Wordsmith Wednesday: 2Pac’s “Brenda’s Got A Baby”

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The words this week are the lyrics to 2Pac’s song “Brenda’s Got A Baby” from his 1992 debut record 2Pacalypse Now on Interscope Records.

“I hear Brenda’s got a baby, but Brenda’s barely got a brain
A damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name
“That’s not our problem, that’s up to Brenda’s family”
Well, let me show you how it affects our whole community
Now Brenda really never knew her moms
And her dad was a junkie, puttin’ death into his arms
It’s sad, ’cause I bet Brenda doesn’t even know
Just ’cause you’re in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow
But oh, that’s a thought, my own revelation
Do whatever it takes to resist the temptation
Brenda got herself a boyfriend
Her boyfriend was her cousin, now let’s watch the joy end
She tried to hide her pregnancy, from her family
Who really didn’t care to see, or give a damn if she
Went out and had a church of kids
As long as when the check came they got first dibs
Now Brenda’s belly’s gettin’ bigger
But no one seems to notice any change in her figure
She’s twelve years old and she’s havin’ a baby
In love with a molester, who’s sexin’ her crazy
And yet and she thinks that he’ll be with her forever
And dreams of a world where the two of them are together
Whatever, he left her and she had the baby solo
She had it on the bathroom floor and didn’t know, so
She didn’t know what to throw away and what to keep
She wrapped the baby up and threw him in a trash heap
I guess she thought she’d get away, wouldn’t hear the cries
She didn’t realize how much the little baby had her eyes
Now the baby’s in the trash heap, bawlin’
Momma can’t help her, but it hurt to hear her callin’
Brenda wants to run away
Momma say you makin’ me lose pay
There’s social workers here every day
Now Brenda’s gotta make her own way
Can’t go to her family, they won’t let her stay
No money, no babysitter, she couldn’t keep a job
She tried to sell crack but end up gettin’ robbed
So now, what’s next? There ain’t nothin’ left to sell
So she sees sex as a way of leavin’ hell
It’s payin’ the rent, so she really can’t complain
Prostitute, found slain, and Brenda’s her name
She’s got a baby”

This is pure storytelling from a figure who remains legend and somewhat of an enigma in modern American culture, partially due to the juxtaposition of his self-ascribed thug image and demonization by high-profile conservative figures with the skilled, thoughtful, and emotional poetry found throughout his body of work. In just under two minutes on this track, Tupac Shakur creates a character to discuss poverty, sexual abuse, community responsibility, teenage pregnancy, and other social issues from a close-up, personal perspective rather than through the dehumanization of a headline. He is an observant, intelligent street reporter explaining the root causes, blending the personal with the political, rather than exploiting the tragic effects like the media often does. Only twenty when these words were released and only twenty-five when he died, Shakur was a poet at heart navigating his past, his reality, his imperfections, and the challenges of his/our time with an open heart and an open mouth. The world needed Tupac to tell these stories, his stories. We needed to see him grow, to reconcile his gentle with his gangster, his poet with his panther. I hope there’s heaven for a G.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Angela Carter’s “The Loves of Lady Purple”

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This week’s Wordsmith comes from the short story “The Loves of Lady Purple” from Angela Carter’s collection entitled Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces. It reads:

“The puppeteer speculates in a no-man’s-limbo between the real and that which, although we know very well it is not, nevertheless seems to be real. He is the intermediary between us, his audience, the living, and they, the dolls, the undead, who cannot live at all and yet who mimic the living in every detail since, though they cannot speak or weep, still they project those signals of signification we instantly recognize as language.

The master of marionettes vitalizes inert stuff with the dynamics of his self. The sticks dance, make love, pretend to speak and, finally, personate death; yet, so many Lazaruses out of their graves they spring again in time for the next performance and no worms drip from their noses nor dust clogs their eyes. All complete, they once again offer their brief imitations of men and women with an exquisite precision which is all the more disturbing because we know it to be false; and so this art, if viewed theologically, may, perhaps, be subtly blasphemous.”

Acting as a preface to the story, these two paragraphs attempt to encapsulate the art of the puppeteer, detailing all the precision, care, and realism that must go into these marionettes. But if we go ahead and replace each puppeteer with author, and marionette with character, Carter gives us a beautiful and complex demonstration of what it means to be a writer who must create these characters from the two-dimensionality of pen and paper, moving thought to words. The impersonation of life and death and the whirlwind that happens in-between. This is what writers must make real, believable, and empathetic. This is what they must create anew with each story they write or each character they create. The struggles must be real. The death must make us cry. And the love must imitate that which we have felt before.

– KK

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