Like the literary equivalent of hardcore rap, this novel depicts thug life in a manner that many will find convincing and others might find disturbing.
The author, a former gang leader born Kody Scott, follows up his bestselling memoir (Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, 1993) with a novel also written from inside a jail cell. Whether he’s writing fiction or nonfiction, his intent is the same: to illuminate the harsh realities and brutalities of the ghetto streets in a manner that justifies if not glorifies the sort of violence that has so many young men anticipating a life of incarceration or early death. His hero is Lapeace, leader of the Eight Tray Crips. Lapeace’s antagonist since boyhood has been Anyhow, a member of the rival Bloods. After Anyhow’s arrest in a burglary attempt, a couple of cops—at least one of them more amoral than any gangbanger—attempt to extort testimony from him against Lapeace. The two had been involved in a notorious massacre in which innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire. All this seems like ancient history to Lapeace, whose latest lover is Tashima Mustafa, head of RapLife Music, and whose artists are capitalizing on the life that Lapeace knows firsthand. Trouble starts when he learns of Anyhow’s arrest and escalates when he discovers that a tape exists of the massacre that the police may have and in which he can be easily identified. Yet the plot is merely a peg for Shakur’s exploration of the sort of lives commemorated in rap lyrics—what the gang members wear (brand names abound), what they listen to (lots of Tupac), how they talk to each other (lots of code and street slang)—along with the fatalism of those who feel destined to live this life and for whom white America offers no escape. The novel is also a love story, minimizing the caricatured misogyny so prevalent in gangsta rap.
Not a pretty picture, but one senses that the author knows what he writes.