Makavelli: Meme Smasher

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Tupac Shakur hologram featured performing at Coachella 2012.

When asked to pick a conspiracy to write about, the first thing that came to mind is the belief that famous rapper Tupac Shakur faked his death and is still alive.

Tupac was a victim of a drive-by shooting, which is believed to be legitimate, although no one has come out to say that they actually saw him die. Suge Knight, producer and friend, was in the car with Tupac, only was grazed by a bullet, and the last time he saw Tupac was entering a helicopter in which the two were having a coherent conversation. Tupac’s body was cremated the following day and no autopsy report was made. Knight has gone on to tell a Los Angeles based radio station that no one has saw Tupac’s body and that he is not sure he is even dead. This information was presented by Daily Mail, a UK based newspaper, with the article written by Andrea Magrath who is a prominent celebrity and pop culture writer. Other than those hard facts, what fuels the conspiracy is the continued releases of Tupac albums. Ted Goertzel (2011) states that, “It isn’t essential that practitioners actually believe the theory; they may just find it plausible and useful to raise doubts and discredit their competitors.” This idea that we as media consumers and conspiracy cravers just need enough evidence to stump a peer in conversation is what keeps the Tupac legend alive.

Most of the conspiracy references derived from this story revolve around songs that were part of the 7 albums released after his death. His new alter-ego that appears on these works is “Makavelli” which refers to Machiavelli who was an Italian war strategist who believed in faking ones death in order to fool the enemy. These facts were brought up by an anonymous author in the west coast hip hop and rap fan blog, Donmega.com. Tupac even makes references to the film Armageddon and even congratulates the Denver Broncos on winning a Super Bowl in his 1998 release 2pac’s Greatest, which was released 2 years prior to both of those events. In a music video for the 2001 release of the album Till the End of Time, a corresponding music video to the opening track features Tupac wearing nike sneakers that didn’t come out till two years following his death. This according to David Wong, an Executive Editor of Cracked.com and New York Times best selling author. Cracked.com is not a traditional news site, rather more of a pop culture resource. It was believed that Tupac fled to Cali, Colombia and that lyrics such as “I’m going back to Cali” have been misinterpreted all along as California rather that the Colombian city. This post was made by About.com in their Urban Legend section. Oddly enough though, it is actually a screen shot of CNN’s website in which the article is written by Robert Spencer; CNN has since taken down the article and thats why you can only read it on sites such as these. Lastly, in the hologram performance in the picture posted above, “Tupac” mentions Coachella which wasn’t even around when he was alive but yet they had the audio of him saying it. 

The expression of this meme is interesting because it is unclear whether fans are extrapolating too much information from media content to form an opinion, or are former Tupac publicists and peers fueling this fire by purposely adding to the speculation in order to sell more records even after his death. In any case, categorizing this meme into a larger thematic structure is tough since the only similar occurrence to this one is the supposed death of Paul McCartney from The Beatles. Meme theorist Susan Blackmore states, “They vary slightly in the copying and some of them are more frequently copied than others. That is how we get useless popular crazes, and good ideas that never seem to get off the ground. I think there can be no doubt that memes count as replicators” (p. 16). The idea of memes catching on because of their similarity to other meme’s ties in with both the Tupac comparisons to Machiavelli and Paul McCartney. Tupac draws much of his influence through pop culture. Though he is one of the sole creators of the rap genre, he inevitably feeds off of other creators work leaving him in the position of immitation. By faking his death, he was riffing off of the idea of sacrificing himself for safety of his family. This idea is evident in countless films and novels and clearly gives the conspiracy a bit of humanity to add to it’s compelling evidence.

On a personal level, I feel much like the authors I pulled facts from; an avid fan who want’s to believe that he is alive and that he’s pulled off the greatest hoax of all time. Tupac is truly an innovator and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being the ultimate meme smasher by coming out in 2014 and selling millions of records.

Susan Blackmore (1999). The Meme Machine. London: Oxford University Press.

Ted Goertzel (2011) “The conspiracy meme,” Skeptical Inquirer, 35(1).

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