Tupak Shakur’s D-Day
I go to a party near the craft school in honor of “Tupak Shakur’s D-Day.” In other words, it’s a houseful of white craft dudes who dig hip-hop in the heart of Appalachia, sipping forties and talkin’ smack.
Admittedly, it’s ridiculous to the core.
Except for the fact that the hostess, FamousBlacksmith, is all business when it comes to her hip-hop obsession. And except for the fact that everyone there, myself included, remembers Tupak and when he died and how he revolutionized gangsta rap. FamousBlacksmith’s obsession is centuries old, and her knowledge of Tupak is seamless. This should be an interesting evening.
To backtrack for a moment, I’ve heard about FamousBlacksmith for the past four years, since moving to the south. And she comes into the coffeehouse every so often, except I haven’t actually met her formally so I never know when I’m serving her or just some anonymous 60+ person with hands callused by the marks of those who pound metal. So when Noelle tells me that’s whose party we’re going to, and adds that she would be perfect for my next artist feature, I decide to make a point of introducing myself to FamousBlacksmith.
Noelle and Guthrie and I walk up the gravel driveway and are greeted with the thumping bass from Tupak’s tracks belting out of the house. A handful of partiers greet us with their palms dangling upside down in a crossed-finger W formation, meaning, “West Side.” And they say it just like we did in the old days, with an uproarious lilt on the second word, as in “West Seye-eed.” [Remember this?]
“West Seye-eed,” we call back in unison. There is a lot of head bobbing and hat tipping and cheers all around and then casual talk resumes. No one is putting on airs. It’s not like the white dudes pretending to be black. It’s just friends digging back into an obsession and it goes without saying that in general, all artists can relate to the notion of obsession. [Note to self: Throw a Bob Dylan party on the date of his first studio recording.]
Inside, people are sipping from forty-ounce glass jars of Colt 45 and Old English 800 and Mickey’s. Stories about forties are shared in a go-round at the kitchen table.
In high school, the only gas station my friends and I could find that would sell to minors was on the eastside. As in, “East Sey-eed!” The attendant knew we were underage so the only thing he’d sell us was stuff he thought was harmless. Boones. Wine coolers, And you guessed it, forties of OE800, as we called it. And yes, we drank it out of brown paper bags, huddled around a stereo while sitting on the floor of my friend’s living rooms all over Portland. We drank to get drunk; to practice with the sensation of it. We drank because we though that’s what we were supposed to do. Because it was part of growing up. Because we were curious. Because we could get away with it. And then we’d take stupid photographs of ourselves, buzzed and half-pissing our own pants, with Thug Life and West Side tattoos drawn in black Sharpie ink across our chests and biceps. It was always a little difficult to explain those drunk drawings across my young skin to my parents later that night or the next day. Other times we’d bribe someone to be the DD and the rest of us would get tipsy and shout things at people all over downtown Portland. Sometimes, we’d put brown grocery bags over our heads and drive by the dance clubs on Front Avenue, where long lines wrapped around street corners providing the perfect captive audience. Necks craning out of the sunroof, bags over our heads with two eyes and a smile drawn across the front, we’d shout “HAPPY BROWN BAG LOVES YOU,” at all the pimped-up dance girls and cologne-wearing g-funks. Sometimes we said other things, once we picked up friends from these lines and drove around, and sometimes, well…I digress…
FamousBlacksmith says she has prepared jalepeno poppers and chicken wings in Tupak’s honor. There is some bio-referential rationale for this, which she expounds upon. In the corner of the kitchen, a TV plays the movie Juice and from my perch on a barstool, I can see four Tupak posters and framed photos. There are posters of Eminem too, and one glance at her CD collection tells me this obsession goes way beyond just Tupak.
When I finally get a chance to make my way over to FamousBlacksmith, she is thirty ounces into her second forty and I introduce myself. Then I say,
“When did the obsession start?”
She knows exactly what I’m talking about and launches into a history-based explanation that starts with James Brown and her statement that, “I’ve always liked black music. My entire life. Even when I was a small child.” The CD starts skipping and just when I think I’m getting somewhere with my on-the-sly interview, the hostess has to get up and amend the music situation. After all, DJ knows best. But on my way out we make plans to talk books. She wants to borrow my well-worn copy of Hip Hop America by George Nelson and I tell her I want to hear the rest of her story and it is agreed, yes, we’ll meet up soon.
I offer a final wave and West Side hand flash on my way out and she stands in the doorway, backlit from the hall light. Her gray hair is frizzy and fine as silk in the fractured light. Her is profile regal, almost chiseled yet softened by her angelic complexion. I want to tell her that the peach colored circles appearing naturally along the ridges of her cheekbones make her look royal, as if all she needed were an evening gown and a pair of pearls. Instead, I say, “Peace out,” and I look at her hands. I get lost in the thickness of the skin; the darkness of the wrinkles. They are the hands of a hard worker. Each wrinkle bears a story, and I can almost read between the lines as I watch her make her West Side symbol in return.
And zap, it is decided. I will write about FamousBlacksmith. I can feel it. Anvil’s Reign [magazine] or Sculpture [magazine]. Book intro or artist’s statement. It will happen.