MTV: What kind of Christmas will this generation have?
Shakur: I think that the MTV generation, in terms of where we are today, has the best imaginable Christmas values. At least we’re open-minded, at least we care enough to see the problems and want to have a good Christmas. At least we know there are people who are not having a good Christmas, and it’s not just this happy, jolly, white Christmas everywhere. We’re saying, “Wait, wait, wait — do they know it’s Christmas over there?” I think the MTV generation is the next generation to come and the best generation that we’ve had thus far. They’re starting to see the mistakes; they’re starting to try to check it. … That’s not self-serving, that’s real.
MTV: How does this record you are doing now reflect the reality of the times today?
Shakur: The track I am doing for the album is called “Ghetto Gospel.” I love the whole concept. I bought the first [Special Olympics album, A Very Special Christmas,] when it had Sting on it with “Gabriel’s Message.” … I bought it for Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” no joke. But I heard “Gabriel’s Message” by accident and I was so stuck on it. I was like, “That is def! That is everything!” And this is way back — I’m a little youngster. So now when the chance come for me to do it, I wanted to do something that would affect people, not today but tomorrow, whenever you played it — a year from now. And I didn’t want it to be just, you know, “Snow and chestnuts rolling down.” I didn’t want to do a remake. I wanted to do a Christmas carol, and black people really never did Christmas carols. …
Not our own. … “Ghetto Gospel” is a reality. It’s a reminiscent-type song. Losing your grandparents, how we don’t really care about our senior citizens these days. And that’s such a Christmas-y thing, ‘cause you know your grandma will always give you a present. If she [has to] give you her teeth, she’s going to give you a present. “Ghetto Gospel” is like being gospel without being sellout, you know, not being phony. I’m not saying I’ve changed. I make a lot of mistakes and I say that in the song. But it says “God ain’t finished with me yet.” [There’s] a path for me, and I make mistakes and I might fall, but I’m gonna get up and I keep trying ‘cause I believe in it. And that’s ghetto, you know, to do what you feel. It’s not all pretty, but it’s still what I feel. It’s still from my soul, my heart. So it’s ghetto gospel.
MTV: “Everybody needs a little help relying on yourself.” Tell me about that line from the song.
Shakur: This world is — and when I say “this world” I mean it, I don’t mean it in an ideal sense. I mean it in every day, every little thing you do — it’s such a “Gimme, gimme, gimme.” Everybody back off. Everybody’s taught that from school. Everywhere. Big business: You wanna be successful? You wanna be like Trump? Gimme, gimme, gimme. Push, push, push, push. Step, step, step. Crush, crush, crush. That’s how it all is. And it’s like nobody ever stops, you know? I feel like instead of us just being like, “Slavery’s bad. Bad whitey,” I mean, let’s stop that. Everybody’s smart enough to know that. We’ve been slighted and we want ours. And I don’t mean by “ours,” like 40 acres and a mule, because we’re past that. But we need help. I mean for us to be on our own two feet, “us” meaning youth or “us” meaning black people, whatever you want to take it for. For us to be on our own two feet, we do need help because we have been here. We have been a good friend, if you want to make it a relationship type of thing. We have been there, and now we deserve our payback. It’s like you got a friend that you don’t never look out for you. You know, you dressed up in jewels now — America’s got jewels and they got paid and everything, and they lend their money to everybody except us. Everybody needs a little help on their way to being self-reliant.
That’s the whole thing about the album, about the Special Olympics. Everybody needs a little something, and they need to be independent. No independent person just grew up and was born independent. You worked and you learned teamwork, and you learned cooperation and unity and struggle, and then you became independent. And we have to teach that and instill that. … I mean, if this is truly a melting pot in the country where we care about them … we really need to be like that. … You need to help black kids, Mexican kids, Korean kids, whatever. But it needs to be real and it needs to be before we all die and then you say, “I made a mistake. I should have gave them some money. We really should have helped these folks.” It’s gonna be too late. And then that’s when you’ve gotta pay your own karma. And that’s what God punishes when God punishes you.
I feel like there’s too much money here. Nobody should be hitting the Lotto for $36 million when we got people starving in the streets. That is not idealistic. That’s just real. That is just stupid. There is no way Michael Jackson … or whoever … should have a million thousand quadruple billion dollars and then there’s people starving. There’s no way. There’s no way that these people should own planes and these [other] people don’t have houses, apartments, shacks, drawers, pants.
MTV: What if they earned it?
Shakur: If they earned it — I think that’s good and I think that they deserve it. But even if you earned it, you still owe. Look at me. I’m not — I don’t have that mega-money. But I feel guilty walking by somebody. I gotta give him some mail. And if I know I got $3,000 in my pocket, I feel it’s wrong to give that person a quarter or a dollar. It’s wrong. Only you know what you’ve got in your pocket, and that’s wrong, no matter what they do. If they take it and drink it, they take it and drink it. … We all know how hard it is, and it’s not about you being good or bad. Because he don’t got don’t mean he was bad or don’t mean he’s a criminal or don’t mean he’s crazy or a drug addict or none of that. It just means he don’t got. And ain’t it bad that you got. Can you imagine somebody having $32 million … and this person has nothing? And you can sleep? These are the type of people who get humanitarian awards — millionaires. How can they be humanitarians? The fact that they’re millionaires and there’s so many poor people shows how inhumane they are, you know what I’m saying? And that bugs me. I’m not saying that I’m never gonna be rich, but I’m saying there’s a struggle, and I think everybody deserves, and I think there’s a way to pay these people.
It just takes to be revolutionary, and it takes that to do something out of the ordinary. I think that if we just said, “OK, I got an idea. No more porno buildings — let’s build houses.” Or “No more polo games. Let’s build houses for poor people.” OK, I know you rich. I know you got $40 billion, but can you just keep it to one house? You only need one house. And if you only got two kids, can you just keep it to two rooms? I mean, why have 52 rooms when you know there’s somebody with no room? It just don’t make sense to me. And then these people celebrate Christmas — they got big trees, huge trees, all the little trimmings. Everybody got gifts, and there’s somebody starving. And they’re having a white Christmas. They’re having a great Christmas, eggnog and the whole nine. That’s not fair to me.
MTV: What about people who don’t have a lot of money, who are just the average guy? In your terms, what do you think about these people helping their fellow man?
Shakur: I think that people, not only the rich people, have responsibility to give. … Poor, to me, is without, nothing. … Poor is not just for black folks. I think that rich black people need to give to poor white folks … and poor Korean people, whatever. For real, it’s not like a color thing ‘cause that’s real bad. … To me, what’s real bad is kids that don’t get presents on Christmas. I think adults shouldn’t get presents so the kids get all the presents, ‘cause ain’t that what it’s supposed to be about? Even when you do turn 13 and you know there’s no Santa Claus. It’s still for those years when you thought it wasn’t made up, that life was that much more better. These days, like the rhyming says, “We growing up.” We grew up B.C. — before crack, you and me. We grew up way before all this crazy stuff happened with the AKs and AIDS and all that. Imagine all of that and no Christmas? All of this that we gotta go through for 365 days a year and there’s no Christmas? We know Christmas is relief day. So all of this with no relief day? That’s hard. That’s a lot of pressure. That’s a lot of stress. That makes you go crazy. So I don’t … I forgot the question.
MTV: You were talking about the unevenness, saying that wealthy people should be helping the others.
Shakur: OK, yeah. So to make it even — if you got 50 bucks, you can give somebody five bucks. It’s been times I gave to these little kids — they was at the gas station. It impressed me that them little kids was like 14 and they’re pumping people’s gas instead of taking the money like I would think — that’s the easy way — they’re pumping people’s gas. And you know people was cruel. They’ll give you a quarter after watching you inhale vapors and everything. They’ll give you a quarter for pumping gas. And I gave them little kids like fifty bucks. They was like, “Thank you!” But that teaches them that when you work hard and be responsible, there’s a reward for that. And I think that just like I did that, corporations can do that, and on a bigger level. Imagine if a corporation just sent a representative and said, “Just go hang out in that playground, and … whatever kid is the coolest and shares the ball or lets the most people play basketball, we’re gonna give them a scholarship.” That would bring hope. There’s no hope, and there’s not going to be too many more Christmases without hope. … There’s not going to be too many more days without hope. Because if there’s hopelessness, there’s revolution and there’s change. If there’s change, somebody is going to end up on the bottom. And that doesn’t have to happen. It doesn’t have to be about we on bottom, you on top all the time. It can be just spread.
MTV: What can the average person do to spread the same idea of helping people? What can somebody who doesn’t have 50 bucks or own a corporation do? Bring it down to the average person.
Shakur: I would love to just drop it down for them, but that’s not my job to tell people how to. It’s up to you. Just like my mind went, “OK, this is how I can help by doing this all,” has to go, “Well, this is how I can help.” You have to decide. Each person has to decide. What is it that you can do to help? Because [there] is something you can do. Everybody, there is something you can do. Whether you’re behind a switchboard, or behind a camera or behind a cash register, there’s something you can do and you do it. I can’t even see the possibilities. It’s limitless … what we can do. [Naming one thing ] would just limit. And I know what you want me to say, but I can’t.
MTV: How do your lyrics reflect what you’re trying to say?
Shakur: Just by using Jess, the guy I did the duet with — he was a youngster. Christmas to me is about giving to the youngsters, because the older people, like my age — you know, 20s, teenagers — they think they know it all, I think I know it all, and we don’t see Christmas the same. Christmas is just party time. … My last 21 Christmases, they were all like either something harsh or something trippy. And so I felt like this Christmas song, I wanted it to be something Jess could look back [on] in 10 years and go, “That’s when it started. That’s when I did it. I did that with Tupac. I didn’t even wanna go, and that’s when it started.” And I could do that. Whatever mistakes I make in the future, I can say I did that. I put Jess’ voice on that song. He did it, you know? He did it. He said it. He told his part of it. And people can hear him. I know this song is going to go places that my music never could go. And it’s gonna give me a chance to just say how I feel, just like I fell onto Sting, somebody’s going to fall onto me and hear my music just like I heard his, and they’re gonna feel what I felt. It’s gonna knock down a lot of barriers, and that’s cool. That’s what it’s all about. That’s Christmas.
Plus I know for actual fact that this song came from my heart, and I know that it can bring joy to another person. And that’s good. I feel like I did my part. And this Christmas I’ll be happier, ‘cause I know I got something out there. I did something. I contributed. ‘Cause really, all BS aside, it all comes down to [the fact that] we got to survive. I mean, even warriors put their spears down on Sundays. We got to survive here in this country ‘cause I’m not going back to Africa. We’ve got to survive here, and for us to survive here — white folks, black folks, Korean folks, Mexican folks, Puerto Ricans — we gotta understand each other. We got to take a bigger chance. And when I say Americans, people think I’m talking about Uncle Sam, actually Uncle Sam with the gray hair and the flag. I mean you! You — the guy, the mechanic, whoever — you. You need to do something. You need to check yourself and see how racist you are.
It’s real. I even do it myself sometimes. I was on the plane the other day and this little tiny cute white girl came up to me and said she loved my music. And when she passed me, I didn’t think this could be one of my fans. It didn’t even enter my head. When the little girl passed me … and she said it, it just checked me. It made me go, “OK, you’re taking yourself too seriously.” Because what would you say to that little girl? Would you tell her there’s no room for her in the new world? And there is, there’s got to be. You gotta make room, ‘cause this little girl was so cute. She’s like, “I like your music.” The whole reason I got signed to Interscope was because Ted Field’s little daughter liked my music. … That baffles me. That’s the power of children. That’s innocence at its personification, goodness at its personification. That’s what I want to be about. It clicks for me. That’s “Ghetto Gospel.” That’s what we need to harvest and nurture so that it can grow and blossom. That’s the only chance we have is through the creativity and imagination of our youth.
MTV: What else can you tell us about “Ghetto Gospel.”
Shakur: Musically, this is different than anything I ever did. This is the first time I ever said I wanted to build a song on feelings. I took a song called “Crossroads” from Tracy Chapman — we sampled the main riff, the melody, from that. Tracy Chapman used to move me; she is an idol. I know that’s going to cause mass hysteria in the ‘hood, but she is. I think she’s beautiful, I think she’s deep, I think she has a lot to say, and I think she has a lot of soul in her music. I wanted to bring that soul to “Ghetto Gospel,” that song is gospel to me. A lot of her music is, so that was the basis of the song. … Then I got Jesse to rap on it because, to me, he represents the young black male of tomorrow. He’s more advanced than I was at that age. He’s my peer now, but he’s six years younger than me. That shows how far we’ve come, and how bad the world is.
It’s not only the ozone layer that’s getting thin, it’s the puberty layer that’s getting thin. People are growing up so fast because there’s cable everywhere. The movies are showing everything, so we’re growing up fast. Before, we didn’t start getting information until 10; now you’re 1 year old and you’re seeing dudes getting blown away — in TV, real life, whatever. You’re smelling crack smoke firsthand, so you know what that is. And before, it would never come up. So I feel like if you live in the outer city, experience is a mother, and you don’t have that buffer. We don’t have that. Because parents in the inner city know what it’s like to be real, because you have no choice. How can you not say “poor” when you don’t have anything?
MTV: How familiar are you with the Special Olympics? Do you know anyone who is mentally disabled?
Shakur: My cousin Greg. … And I guess my family, we always made it like the funny thing. But to me, even as a little kid, watching him was really traumatizing. And I always thought, “Well, what was it that he did?” ‘Cause he was born that way. “What was it that he did that made God do that?” That’s what I used to think. I used to tell that to my mother, and my mother used to say, “What did you do to make God do you this way?” Because my mom was like, “People are thinking that they’re all that. What if people that are mentally retarded see the world clearer than we do?” And that this world is so retarded that that’s the way you gotta deal with it. And then when she said it like that, it made me go like, “When things do change, what if these were the people that knew all along how it was gonna run?” So you never know. It’s like we just can’t communicate. Just as if they speak Spanish and I speak English. … But I find it’s not something you look down on. You don’t start going, “Can you hear me?” ‘cause I think my cousin heard me. I would talk to him as if he could hear me and understand me, and that’s how we had a relationship. And when I did it like that it made me feel better, and it made me feel as though I was in contact with an angel, because I feel as though those people are touched. God works in mysterious ways. He does nothing spitefully. So those people must have roadmaps to heaven, you know what I’m saying? Something.
MTV: Have you made any special connections with your cousin?
Shakur: No, but I got another. I messed that one up, my relationship with my cousin. I mean, I did as good as I could, but I was young and I didn’t understand. Now I have a chance to be around my little stepbrother who has Down Syndrome. And he has a problem feeling confident around people. He’ll feel like he’s the outsider. I see exactly how he feels and I can help him to not feel that way because everybody now looks to me … so I can put the attention on him in a cool way. Like, “Can I get your autograph?” “Yeah, but first you gotta get my little brother’s autograph.” That’s one thing. And now I can see it better and I feel like that’s my thing. I learned from that, and my karma is to make it so he never feels like that’s something he’s sliding against. I call him special. “You’re special that you can do this.” He’s big. It’s always — it’s gifts.
MTV: What do you think the Special Olympics does that is important?
Shakur: For me, rapping [is] just my chance to talk and express things. It helps me to deal with a lot of things, helps me to deal with my pain. And I can imagine how it must feel to go through your life always fighting, and being in competition with all these people and suddenly you can get rewards for that. Let them be reliant to stand on their own two feet and do what they got to do and it puts them in competition. They win. They really get to struggle and strive. And they win as opposed to all through their life they’ve got to struggle and strive and they never get a reward for it. Nobody ever says, you know, “You did a hell of a job.” Just you getting up is a hell of a job, ‘cause I got legs, two feet, everything, and it takes me three hours to get up and I still don’t want to be up. And I see people at eight o’clock in the morning, wheeling down the street. You know, “You need some help?” “No, I don’t need no help. Thank you.” And that to me, that’s def. That’s all that. That’s the struggle. I think the Special Olympics nurtures that sense of independence, and that sense of respect and dignity. Just to keep your head up and put your chest out. I’m sure they feel like that. Just like any Olympian, you know?
MTV: Is that a lesson that could be learned for those in the inner city who are downtrodden? Perhaps you can make the connection?
Shakur: Well, in the outer city — like I said it’s the outer city because we’re always left out — I think if there were more programs … That’s part of like I was saying, of things that we need to do. PAL, the Police Athletic League thing, I always heard about it. I’ve yet to see one of these leagues. Maybe it’s just my streets are just too bad, that the blocks are not clean enough for these people, but we don’t have that. … If there was, we wouldn’t have so many crooks, because the only people who are in the ghetto, the outer city, these days nurturing those kids are the criminals. So it’s no wonder that they come up as criminals. Those are the role models. And I don’t down them because they are there. At least they are there. At least whatever they did wrong, they are role models. They giving that back and nobody else is doing it. Nobody. Even these big, big black celebrities.
You know Michael Jordan? I never seen Michael Jordan in the ‘hood. Let’s see Jordan come down to the inner city, just a parking lot, and just shoot ball with the kids. I bet you that would change their life. Instead of going to some suburban PAL unit, shooting ball with all the — excuse me, but the little white kids that always have heroes to shoot ball with. They got dad to shoot ball with, grandpa to shoot ball with, uncles to shoot ball with, godfathers to shoot ball with, their friends, their neighbors to shoot ball with. Everybody got a basketball court in their neighborhood. What about the ones that [have] only one basketball court in the whole neighborhood and don’t nobody — I still don’t know how to play basketball to this day, ‘cause instead of somebody teaching me, everybody used to laugh at me. And instead of me staying there being like, “Teach me! Teach me!” I just learned to be like “F—- it. I won’t learn.” And that’s real. I know nothing about sports because I had no kind of role model to teach me. And it’s not like people can only do sports, but like with the Special Olympics, it gives you a chance to be involved, not watch somebody fight for you but for you to actually go out there and to fight and to win. It gives you a chance to be a winner. Even when you lose, you’re still a winner because you was in it.
MTV: How can you be sure that the money from your song will go to the right people?
Shakur: I would hope that the money gets spent wisely. I would hope that just by me saying little things they’ll put it [in the right place]. Because it’s so easy to give money to a charity that’s all set up, but it’s so hard to go, “OK, we made this money and we have Tupac in it. He’s a deep down, outer-city brother. Why don’t we take this money and actually do a celebrity basketball game in the ‘hood.” Not one where the MTV cameras got to come, but one by itself. Do it once a month, then you let the kids play too if they got, I don’t know, an “A” on their report cards. That’s not up to me to think about. That’s up to the folks who can do that. I could do a little bit, but I can hint that others can do so much more, Jordan, Magic, all these basketball players, if they just played basketball once in the true ‘hood — and by ‘hood I don’t mean South Central. Everybody in the hood is not just South Central or Harlem or Brooklyn. It’s Oakland, Houston, Miami, Richmond, Virginia. There’s our black people there, it’s our kids there. Not just black, but there are kids there that see nobody. If just one of us comes out there, one of us meaning someone in the entertainment industry, they’d be so blown over. It’s not supposed to be like that, we’re just people, but they want to pretend like we’re superstars and we’re not. Take away that superstar image and come on down.
MTV: You’ve said in your lyrics that you don’t want to be a role model.
Shakur: I say I don’t want to be a role model in the song, because if I let somebody put the role-model label on me, that limits me. Because look at those words, “role” and “model.” Both of those are fake words, to play a role and to model, that’s fake. I’m real. Being real, I drink, I hang out, I party — I do things that a 21-year-old does. And even worse, because I didn’t have a childhood, I’m reliving my childhood. I live life to its fullest, I make mistakes, but I do some stuff that some college kids wouldn’t do, because I live from my heart. I have fun. I don’t want to be a role model, I just want to be real. I set my goals, take control, drink out of my own bottle. I’m not a lush or crazy, but I’m responsible, I handle my own business, and I mind my own business, and I do my own thing. That’s how it is. If anyone can learn from that, they should. If anybody gets inspired by that, they should. If anyone has any advice on how I should change, they can keep it. [He laughs.] I like that.
MTV: What’s wrong with being a role model?
Shakur: Role model, that’s the word that they make. In the outer city, we don’t have it. We had Tyson, Tyson was the perfect outer-city hero because he was always on the edge, they always wanted to make him a different type of person. But he would never be that, he would always be on the edge, and they hated him for that, they punished him because he never legitimized himself. He hung in clubs. He was the only person I knew that had millions that hung around with rappers. The only black person I know that made it to that millionaire status and then treated rappers with dignity. … Every entertainment person who has money looks at rappers as ignorant people with mics, holding our jocks, wearing Kangols and big gold chains. Mike Tyson was the only person I can remember being a millionaire and a real brother. And he was my hero, and I want to be like that. And I want more people like that.
I feel like we’re starting to get more of that now. And even the ones who left us are coming back. That’s cool … that’s the type of stuff that we need to see. When I heard about that, it made me so hype, there’s going to be some kind of change, we have a chance — somebody cares about us. It’s like we don’t have anybody up there to help pull us up. Everybody’s struggling to get up there, so we can pull somebody up. But once anybody gets up there, they just leave the ropes. A lot more of us can come up there if we can just get one greedy person to throw the rope back over so some more people can come. But as soon as they get up there, there’s this welcoming committee, the big society. They tell them, “The first thing you do, now that you’re up here, is cut the rope and get away from the wall.” So they all act like they can’t see us, but we are here. And if they bring their tight, greedy behinds back to the wall and look over they’ll see us. Just throw the rope back over, that’s all.