2pac is a global icon. Like Bob Marley before him, his music reverberates in the hearts of millions as it blasts through speakers around the world, just as his image captures the imaginations of his global fan base, on t-shirts, murals and posters. 2pac transcended Hip-Hop, like Bob Marley transcended Reggae. They became larger than the music and were intertwined with the values that were woven through their art, which they shared with the world. Foremost of these was an uncompromising devotion for standing up to oppression. 2pac was an opponent of hegemony, of predatory economic structures, racial inequity and political disenfranchisement. The spirit of 2pac stood and continues to stand against oppression, just like the icons of old that he inherited.
Exactly 75 years to the day before 2pac was assassinated, another like soul was taken from this world. A Tamil man from British ruled South India protested their oppression through his art and was also killed; though his death was tragic, like 2pac it did not diminish his poetry or songs, or throw shade on his message and ideals he stood for, which were the same as 2pac’s. The British government and authorities from Hindu hegemonic structures based on caste had already labeled him a pariah for his views, yet he remained resolute in his convictions and was struck down as a stalwart opponent to imperialism. He was an opponent to them, of the British economic divestment of his people, the racial hierarchies they imposed and manipulated and for Tamil nationalism. He is remembered as Bharatiyar, the mahakavi, or greatest poet in Tamil, or in Hip-Hop speak, the illest M.C.
Those who know Hip-Hop culture know that the most asked question in Hip-Hop is who is the best? The debate of who is the illest M.C. is one that seems so subjective that it can lead to seamlessly never-ending conversations or social media threads, with no true consensus. In part this is because people define “best” through various categories, from “rocking the party” to “best lyricism” to the “best content.” Beats, samples, production and engineering factor in as well and only further problematize the question. However there is one name that shows up on everyone’s list from the casual listener to the most stalwart of Hip-Hop heads, and it is the closest consensus that exists regarding this question and that M.C. is 2pac.
The Mahakavi and Illest M.C.
Bharatiyar was born in Ettayapuram, near the southern tip of India, in what would become Tamil Nadu. He was a pioneer in modern Tamil poetry and his work sparked patriotic fervor and nationalism and were part of a larger independence movement. He worked against gender stereotypes for women (though he still operated in a traditional mindset with his own life partner), and stood up against the caste system. He was exiled and imprisoned, but throughout his life was a prolific writer and poet and his songs and poems continued to inspire, as Tamil people fought for their freedom along with other South Asian peoples from under British rule.
2pac was a fetus while his mother fought for her freedom during the Panther 21 trial and grew to embody the values of his Panther family. He championed the power of the people and was the first erudite Hip-Hop artist to speak out against misogyny in his lyrics (though he remained a contradiction through his association with artists who were the epitome of misogyny). He had been shot, hospitalized, and imprisoned, yet in his short life, he was one of the most prolific Hip-Hop artists of all time and his music continues to inspire people throughout the world to stand up to the powers that be.
Can you see the connection?
Tamil people have long embraced Hip-Hop culture as a part of our own. Hip-Hop Tamizha may be a strong and recent example, but Hip-Hop may be strongest amongst Tamils living in the Diaspora. My brother Yogi B in Malaysia, or The Prophecy in Toronto are examples of Tamils embracing Hip-Hop culture and using the voice of Hip-Hop to make our presence known. Tamilmatic is an attempt to do just this and tell our story, explaining our impact on this planet and showcasing our deep values as a people.
Tamils love 2pac, because 2pac’s lyrics translate well to the Tamil struggle. Whether we talk about the Coolie Slave Trade, the post-colonial struggle and our Diaspora, or the war and the refugee crisis stemming from our fight for Eelam and the impact of the war crimes committed against our people, 2pac’s songs could very much form the soundtrack to our struggle. Just as Bharatiyar’s songs became the songs of resistance of our grandparents generation, 2pac’s lyrics spoke to the grandchildren living in the Diaspora.
So 2pac in Tamil is the first official video to accompany the release of Tamilmatic for this Tamil New Year’s Day and it imagines whether the souls of Bharatiyar and 2pac were intertwined just as the struggle for human rights amongst Black folk in America and Black folk in South Asia still is. It explores Black Lives Matter and champions the idea of global liberty and justice. Bharatiyar and 2pac clearly stood on common ground; they were both poets and revolutionaries and both were taken from the world too soon, and finally they both reminded us of how the power of voice can transcend death:
2pac in Tamil is my attempt to use my voice, to bridge the global struggle of my people with the problems plaguing our planet and state emphatically that 2pac is alive, because he lives through all of us, and through this, like Bharatiyar, he lives through me.