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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Book Review

Title: The Rose that Grew from Concrete
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

The Rose That Grew from Concrete is a collection of the poetry of slain African-American gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur written from 1989 to 1991 and published by Pocket Books in 2006.

The rhythm, rhyme and sheer brilliance of this work adds to the evidence that Tupac was not only a rapper but a literary genius as well.

In the preface, his mother, Afeni Shakur, says the poems "represent the process of a young artist'es journey to understand and accept a world of unthinkable contradictions."

Regardless of whether you admired Tupac or not, his poetry fills you with sadness and inspiration for the good reason that it's an honest outpouring.

Many of the poems are devoid of the vulgarity synonymous with the lyrics of his songs because they were written before he was hardened by getting shot at and doing time in prison.

There is a poem about the enduring spirit of the black woman, the tears of a teenage mother and one about crack titled U R Ripping Us Apart.

He wonders at the unfairness of it all when the rich and powerful prevail while the underprivileged strive through strife.

His desire for equality of all men is revealed in Family Tree when he notes: "Because we all spring/ From different trees /Does not mean/ We are not created equally…"

The Shining Star Within, dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, shows his rare gentleness: "…There was no compassion/ for this thriving star/ only exploitations/ and confused jealousy..."

Jada, dedicated to Jada Pinket, wife to Hollywood actor and rapper Will Smith, brims with love: "u R the omega of my heart/ The foundation 4 my conception of love/ when I think of what a Black woman should be/ it's u that I First think of…"

Some poems remind you of renaissance poet Claude McKay. He mentions Nelson Mandela and boasts that the blood of Malcolm X runs in his veins.

In How Can We Be Free, he writes with moving sincerity "…we must be blind as hell/ 2 think we live in equality/ while Nelson Mandela rots in a jail cell/ Where the shores of Howard Beach/ are full of Afrikan corpses…"

Highly philosophical and humorous is Liberty Needs Glasses, a poem that starts, "Excuse me but Lady Liberty needs glasses/ And so does Mrs Justice by her side…Justice stubbed her Big Toe on Mandela/And Liberty was misquoted by the Indians…take 'em both 2 Pen Optical/ and get 2 pairs of glasses."

Tupac writes with sensitivity and a touching candour that betrays his fears and passions in almost all the 72 poems. Most amazing is his ability to remain optimistic. He was the "young unaddicted Black youth with a dream" that, In The Event Of My Demise, talks of the countless things he wanted to accomplish before his death.

He was shot dead in 1996 aged 25 but he had by then recorded 12 very successful albums, appeared in six major films and written these poems – making him as the book title suggests –the rose that against all the odds grew from a crack in the concrete and breathed the fresh air.

These poems have a universal appeal and will teach you that whatever the circumstances people will - if they really want to -achieve.
--Sunday Monitor, March 2, 2008