Discovering 2PAC Shakur (2008)

Cricklewood Blogger’s link with gangsta rap is a tenuous one, but the story begins with an event organised by our local youth charity, Amal Trust.  In the last fortnight he has learnt about Bloods and Crips, and this man they call 2PAC Shakur….

The first induction was at Amal Trust’s happy and raucous Eid Party and Qur’an recitation prize giving ceremony, this year held at Porchester Hall in West London.  The second was further away from home, in Bethnal Green, at a meeting organised by BLYDA – the Brick Lane Youth Development Association.  The star turn at both events was the presence of ex-Rappers from the US who had something to say about gang culture.  Both Abu Jafar and Mutta Abu Salek had traveled a million miles from their past lives, embracing Islam on the way and now with a mission to reach out and warn youngsters.  Both these young men spoke with authority and tremendous sincerity.  It was only when Mutta Abu Salek tugged his sleeve, revealing a large tattoo, that one could experience the connection with their past.

Abu Jafar’s tale was about his childhood and teenage years in a Los Angeles area dominated by the two gangs, the Bloods and the Crips.  They had marked out their territories through graffiti and other signs, and woe betide if you were found on the wrong side without allies.  He told us the horrific tales of abject poverty and racism – how the grocery trucks were always laden with the fresh stock in the front and the old and rotten goods in the back – because when deliveries were made, these began with the rich, white affluent neighbourhoods on the hills, only arriving in the Black areas – Arab, Hispanic and Afro-American – till later.  The gangs initially started out as vigilante groups to protect local communities from police racism, the KKK and Aryan Brotherhood, but then were taken over by criminals and turned to in-fighting.  Abu Jafar and his sister ended up in rival groups – and she stabbed him in the shoulder.  Every trip to school was a journey through danger land because he had to leave his Bloods territory and enter Crips land.  His ticket out came when he was detained in a car involved in a drive-by shooting.  Because of his age he was offered the choice of youth detention or an educational programme.  He took the latter, and after finishing college in the US he is now completing Islamic studies in Nottingham. His message: “the music your children listen to is a product of the US gang culture…gangsta rap is one of the most satanic, demonic things that has arisen, so keep your kids away from it”.

When Cricklewood Blogger turned up at the hall in Bethnal Green for the BLYDA event there were young lads out on the pavement because the hall was full.  He decided to hang around and try his luck – he only just managed to slip in and take up one of the chairs marked ‘Reserved’ after a special plea to the organizers.  Mutta Abu Salek was a crowd puller – who knew him as ‘Napolean’ and  member of the famous gangsta rap group of ‘2PAC Shakur’ called the Outlaws.  Napolean became Mutta Abu Salek about four years ago, alhamdu lillah. Mutta’s message to the youngsters was direct and emotional: your parents have worked hard to look after you, and it now your duty to respect them and “make them proud”.  He himself grew up without parents, because they were killed when he was three years old.  He joined the Outlaws in the footsteps of his elder brother – who was killed by his cousin.  Like Abu Jafar he too was dead against gangsta rap music and its drug culture.  The rap stars were laughing all the way to the bank and all that they cared about was getting out of the ghetto themselves.  They said to themselves, “look at the geeks trying to be something they ain’t.  Mutta had other choice turns of phrase: he called on the audience to get real and “smell the coffee”.  He knew people walking around with bullets in their bodies – so “this is not a game; it is not PS3;  this is not playstation.  Everything you do you will have to pay.  You are supposed to wake up.   Have respect for yourselves, for your body. Be with the brothers – when you are together you are strong.  He added, “a lot of people I grew up with were dying… I found Islam when I was 17 and it has taught me discipline…it was something that hit my heart…I had three houses but wasn’t  happy at all”.   He also had a clear message to his young audience about terrorism – this has nothing to do with our deen, “if we don’t know our deen we will be caught up in this stuff”.   Many of the questions that were put to him later reverted back to 2PAC Shakur and whether he was still alive. Muta assured them: “I have seen his ashes”.  In his view, “2PAC was a good guy; he had a good heart…after I became Muslim, I don’t hate him, but what he stood for”.

Cricklewood Blogger had been an avid reader in his teenage years of James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver and he left the hall wondering on their legacy. It had been ostracized by the establishment and forced into exile.  Some prominent individuals and families of the civil rights movement were coopted by the establishment and are today part of a comfortable bourgeoisie.  True leaders like Malcolm X were eliminated by the FBI.  Many of the Black Power clique ended up in prison or exile.  It seems the majority were left with their status unchanged, in the city dumps and a jungle governed by Bloods, Crips and Outlaws.  Alhamdu lillah for the Abu Jafars and Mutta Abu Saleks, who are continuing the struggle for freedom and dignity. Cricklewood Blogger was wrapped up in his thoughts and as he went on to the pavement almost ran into a hoodie.  There was a Chinese gang selling contraband computer games on the corner. Welcome back to reality.