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He slept in a small bedroom, while his mother and little sister slept in the dining room Afeni had converted into a bedroom. They had lights and it was clean, but it was dark with not a lot of stuff in there.” Smith’s family and friends razzed him for befriending the raggedy newcomer.
“This guy is cornball—everything about him is corny,” he recalls them saying. ” The answer, says Smith, was simple: “We loved to rap.” In the mid-1980s, rap wasn’t yet the commercial juggernaut it has become—it was gaining popularity, but hadn’t arrived in the mainstream.
Smith, nicknamed “Mouse Man,” forged a musical bond with Shakur and remembers the first time he spoke to him on the bus home from school. 8 bus was nearly full and Shakur took the only open seat, the seat beside Smith, who was itching to get home and listen to WEBB’s show at four o’clock. “Hey, we were also listening to Brian & O’Brien on B104, playing the hits all day long,” he says, referring to the then-popular top 40 radio program. It, too, was a favorite, but not for hits like “Money for Nothing.” Smith starts singing lyrics from the title track that resonated: “Through these fields of destruction/Baptisms of fire.” The tune, sung by Brit Mark Knopfler, traces a protagonist who faces death and treasures his comrades’ loyalty—ground Shakur covered in songs he later wrote.
The Library of Congress added his song, “Dear Mama,” to the National Recording Registry in 2010.Shakur and Smith’s winning performance opened with Shakur declaring, “Yo’ Enoch Pratt, bust this! They told kids to stay in school, learn to read, and “get all the credits that you need.” (Shakur's handwritten verses now reside in the Pratt’s Special Collections archive, alongside works by H. Mencken and Edgar Allan Poe.) Taylor, who still works at the Pratt, recalls all the judges commenting on the same thing: The scrawny kid lit up the room with his rapping.“When Tupac performed,” she says, “you could not take your eyes off him.” Shakur and Smith performed whenever and wherever they could: for the drug dealers working on Old York Road, opening for rap group Mantronix at the Cherry Hill rec center, and even at neighborhood funerals.A recent piece on Kenya noted that vehicles in Nairobi are often adorned with images of Jesus Christ and Tupac Shakur.“He’s more relevant than ever, not just here in America, but all over the globe,” activist and writer Kevin Powell told ABC News on the anniversary of Shakur’s 40th birthday in 2011.