As seen in the history of writers diagnosed with bipolar disorder, we are now able to look at writers who were not “diagnosed” with bipolar disorder, yet, through analyzing the work and stringing similarities from previous artists, we can point to the possibility that some poets grow from a manic depressive brain.
Tupac Amaru Shakur – American Rapper (1971 – 1996)
Tupac Shakur holds the Guinness World Record for the highest selling rap/hip hop artist, selling 74 million worldwide and 44 million in the US alone. Prior to his music career, Shakur was a published poet. At the age of 18 years old he published over a 100 poems in “The Rose that Grew from the Concrete.” Frank Palisano III, writer for the Lummox Journal writes:
There is a simple charm to Tupac’s words without running the risk of being simple. The Rose That Grew From Concrete is the most complete portrait we have thus far of Tupac’s bipolar artistic expressiveness.
Shakur’s “bipolar artistic expressiveness” does not mean Shakur is clinically bipolar, however, a look at his material opens the door to the “possibility” of this being the case.
A YOUNG HEARY WITH AN OLD SOUL
How can there be peace
A young heart with an old soul
How can I be in the depths of solitude
When there are two inside of me
This duo within me causes the perfect opportunity
To learn and live twice as fast
As those who accepts simplicity….
At a very young ago, Shakur acknowledges a duality inside that can sit in solitude but can grab the opportunity to take charge and rise above the others that live in simplicity. He acknowledges he has dual dimensions to his personality, and distinguishes himself from the others. Shakur was known as a rapper that pushed the bounders of social conformism and race relations in culture, with angry lyrics wrapped in zero tolerance for the world he experienced. He spoke about with a sharp tongue and also published sensitive poems, soon to by rhymed lyrics, and exposed a scared, sad side rooted in isolation and honest loneliness. Shakur holds nothing back and stands naked holding his work:
Sometimes when I’m alone I Cry, Cause I am on my own. The tears I cry are bitter and warm. They flow with life but take no form I Cry because my heart is torn. I find it difficult to carry on. If I had an ear to confiding, I would cry among my treasured friend, but who do you know that stops that long, to help another carry on. The world moves fast and it would rather pass by. Then to stop and see what makes one cry, so painful and sad. And sometimes… I Cry and no one cares about why.
Like Dickinson who experienced isolation and rejection from others, which resulted in a life of solitude, Shakur echoes feelings of being ostracized and alienation. His diction is laced with sadness and loneliness, yet his message is honest and clear, a theme common in bipolar writers who describe their states of loneliness and solitude in pure diction with details that tell a story as Shakur searches for a “treasured friend” in a world that moves fast and would “rather pass” and “no one cares why.” His poetry flows like the beats of rap, and parallel a mind that runs in fluidity coupled with descriptions that provide vivid images and expose raw feelings from the heart.
Bukowski writes, “Bestial rhymes assault my heart, congregate there, stamp their flabby feet amongst the plague and wreckage. (Portions 30). Shakur soon translated his poetry into rhymes and hit the hip-hop scene like an explosion that exposed a society “plagued” with racism and “wreckage.”. Like Bukowski who wrote poems that crossed lines of race, color and sex, Tupac’s lyrics have been described as poetry for the people in its ability to cross race boundaries through his raw beats and simultaneously was able to strike social consciousness in issues of race and oppression in culture. He expressed his raw ideas with no shame or contradiction. Both Tupac and Bukowski poetry was often met with rejection and had a tendency to make people feel uncomfortable in its blunt descriptions of every day aspects of the human condition. Although Shakur also offended his audience and those outside his sphere, he welcomed that rejection and used his lyrics to pump his thoughts and feelings about living in his world:
They claim that I’m violent, just cause I refuse to be silent
These hypocrites are having fits, cause I’m not buying it
Defying it, envious because I will rebel against
Any oppressor, and this is known as self defense
I show no mercy, they claim that I’m the lunatic.
Shakur was often met with harsh criticism for his blunt lyrics. His need to pioneer through the “hypocrites” and “rebel against / any oppressor” with “no mercy” demonstrates an individual with no qualms about his feelings. His diction “rebel” and “no mercy” connote a mind that communicates through extreme language. The bipolar theme of ego and confidence is telling here, however, in a positive champion of individuality despite social rejection and pressures. In the beats of this passage Shakur sends a rhymed message as he rhymes words “violent” and “silent” following with “having fits” and buying it” and rounds off his stanza with careful word choice and use of the word “lunatic.” Like several writers in the past that have been called lunatics, or mad, or insane, Shakur is not exempt from such name-calling. Shakur is considered confessional poets who indulge his listeners in his conscientious mortality and experiences of being a young black rapper from the hood. His words do not get lost in their rhymes, but expose a gritty heart, open for exploration and discovery.
Hip hop dancer image available from Shutterstock.