Monday, October 12, 2009

Tupac and Omar Little: Ode to Dichotomy

"That woman raised me! And for as long as I been grown, once a month I been with her on a church Sunday, telling myself ain't no need to worry, 'cause ain't nobody in this city that lowdown to disrespect a Sunday morning!" -(Michael K. Williams as) Omar Little

"I never committed no crimes that weren't honorable" -Tupac Shakur

i recently got involved in one of those "who's the greatest mc?" (online) conversations.  i'm not nearly astute enough of a hip hop fan to have an informed conversation on this topic.  so all i offered was this: "i can't choose the greatest, but my personal favorite is tupac.  besides the fact that he was dope lyrically, he captured the dichotomy of a lot of black men: the gangsta and the good brotha.  he's the prototype of omar little, if you will.  i just came up with that last part.  i think i'll blog about that now."  so i am.

omar little was by far my favorite character on hbo's "the wire."  his dichotomy was fascinating.  he robbed big time drug dealers for their money and drugs.  but he made a point to pay in full for any items or services he needed.  he spent most of his time engaging in illegal activities, but he consistently escorted his grandmother to church once a month, and he almost never used profanity.  he was a complex man with complex values that somehow seemed simple.  his character was masterfully written and portrayed in a way that made me (and most viewers, i suspect) truly enjoy watching omar shift between the roles of gangsta and good brotha.

i enjoyed watching this beautiful struggle so much, partly because i knew the writer and actor were capturing a phenomenon that really occurs within many men (black and otherwise).  sometimes you hear people refer to the old gangster code or the way street life used to be honorable.  they're referring to the idea that "back in the day," gangsters had a strict "code," or set of morals and values which dictated their behavior and activities.  for instance, omar thought he could safely escort his grandmother to church on sundays because there had previously been an unspoken understanding that one should not disrespect such an activity.  "a man got to have a code."  such a code exists in the midst of all kinds of vile and inhumane acts.

tupac is a classic, real life example of this phenomenon.  and that struggle is what intrigued me so much about him.  it's almost a form of double consciousness.  and while some would call it hypocrisy, it's deeper than that.  the man who wrote "dear mama" followed up with "hit 'em up" and then "life goes on" and so on and so on.  all of these voices were his.  but i truly believe he was struggling with this dichotomy.  and the fact that he honored the good brotha within him by allowing him to speak showed a tremendous vulnerability that men, particularly MC's, don't normally show.  letting the gangsta speak is relatively easy in a world where that's what's fed, encouraged, and expected of you.  tupac was dealing with the conflict between the two.  it was real.

and so are the struggles of many men.

so omar wasn't just a figment of some crafty artists' imaginations.  he was as real as tupac.  perhaps even inspired by him.  art imitating life, indeed.


Anonymous said...

A Man Gotta Have a Code!

udee said...

How intriguing! I never really thought of this dichtomy as being some 21st century form of DuBois' double consciousness. But I can see how you can actually make that connection.

I think it is society that forces brothas to choose between both worlds, even tho we all know the seemingly opposite worlds of 'corporate america' (as seen being occupied by the so-called good brotha) and the 'streets' (as depicted by the gangsta) are so much more similar in the undercurrent. Humans seem to forget how so very complicated we really odd!!

Side note: I sooo want to be able to knowlegdeably debate who the greatest MC of all time is ... but yeah, no ... I dont have enough grounding in the culture and art.

VISION Photography | | This is my true vision said...

engaging writing. thank you.

VISION Photography | | This is my true vision said...

...and thank you so so much for the follow


Blog Widget by LinkWithin