Several weeks ago, Chris Carroll, a former Las Vegas policeman who was on the scene when rapper Tupac Shakur was shot, was interviewed in Vegas Seven. He revealed 2Pac’s last words, saying of the legendary hip hop artist “He looked at me and he took a breath to get the words out, and he opened his mouth, and I thought I was actually going to get some cooperation. And then the words came out: ‘Fuck you.’” With his final breath, 2Pac cemented his legacy as some sort of anti-police, anti-establishment hero.
A lot of people are reading the incident as proof that 2Pac was so dedicated to the anti-police sentiments he expressed in his music (“Cops don’t give a damn about a Negro/Pull a trigger, kill a n***a he’s a hero”) that he chose to insult a policeman with his final words. His status as a hero for people who have suffered at the hands of corrupt or racist authority figures is significant and should not be dismissed, but the “fuck you” incident may not be as symbolic as it seems. “Fuck you” may not even have been 2Pac’s last words, as he was actually alive for six days after he was shot, albeit under heavy sedation. He spent almost a week in hospital following his shooting, so his final words could have been “I’m thirsty” or something equally unromantic. And, even if “fuck you” were his final words, when Carroll saw the injured rapper, he repeatedly asked “Who shot you?” 2Pac may have seen this question as an allusion to, or at least a reminder of, The Notorious B.I.G.’s famous diss track, “Who Shot Ya?” He could have been using his final words to say “fuck you” to Biggie rather than the establishment.
In the interview, Carroll also says that he has waited so long to reveal Pac’s last words partially because he “didn’t want Tupac to be a martyr or hero because he told the cops ‘Fuck you.’” He continues, “I didn’t want him to be a hero for that. And now enough time has passed, well, he’s a martyr anyway; he’s viewed as a hero anyway. My story, at this point, isn’t going to change any of that.” Carroll is right, and 2Pac did do a lot to help out underprivileged people who felt betrayed by the police, but a lot of fans are choosing to ignore the rest of the interview. Maybe people are focusing so much on the “fuck you” and viewing it as some sort of symbolic moment because there are very few successful hip hop artists around now who are martyrs in the same way 2Pac was. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the nature of hip hop has changed, and fewer and fewer current rappers are criticising authority.
Most recently, Jay Z was criticised for his deal with Barney’s after the department store was accused of racially profiling two black customers. Fans urged Jay Z, who used to deal with racial bias in songs like ‘99 Problems’, to pull his clothing line from the store. Jay Z went ahead with the deal anyway, and his defence of the incident in ‘The Devil Is A Lie’ – “See what I did to that stop and frisk/Brooklyn on the Barney’s like we own that bitch/Give the money to the hood now we all win/Got that Barney’s floor looking like a V.I.M.” – was a little defensive and unconvincing. Whether or not “fuck you” were 2Pac’s last words, he is always going to be held out as a martyr who defended underprivileged people against corrupt policemen. Carroll revealed the incident at a time when a lot of hip hop fans were feeling nostalgic for the music of the 90s, when rappers frequently criticised authority figures in their music. Even if he didn’t literally use his last breath to annoy a policeman, 2Pac was still a martyr and any information received about him now will, to most people, always been seen in that light.