Resolving the Great Millennial Debate: The Tupac Rule

My friends and I found ourselves at Katra Lounge on Bowery on a February Friday night in 2013. Our whole collective was out and about, as we celebrated the release of our brothers’ mixtape Till Death, by FCF, hosted by DJ Fatfingaz, who was on the turntables as well. It was also our friend, K-Starr’s 29th birthday, another reason to celebrate. To give a snapshot of what time this was, everyone in the club went bonkers when the newest, biggest song of the time, “Started from the Bottom” by Drake, rang off in the club.

Our collective was in the large, stage-like VIP section in the back of Katra. From our perch, all 20 of us could see any and everyone in the spot. In a brief pause from merriment, I noticed a pretty girl, off to the side who stood quiet while her girlfriends socialized. I slowly walked over to the young lady and struck up conversation.

I introduced myself, asked her name, where was she from, what she did, and carried on a conversation with charm. Her body language conveyed one of interest as she answered whatever her name was, she was from Boston in town visiting her best friend and was a teacher by trade. As a Yankee fan, in a playful manner, I teased her about the Red Sox and she told me “I just finished at Harvard.”

“Your masters?” I inquired and she replied, “No, my bachelor’s.” In my head, I carried the one and did some math which looked similar to the scene in Rain Man where Dustin Hoffman figured out how to count cards.

I have learned you do not ask a young lady her age, so I did so in a roundabout way to get a receptive answer. “So you were born in 1991?” I queried and Boston Girl confirmed.

With a small break in conversation for comedic payoff, I countered “Can I ask you a question? I’m serious.”

After New Edition gave me the go-ahead, I went for it with a “Do you remember Tupac?!” and with a smile, shorty said “Yes, I remember Tupac.”

At 27 years old, I was still used to my friends and I as the young people in a club and “in the streets.” In this moment, it dawned on me the kids who were born in the 1990’s were now adults, who could partake in New York City’s nightlife and all of its excitement. Not too long ago, we were the 21-year-olds whom older outgoers would have asked us “Do you remember Big Daddy Kane?!” and we would have given a similar answer as Paula Pierce.

This was the birth of the Tupac Rule and it goes a little something like this: If you attended middle school when Tupac Amaru Shakur died, you are not a millennial.  Allow me to explain…

Millennial is often an umbrella term, used to describe the generation born between 1980 and 1996; we were the ones who came of age in the dawn of the internet. However, my childhood has little in common with those who were born after 1990.

If you ask an adult who was born in the nineties if they remember a world without the internet, with little thought, they will tell you “no.” I know this because it was a question I asked in my docu-series, Superman With Timbs On. “Have you ever used a cassette tape?” you can also ask and the answer will go a little something like “No; but my parents and older siblings used to use them.” None of this is my reality.

Born in 1985, by default, I am a millennial because I came of age when the century turned twenty. However, the way I grew up and outlook on the world is closer to those born in the first half of the decade, and a little those born in 1978/’79. Many memories are vague; but I remember the eighties and my formal education began when Ronald Regan was president. I can recall the first season of A Different World (and feelings I had for Whitley Gilbert), The Simpsons used to air on Thursdays, and I have VERY little to talk about if you have no recollection of Kid n Play’s cartoon.

I grew up with empty crack vials in the street. As kids, Times Square was mockingly referred to as “42nd Street,” a sketchy place where children wondered “What is a 25 cent peep show and what does XXX mean?” We learned how to look for books in the library through the vast index card system. In the early 90’s, when Nickelodeon told kids “You can reach us by email,” I asked myself “What is an email?!” Until we moved to Long Island in eighth grade, my twin sister and I spent our middle school years as latchkey kids, whose parents gave us keys to our apartment, and we were to do our homework and not get into trouble while mom and dad were at work and commuted home.

My youth was analog and converted to a digital one in and towards the end of my adolescence and early adulthood. As an “85-er,” we were the last of the old guard and the first of many of the characteristics of millennials. It may have been 1999, but I started high school in the nineties. My freshman year of college, we used floppy discs; jump drives were introduced the next year and went into that slot called a USB, in which I was one of very few who knew what it did because I used them all of the time for music. I recorded my first album on a four-track cassette recorder and my second on DATs (digital audio tape). YouTube was introduced in my senior year of college and iPhones were released after I graduated. Most of what I have explained is not what comes to mind when one says “millennial.”

This brings me back to the Tupac Rule. The reason behind its premise is if you were in at least sixth grade when Tupac died, as New Yorkers would say, it meant you were outside. You were old enough to explore the world, even if in small doses, on your own. It means you remember a world without the internet. If you were born in Queens, New York, like me, your soundtrack wasn’t G-Unit, it was the Lost Boyz (To my new audience: years ago, I made it plain and clear I will find ways to throw the Lost Boyz into my work whenever I feel necessary).

The term Xennial never felt right and those of us who fall into this category, are a little unsettled in this classification. It feels as if we were glossed over, forgotten about, and the powers which be stuck us into a group and said “Well, y’all kind of do fit this description.” Here’s the thing: those who came up with the term aren’t us. In the eyes of the zeitgeist, we are the latchkey kids whom no one took the time to properly define us; but we have and much of what makes a “millennial” was designed by many of us who didn’t neatly fit into this box…it is probably you’ve read, listened to, or heard about this very site from a platform we’ve created and/or designed.

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