Tupac and Nas have always carried the themes of black power in their music. Especially Tupac, whose mother Afeni Shakur was one of New York City’s Panther 21, a group of Black Panther Party members arrested and accused of plotting to bomb department stores and police stations in NYC.
On the 47th anniversary of the death of black power activist George Jackson, who was killed by prison guards in August 1971 for allegedly trying to escape the notorious San Quentin Prison, VIBE looks at Nas’ “Get Down” and Pac’s “Soulja’s Story.” Both songs loosely tell the story of Jonathan Jackson’s attempt to free his other brother George from Soledad Prison by holding judge and jurors hostage.
But before getting into “Get Down” and “Soulja’s Story,” below is a timeline of the events leading to the death of George Jackson, who studied the readings of Karl Marx, Vladimir I Lenin, and Ho Chi Minh on his way to becoming a profound theorist on racial matters.
George Jackson, along with an accomplice, received a prison sentence of one-year-to-life for robbing an L.A. gas station for $71.
According to the news special Day of the Gun, about 14 black inmates and two white inmates from the maximum security section of Soledad Prison were released into a recreation yard. The black prisoners were ordered to the far end of the yard, while the white prisoners remained near the center of the yard. Officer Opie G. Miller, an expert marksman armed with a rifle, watched over the inmates from a guard tower 13 feet (4 m) above the yard. A fistfight ensued, and Miller opened fire on the prisoners below. No warning shot was fired. Three black inmates were killed in the shooting: W.L. Nolen and Cleveland Edwards died in the yard, while Alvin Miller died in the prison hospital a few hours later. A white inmate, Billy D. Harris, was wounded in the groin by Miller’s fourth shot, and ended up losing a testicle.
According to The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis, a Monterey County grand jury convened, only to exonerate Miller in the deaths of Nolen, Edwards, and Miller with a ruling of “justifiable homicide.”
In Soledad Prison, inmates heard the grand jury’s ruling on the prison radio. Minutes later, John V. Mills, a prison guard, was beaten and thrown from a third-floor tier, where he died on the floor.
After an investigation into Mills’ death by prison officials, George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo and John Wesley Clutchette–known as Soledad Brothers–were indicted by the Monterey County grand jury for first-degree murder.
George Jackson was transferred to San Quentin State Prison.
According to Day of the Gun, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, staged a raid on the Marin County courthouse with a satchelful of handguns, an assault rifle, and a shotgun hidden under his coat. Educated into a becoming a political revolutionary by George, Jonathan invaded the court during a hearing for three black San Quentin inmates–not including his brother–and handed them weapons. As he left with the inmates and five hostages, including the judge, Jonathan demanded that the Soledad Brothers be released within 30 minutes. In the shootout that ensued, Jonathan was gunned down. Of Jonathan, George wrote, “He was free for a while. I guess that’s more than most of us can expect.”
Political activist and professor Angela Davis, who developed a relationship with George, was accused of assisting the botched hostage and prison escape and was indicted on several charges including murder. It was alleged that the guns used in the attempted prison escape were registered to her. Davis was acquitted in June 1972.
George Jackson was fatally shot while allegedly trying to escape from San Quentin Prison. There is still widespread disagreement about what actually took place that day. According to prison officials, Jackson’s lawyer Stephen Bingham smuggled in a gun, which Jackson then concealed under an Afro wig. Jackson then shot a guard, released several other prisoners, and made a break for the prison wall, before being gunned down by tower guards.
George Jackson’s book Blood in my Eye, which was completed a week before he was killed, was released via Random House Publishing.
Lyrics: I sit in the back aisle I wanna crack a smile when I see him
Throw up a fist for Black Power, ’cause all we want is his freedom
He grabbed a court officer’s gun and started squeezin’
Then he grabbed the judge, screams out, “Nobody leavin’
Overproduction by frequent collaborator Salaam Remi, Nas tells several fictional stories inspired by real people. While Nas has admitted that the above lyrics were inspired by his friends Free High and Worm, they are reminiscent of Jonathan and George Jackson. In fact, on “Testify,” a song from Esco’s Untitled album, he mentions the Jackson brothers and Worm in the same sentence and dedicates the song to them.
Listen to “Get Down” and “Testify” below.
Lyrics: I can still hear my mother shout “Hit the pen ni**a — break your bigger brother out”/I got a message for the warden/I’m comin’ for ya ass, as fast as Flash Gordon/We get surrounded in the mess hall, yes y’all/A crazy/motherfucker making death calls/Just bring me my brother and we leavin’/For every minute you stall, one of y’all bleedin’/They brought my brother in a jiffy/I took a cop, just in case things got tricky/And just as we was walkin’ out (BANG!)/I caught a bullet in the head, the screams never left my mouth/My brother caught a bullet too
On “Soulja’s Story,” a song from Pac’s 1991 debut album 2Pacalypse Now, the Oakland-raised MC tells a story of two brothers. The older brother goes to prison for selling drugs, leaving his baby brother to fend for himself in the streets. Urged by his mom, the younger brother travels to Sing Sing Prison, where he attempts to overtake the prison and free his his big brother. As one could imagine, the plan foiled and both men were shot.
Now, this a fictional story, however, given Pac’s history and knowledge of black revolutionaries, it can be argued that “Soulja’s Story” was loosely inspired by the George brothers. In fact, R.L. Stephens, politician, writer and A. Philip Randolph Fellow at Jacobin, in his article Pac’s Passion, wrote about Pac’s revolutionary spirit, and the close connection between “Soulja’s Story” and the George brothers.
Listen to “Souja’s Story” below.