al Qaeda whose army of supporters took his word as that of a prophet. Osama made videos to further prompt his followers to do horrendous deeds. Biggie and Pac made music videos that showed a lavish lifestyle gained from selling crack cocaine and rap CDs. In Osama's videos he would tell his people that if they became martyrs for the cause, they would be greeted in heaven by 72 virgins. Biggie and Pac's videos subliminally told young men that if they bought Cristal champagne and decked out their cars with 20” wheels they would be greeted in this lifetime with scores of “bitches” (oddly enough many of them worked nights at a club called Scores). The autopsy photos of Biggie and Pac were the source of major journalistic and pop culture tension. And now the photos of a fatally wounded Osama bin Laden are the source of journalistic and political contention. Whether the battleground was located at the Twin Towers in New York or at the Tower Records Store in Los Angeles, one thing is certain; these men are indeed linked.

Tipper Gore led a charge in the mid 1980's against profane lyrics in music, ultimately coming up with the “Parental Advisory” sticker that can be seen on most rap albums sold today. Her husband, Al Gore, lost a very close race in the year 2000 to George Bush for President of the United States. At that time, plans were already in place to bomb the World Trade Center Towers in New York just one year later. I have to believe that Osama was expecting Al to be President when the plan was executed. On November 7, 2000, almost 51 million Americans tried and failed to make that happen for him, 1 woman in Florida ruined it.

George Bush and his armies of troops searched for Osama in Afghanistan and Iraq during much of his 8 years in office. They killed many people in the name of freedom and democracy, and even unseated Saddam Hussein while they were at it (is “collateral victory” a term?). But they never found Osama. Just like Biggie was an easy target for gun shots, because he weighed in about 350 lbs, Osama was not exactly a fast runner. It is believed that he suffered from an enlarged heart, a major arm injury and possibly even kidney disease. I find it hard to fathom him as “quick getaway” kind of guy with a bad blood pump and one useful arm dragging a dialysis machine everywhere he went. This is where Tupac and his six-pack abs separates himself from the group, because I don't think narcissism counts as a health condition.

Well, the one thing they all do have in common is that they are all three dead and gone. I'm sure just as Biggie and Pac released posthumous rap albums, we will see many videos of Osama released to the public. We will just have to see if there are any subtle clues as to who tipped off the Americans as to where his hideout was located. It wasn't exactly a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan like everyone thought, but he did spend five years at one location before the skilled US Navy Seals descended upon him in his fateful final hours. Perhaps one of those videos will start with a faint whisper of “Pervez Musharraf shot me.” Then again, probably not. By the way Bruce, you're a dick!

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