Reifer on “Tupac and the Pope’s Playlist”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thomas E. Reifer, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, has a new online publication: “Beyond the Triangle of Emancipation: Tupac’s Hip Hop Theory of Criminal (In)justice, the Pope’s Playlist, & the Prophetic Imagination,” in Carceral Notebooks 3, Summer/Fall 2012 (155 pages), put out by Bernard Harcourt, Professor of Law & Criminology and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago.

In December of 2009, the song "Changes," by legendary rap artist, Tupac Shakur, was put on the Pope’s playlist on the Vatican MySpace Page [ ].  Reifer's article examines Tupac's significance, in light of his making the Pope's playlist, and the realities facing African-Americans in the context of today's overpacked prison system.

The Introduction begins: "Some years ago, I was listening to a radio documentary on Tupac Shakur about how his mother, Afeni Shakur, formerly a Black Panther, had succumbed to the crack cocaine addiction that came to plague the Black community before she turned her life around and got clean (Guy 2004). Despite my close identification with Tupac — he was born in Harlem and I in Spanish Harlem — I had forgotten this important detail. When I was reminded, totally unexpectedly and spontaneously, I burst into tears. My own parents had been long time heroin addicts and alcoholics, and my growing up, including being abandoned by them at 18 months, was complicated and difficult.  Whenever I feel down, Tupac’s music uplifts me over and over, as I listen to songs like “Better Days,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” or “Unconditional Love.” Tupac, like my own kid
brother, Matthew Benjamin Ehrlich, died too young, at 25 years old, both after leading lives that momentarily sparked and
uplifted those in their presence during their good times. This coincidence has always made me feel an affinity with Tupac,
especially since, as Michael Eric Dyson has argued, Tupac poignantly expressed both the hope and hopelessness of his generation (Dyson 2006).

The full article may be accessed through , where Reifer is an Associate Fellow at the Transnational Institute, a worldwide fellowship of scholar activists. Click on the “download it ‘here’” link, and then click on the red title of the article.

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